Link to General Royal Regatta page

BEFORE 1839 -

1829:  The first Oxford - Cambridge boat race was rowed at Henley.
Click the link for the boat race page on which this is the first race

1837: The New Sporting Magazine -

Rowing Match between St. John's College, Cambridge, and Queen's College, Oxford, at Henley-on-Thames. —

The eight-oared contest between the gentlemen of the above named Colleges came off at Henley-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire, on the evening of Saturday the 3rd of June [1837]. A meeting was held on the previous Tuesday at the Town Hall, Henley, Captain Gardener in the Chair, when arrangements were made to keep the river free from obstruction, and flag staffs were placed along the Henley side of the course, and guard boats were stationed in various parts, to prevent persons rowing beyond the boundaries.

The river and its banks, at an early period of the afternoon, presented an exceedingly animated appearance, and the delightful meadows on the Berkshire side of the Thames were also thronged with visitors, among whom were a vast number of fashionably atired ladies. The day was fine, and the constant arrival of carriages at Henley throughout the afternoon kept the town in a state of bustle not witnessed for some time past. All the principal inns were crowded with "the collegians," and the boat race was the only topic of conversation. The distance to be rowed was from Greenfield Cottage to Henley Bridge, about two miles and a quarter, against the stream.
The Cambridge men having won the toss for the choice of station, went over to the Berkshire side of the river, which is considered so much the best station as to save at least a minute in the distance. The Cantabs appeared in the Lady Margaret cutter, in which they have been so successful in their boat races at Cambridge, and the Oxonians in the far-famed eight, entitled the Boar's Head, which is at least four feet shorter than the Lady.

The following are the names of the crews : —
OXFORD - Stroke Mr. Penny; No. 7. Eversley; No. 6. Todd; No. 5. Meyrick; No. 4. Robinson; No. 3. Welch; No. 2. Glasbrook; No. 1 . Lee; Berkley, Coxswain.
CAMBRIDGE - Stroke Mr. Hurt; No. 7. Fletcher; No. 6 Fane; No. 5 Budd; No. 4 Antrobus; No. 3 Wood; No. 2 Colquhoun; No. 1 Shadwell; Jackson, Coxswain.

Oxford sported blue as their colour, and Cambridge pink. The Oxonians were decidedly the most "weighty" men. On the signal being given, both parties went to work in excellent style, and kept fairly together for about a hundred yards, when the Oxford crew drew ahead, and never gave their opponents the shadow of a chance throughout the remaining distance, winning the match easily by seven or eight boats' lengths. The distance was rowed in twelve minutes and a quarter.

At the conclusion of the match the parties dined together at the Red Lion inn. Several matches were rowed by the watermen of Henley for money prizes, raised by subscription, and in the evening there was a splendid display of fire-works.

1839: The second Oxford Cambridge boat race and all subsequent such races were rowed in London.
1839: On 26 March at a public meeting held in Henley Town Hall -

That from the lively interest which had been manifested at the various boat races which have taken place on the Henley Reach during the last few years, and the great influx of visitors on such occasions, this meeting is of the opinion that the establishment of an annual regatta, under judicious and respectable management, would not only be productive of the most beneficial results to the town of Henley, but from its peculiar attractions would also be a source of amusement and gratification to the neighbourhood, and to the public in general.

1839: Henley Regatta took place on a single afternoon -

Henley Regatta, 1839
Henley Regatta, 1839

The Stewards and the Committee, being extremely anxious to afford every possible Accommodation to Spectators on the Banks of the River, and to avoid accidents or injury to any Individual, particularly request that no Gentleman will attempt to ride on Horse-back along the Towing path during the Regatta, except the Umpire, who must necessarily ride by the side of the Boats during the Race.
JUNE 14, 1839.

1839: The Sporting Magazine: Long account of the first Regatta
or skip to a shorter version!


We are indebted to Bell's Life for the following graphic account of the first Annual Regatta which took place at Henley-upon-Thames on Friday the 14th of June:—

This Aquatic Festival had for some time been looked forward to with an unusual degree of interest, and had caused considerable excitement in various parts of the country, especially among the cutter crews at Oxford, Cambridge, and London. Henley is a delightful town, distant about thirty-five miles west of London, and twenty-three from Oxford. It is situated near the base of a cluster of hills, in one of the most splendid windings of the River Thames, and is entered from the London road over a handsome bridge, built, we believe, of Headington stone. This structure, which is not excelled in simplicity of beauty and design by any bridge on the Thames, consists of five elliptical arches, with a handsome balustrade of stone-work. The key-stone on each face of the centre arch is adorned with a sculptured mask from the elegant chisel of the Hon. Mrs. Damer. The one towards the north represents Old Father Thames, with fishes playing in the wavy honors[sic] of his beard, and bulrushes inserted in the fillet which binds his temples. The mask on the reverse key-stone exhibits Isis—

Her neck in whiteness rival to the snows,
Her dewy tresses floating as she flows.

The views from the bridge on either side are particularly fine, and the meanders of the Thames abound with picturesque grace. On the Berkshire side of the river the hills rise boldly to a loftiness of elevation which Nature and art have united to adorn. The beautiful domain called Park Place engrosses this portion of the view, and the plantations on every swell and fall of the scene are disposed in aid of picturesque effect. On the other margin of the river is the town, and the splendid Reach below the bridge is terminated by the mansion of Fawley Court and the Island with its beautiful temple. With so much to admire, and the superior advantages afforded by the Thames at this part, it has long been a matter of surprise, and we may say of reproach, that the inhabitants have not, years since, rendered the extensive and beautiful Reach of water available for aquatic exhibitions. We were, therefore, much gratified when we heard that a body of the inhabitants had determined on rescuing the town from the reproach which had been cast upon it, and that they had spiritedly and energetically set to work in getting up an Annual Regatta, which would reflect credit on themselves, and afford the utmost gratification to those interested in such sports.

The Earl of Macclesfield condescended to become the Patron of it, and the undermentioned Gentlemen kindly proferred their services as Stewards on the occasion:— viz., Thomas Stonor, W. P. W. Freeman, Edmund Gardiner, Charles Lane, E. F. Maitland, John Fane, W. F. Maitland, Charles Stonor, and Charles Scott Murray, Esqrs.; Sir W. R. Clayton, Sir E. G. Clayton East, and Rev. C. E. Keene.

The following Gentlemen composed the Committee:—viz., Messrs. P. and S. B. Cooper, W. H. Brakspeare, E. Young (Bell Street), Elsee, J. Nash, C. Towsey, J. S. Plumbe, W. Plumbe, Owthwaite, H. N. Byles, C. Kinch, H. Stubbs, and J. H. Brookes.

Messrs. J. Nash and C. Towsey consented to become the Honorary Stewards, and the subscriptions flowed in so freely and fast that in a short time about £250 were collected. The Committee then came to the resolution that a Silver Cup of the value of 100 guineas, to be called the "Henley Regatta Grand Challenge Cup", be rowed for annually by such amateur crews, in eight-oared boats, as may be duly entered and qualified, and be held by the winner on the terms specified in the following Rules, viz.:—

That any crew composed of the Members of a College of either Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, or London, the Schools of Eton and Westminster, the Officers of the two Brigades of Household Troops, or of Members of a Club established at least one year previous to the time of entering, be considered eligible.

That every boat be steered by an Amateur Member of the Club or Clubs contending for the Cup.

That all questions of eligibility, qualification, or construction of the Rules be left to the Stewards, whose decision shall be final.

That notice be given to the Secretaries of the Regatta of any Club intending to compete for the Cup, with the names of their Captain and Secretary, on or before the twenty-fifth day of May; and notice thereof shall also be given by the Secretaries of the Regatta to the holders of the Cup and to the challengers, of the number and names of the competitors.

That any objections to Clubs entered shall be made in writing to the Secretaries of the Regatta on or before the 1st day of June; and the Acting Stewards shall investigate the grounds of objection, and decide thereon on or before the 8th.

That the sum of five guineas entrance money be demanded from the crew of each boat contending for the Cup, to be paid on the day of entry.

That the entrance money be applied towards a fund for defraying any expenses incidental to the Regatta and the purchase of Medals for the crew of the winning boat.

That the distance rowed be about one mile and a half, commencing near the Island, and terminating at the Bridge.

That in the event of there being more than two challengers, they shall row a trial race or races, under the arrangement of the Stewards, over the same course, and the winner or winners of such trial race or races shall contend with the holders of the Cup; but that no more than three boats be permitted to contend for the Cup in the Grand Race.

That an Umpire be chosen by the Stewards.

That the competitors toss for stations.

That no fouling be permitted.

That if there be four challengers, the names of the boats shall be written on separate pieces of paper, and thrown into a hat, and the two first drawn therefrom shall contend for the first heat, followed at such an interval as the Stewards shall direct by the remaining two boats. The winners of these heats shall, at such an hour as may be convenient, contend for the Prize;

and that the start be directed by the firing of a pistol.

Another Rule was agreed to respecting the holding and returning of the Cup, which is noticed elsewhere.

It was also resolved that a Cup of the value of 30 guineas, to be called the "Town Challenge Cup," together with Medals for the winning crew, should be rowed by amateurs in four-oared boats.

The utmost desire was manifested by the Oxonians to enter into competition, as will be seen by the following entries:—

OxfordBrazenose CollegeChild of Hale.
CambridgeTrinity Boat ClubBlack Prince.
OxfordThe Etonian ClubEtona.
OxfordExeter College 
OxfordUniversity Boat Club 
Wadham College 
HenleyThe Wave ClubThe Wave.
HenleyThe Dreadnought Cutter ClubThe Dreadnought.
HenleyThe Albion ClubThe Albion.

[ Notice that the name of the boat had much more significance as defining the crew than is the case today. (See early History of Leander. 'Leander' may have been the name of a boat)]

For some days previous to the one fixed for the Regatta, preparations were made for visiting Henley, and numerous boats from various parts were brought into requisition. The Members of the London Leander Club proceeded up the River on Thursday in their cutter, and arrived at Henley early on Friday morning: an eight, manned by Cambridge Gentlemen, was also taken from Searle's: and a new and beautifully light four, built by Springett, containing Mr. Layton and two other Members of the London Scullers' Club, and Phelps the waterman, went from Putney: a well-known patron of the sports likewise rowed up in a four, accompanied by Charles, William, and Henry Campbell; and many other boats from London, Oxford, and other places, assembled at Henley.

The Stewards and Committee of Management met several times in the early part of the week, and made numerous excellent arrangements. Many of the inhabitants also busied themselves in erecting Stands for the visitors, and up to the day of the Regatta extensive preparations were being made to ensure both accommodation and comfort, the gentlemen of the Corporation attending to see that the stands and booths were properly and firmly erected. The Stewards' Stand was in front of Mr. Cooper's house on the Thames side, and that Gentleman set apart a room for their exclusive use. Altogether there were seats for about 10,000 persons, and the innkeepers looked forward for a rich harvest.

The morning of Friday, unfortunately however, was extremely unpropitious, the rain descending heavily for many hours. About eight o'clock the town of Henley was visited by a tremendous storm, accompanied by loud peals of thunder and extremely vivid flashes of lightning, and we regret to state that the electric fluid entered Mr. Cooper's house in Bell Street, when the chimney fell, and a number of the windows were broken. One of the working men was knocked down, as were two or three other persons in the town, but happily they sustained no serious injury. The state of the weather prevented a vast number of persons being present, and many of the Stands were in consequence but thinly attended. Still several thousand spectators assembled, and, despite of the rain, carriages and other vehicles continued to arrive up to the time fixed for the rowing to commence — in which were a vast number of the fair sex.

As the day advanced the weather became finer, and the lovely meadows on the side of the Thames were thronged with visitors. The London and Oxford steamer, with her paddles at her stern, brought a number of both sexes from the classic city, and barges and other craft well filled with company were moored close in shore on the Bucks side of the river.

"Guard-boats" were employed by the Committee to keep the course clear for the rowers, and the order and regularity observed throughout by all parties deserve the greatest praise.

The Committee met at the Town-hall about twelve o'clock, when the Captains of the contending boats attended to toss for the choice of stations, &c. Mr. Bishop, of the Leander Club, undertook the office of Umpire, and he was assisted in his arrangements of starting the boats, &c. by Messrs. Higgins and H. Gibson, Members of the same Club. In addition to these gentlemen, Messrs. Pollock, Dalgleish, and others came up in the Leander boat.

Previous to the Regatta, and also between the various heats, a number of gentlemen were invited to partake of excellent cold collations at the residences of Messrs. Brakspeare, Nash, Hickman, Stubbs, and other gentlemen of the Committee, all of whom evinced an anxious desire to afford every accommodation and comfort to their numerous visitors.

The Cups were displayed on the Stewards' Stand, and excited universal admiration. The grand one, value 1OO guineas, is truly classic, and the symbolical allusions are in perfect order and keeping with the subject they are intended to illustrate. From a rich and boldly chased foot springs a stem composed of water-lilies and bulrushes, on which the Cup is supported. The form which the manufacturers have given to it is that of the celebrated Warwick Vase. One side is occupied with a recumbent figure of "Old Father Thames" which is beautifully designed and chiselled. The handles, which also represent aquatic productions elegantly twined together, spring from heads typifying Thames and Isis; and the border which surrounds the upper edge of the Cup completes a classic treatment throughout, by being formed of the flowers and plants which adorn the noble River.

The Town Cup is scarcely inferior to the other in beauty of design. In this the figure of Thames is represented holding in each hand a garland of aquatic flowers, which is made to intersect the bulb or lower part of the Cup. Two swans are appropriately attached to the sides, their necks forming novel but very ingenious handles. Both Cups were designed and executed by Makepiece and Co., Silversmiths, Lincoln's Inn, and do great credit to that firm.

At four o'clock the signal was given for the commencement of the various contests, which we shall describe in the order in which they were rowed, first informing our readers, however, that neither the Exeter nor the University Club boats of Oxford entered into competition.

The Oxford Etonian Club and the Brasenose College Crew, also of Oxford, contended in this heat. The names of the Gentlemen composing the crew are as follow:—

[in conventional order]

[Bow oar]J.Sealy, Merton [Bow oar]J.W.Empson
2S.H.Northcote, Balliol 2R.W.Lowry
3R.Elwes, Christ Church 3G.Meynell
4W.J.Garnett, Christ Church 4W.R.Buckley
5W.Rogers, Balliol 5R.G.Walls
6E.Boscawen, Christ Church 6W.Lea
7P.L.Powys, Balliol 7J.C.Paxton
Stroke oarS.E.Maberley, Christ Church Stroke oarG.Sandbach
CockswainE.Clayton, Christ Church CockswainW.B.Garnett

The Etonian crew were dressed in white guernseys, with pale blue facings; rosette, sky blue. Brazenose had blue striped guernseys, blue cap with gold tassel; rosette, yellow, purple, and crimson. The latter crew had the choice of station, and of course took the inside berth. The start in each heat was from the Island, and the distance rowed was down, through Henley Bridge, being one mile and about 600 yards.

On the signal being given they went away in excellent order, and were oar and oar for half the distance, when the Etonian crew began to show a-head, and they ultimately won by about six boats' lengths.

The Wadham College (Oxford) and the Trinity Club (Cambridge) were engaged in this heat.

[in conventional order]

[Bow oar]W.R.Gough [Bow oar]Nevinson
2W.W.Smyth 2Zincke
3S.B.T.Taylor 3Gepp
4J.G.Londale 4H.Fox
5C.Penrose 5H.Brancker
6W.C.Strickland 6Tuffnell
7W.A.Cross 7Messiter
Stroke oarW.Massey Stroke oarReeve
CockswainH.D.Barclay CockswainHill

The Oxford Gentlemen were thus attired :—White guernsey, with narrow blue stripes, dark blue cap, with light blue velvet band, and light blue scarf. The Cambridge wore blue striped guernseys; rosette, French blue. The toss for choice of station was won by Oxford.

This contest proved far superior to the first. Oar and oar was the order of rowing down to Phyllis Court Point, where Cambridge shewed rather a-head, but were not sufficiently in advance as to lead their friends to suppose for one moment that the race was safe. The struggle on both sides was kept up in the most manly and determined manner, and excited the utmost interest, Cambridge, however, succeeded in reaching the goal first, the Oxonians being so close upon them at the finish that their boat nearly touched that of their opponents. Both crews were apparently much distressed.

The Leander Gentlemen, with that liberality which has so frequently distinguished them, set on foot a subscription for an Oars Match among the London watermen, and £12 being quickly collected, the following men took their stations at the Bridge, to row thence up to the Island and back:—

1W. Campbell and BarrowBlue.
2T.Pyner and J.WilliamsYellow.
3H. Campbell and J.PhelpsBlue.

Barrow and his partner took the lead at starting, followed by Williams and Pyner; but the others soon overhauled them, and at the Point went in advance. It was a pretty close contest up to the Island, but in returning Phelps and his coadjutor had it all their own way, and won cleverly, Williams and Pyner being second, and the others many boats' lengths astern. Williams stated that he broke his thoul shortly after starting.

The Match by the Town crews had long been the subject of much interest and speculation among the residents at Henley; each had their favorites. The Albion Club was, we heard, formed expressly for this contest, and, although they had not had a great deal of practice, many freely backed them. They came to their stations at the Island as follows, to row to the Bridge:—

[in conventional order]

[Bow oar]Webb [Bow oar]Mapleton [Bow oar]Ive
2Sandy 2Young 2Johnson
3Cooper 3Morgan 3Owthwaite
Stroke oarStewart Stroke oarAllnut Stroke oarForest
CockswainJones CockswainCooper CockswainOxley

The race was admirably contested, and afforded the utmost gratification to the vast assemblage of spectators. At starting the Dreadnought went away with the lead, followed by the Albion; and when about a third of the distance was rowed, the former gave way to the latter. At the Point, however, the Wave came out and headed the others, which position she held the remaining distance. The contest between the Albion and Dreadnought was so close a one that the Umpire declared it to be a dead heat between these two boats, which were excellently well up with the winning cutter at the finish.

The Etonian Oxford boat and the Trinity of Cambridge, as the winners of the first and second heats for the 100 guineas Challenge Cup, being entitled to contend in the third or grand heat, they came to their stations at the Island shortly after seven o'clock. It would be impossible to describe the interest which this final struggle excited in the minds of the University Gentlemen, hundreds of whom started over to the meadows in order to follow the boats throughout their course. From the fact of the second heat having been rowed in less time than the first, many of the Oxonians conceived the Etonian crew would come off victorious, but the general betting was 5 to 4 on Cambridge.

The heat proved one of the best and severest ever witnessed. Cambridge had the inside station, and, after much caution was displayed on both sides that neither should have the advantage of the other on starting, they went away in a most gallant and determined style, the partisans of each cheering them in almost deafening shouts as they proceeded.

Down to the Point each had alternately the lead, but it was so trifling that they may be considered as oar and oar. Shortly afterwards, however, Cambridge evidently had the lead, but their opponents were so very close to them that many considered that the Oxonians would eventually prove triumphant. By great exertion, however, and after a tremendous struggle the Cantabs were declared the victors by half a boat's length.

This heat was so beautifully contested throughout that the London Gents declared that they would go fifty miles to witness such another. The distance was rowed by the winners in eight minutes and about thirty seconds. Both crews were evidently "baked" at the conclusion.

Brazenose appeared to us to be the heavier crew, but for size and height perhaps the Wadham had the preference. For strength the Trinity had the lead; but for uniformity of appearance and equality of seat and stroke we should say the Etonian carried off the palm; decidedly, however, the Trinity shewed more muscle, more iron, more devil. Had not the Etonian crew taken so great an affection for the Henley shore, we think it would have puzzled the Umpire to have named the winner.

At the conclusion of the Regatta the Cambridge Gentlemen attended in the Committee Room, and received the 100 guineas Cup, they first having signed a document binding themselves to return the same to the Stewards on the annual entrance day, the 25th of May 1840. Each of the crew also received a handsome Silver Medal, round which was inscribed "Grand Challenge Cup Prize Medal", the Cup in bold relief, and admirably executed, being in the centre. On the reverse were the words "Henley Regatta, established 1839," and a wreath of aquatic flowers.

The Wave crew also received the Town Cup and Medals, and the winners in both contests were complimented on their victory.

The Committee expressed themselves deeply indebted to Mr. Bishop and the rest of the Leander Gentlemen for their exertions throughout the day.

In the evening there was a splendid display of fire-works on the River.

We cannot conclude our account without expressing our admiration at the manner in which the whole arrangements were carried out by the Committee of Management. No Regatta, in fact, could have given greater satisfaction; and, as it may now be considered to be fairly established, we trust that it will continue to flourish for a long series of years.

The Sporting Review [a shorter account!] -

The long talked-of Regatta of Oars at Henley-on-Thames, came off on the 14th [June], with great eclat.

Not only as a water-pageant was it an exhibition of great interest and splendour, but the contests lay between, probably, the best crews of fresh-water oarsmen to be found in Great Britain.

The regulations of the racing were all carefully framed, not the least claiming our approbation, being that which declared, that "no fouling be permitted."

The floating equipages from London, Oxford, and Cambridge, were eminent for their beauty and style of workmanship; and, taken all together, old father Thames has rarely seen a gayer or braver scene enacted within his silvery dominions.

The first heat for the Grand Cup, was won by the Oxford Etonian Club beating the Brazenose College crew, and the second heat by the Trinity Club, Cambridge, beating the Wadham College, Oxford, Club. The third and deciding heat now brought together the winners of the first and second, and produced as fine a contest as ever was seen ashore or afloat. It was won by the Cambridge men, by half a boat's length, and nothing to spare.

There was a race for a Town Challenge Cup, won by the Wave, (a local crew,) and an Oars Match for London Watermen, won by H. Campbell and J. Phelps cleverly.

It is understood that this Regatta is to be an annual festival.

1839: Three weeks later on July 4th 1839 Maidenhead Regatta was not as great a success.