1890: Pre-Boatrace correspondence -
In the correspondence between the University Boat Club Presidents to set the details for the 1890 race, the date became a sticking point, flashing over when Guy Nickalls [of Oxford] wrote that Cambridge wanted to get the best of everything because they were “a poorer lot than usual.”
Less than tactful!
To celebrate this Inter-University Incident, Rudy Lehmann, [of Cambridge] penned thirty-two stanzas for Granta, the year-old Cambridge magazine -


Strew your heads with dust and ashes, O ye sons of sedgy Cam;
Let your speech be meek and humble as the baa of bleating lamb;
Let your bloods go robed in sackcloth and be careless of their boots,--
You’re “a poorer lot than usual, – rather lower than the brutes.

Fiery Nickalls wrote the latter, -- fiery Nickalls, fine and large,--
And his frenzied eye flashed fury as he sat within his barge.
Long enough have we submitted; now the time has come to strike;
Shall “a poorer lot than usual” settle all things as they like?

“I, the winner of the Wingfields, of the Diamonds winner too,
Who at stroke, or six, or seven am the mainstay of the crew;
I, whom friends call Guy or Luney,” -- it was thus the chieftain spoke, --
“Of ‘a poorer lot than usual’ will not tamely bear the yoke.

“Nay, my brothers of the Isis, let us write to them and say
They shall trample us no longer in the old familiar way;
And the banner of our Boat Club, as it flutters in its pride,
By ‘a poorer lot than usual’ shall no longer be defied.”

So he wrote it, and he signed it in the Presidential chair,
And he folded and addressed it, and he posted it with care;
And the heedless postman bore it, little recking of the frown
Of “a poorer lot than usual” who reside in Cambridge town.
. . . .

And they sat in solemn conclave, there within the panelled hall,
Where the golden names of oarsmen gleam and glitter on the wall;
Mighty Muttle read the letter, lord and master of the crew,
In “a poorer lot than usual” of socks and shorts and shoes.

Then they looked at one another as they heard it with dismay,
And one said, “This is awful,” and another, “Let us pray”;
Till at last one rose and murmured, and his fingers, as he rose,
Were -- “a poorer lot than usual” – extended from his nose.

“Thus,” he said, “I answer Nickalls of the boast so loud and big;
Let him mount, and, if he likes it, ride to Putney on a pig.
Let him go to Bath or blazes, go to Jericho and back,
Or -- “a poorer lot than usual” -- place his head within a sack.

“But when next he writes to Cambridge let him try another plan;
Manners cost no more than twopence, and ‘tis manners makyth man.
And, O Muttle! if you meet him, tell him plainly face to face
That ‘a poorer lot than usual’ mean to beat him in the race.”

But the name-calling had to stop. Nickalls and Rowe had to go to Cambridge to make peace, cemented at a banquet in their honour:


Oh! sadly flows the Isis, full sadly go the crews,
And the Blue-aspiring oarsmen all have yielded to the blues,
Through hall and quad and college sweeps the universal moan,--
“Give Guy and Reggie back to us; we cannot row alone.”

To Iffley drift the “toggers,” as slow as any hearse;
For while the men forget their form the coach forgets to curse;
And bow, who screws most painfully, forgets to murmur “Blank,”
As the cox forgets his rudder-strings and runs into the bank.

. . . . But Guy has hastened Camward; he leaves them to their sighs,
And Reggie Rowe goes with him, curly Reggie of the eyes --
Reggie the slim and supple, the pride of all the Eight,
Who never left his bed too soon, and never yet rowed late.

See how our Muttle greets them; his childlike smile is bland,
That heathen Cantab, Muttle, -- as he shakes them by the hand:
“Now, welcome both to Cambridge; first lunch and then away
To watch ‘the poorer-----’ Hem! I mean the crew at work to-day.”
. . . .
Muttle at six is “stylish,” so at least the Field reports;
No man has ever worn, I trow, so short a pair of shorts.
His blade sweeps through the water, as he swings his 13.10,
And pulls it all, and more than all, that brawny king of men.
. . . .
And, now the work is over, the rival chieftains sit
And talk of friendly nothings in their armchairs at the Pitt;
And yet methought I marked a shade of sadness on the face
Of Nickalls, as he thought upon the coming Putney race.

But oh! that merry evening -- the clash of knives and forks,
The sparkle of the wineglass, and the popping of the corks;
And the walls and rafters echoed and re-echoed to our cry,
As we drained our brimming bumpers to Reggie and to Guy.

So here’s a health to Oxford men; there came a storm of late,
But our sturdy friendship weathered it, nor foundered on a date;
And, when the furious race is past, again we’ll meet and dine,
And drink a cup of kindness yet for days of auld lang syne.

1890: BOATRACE - Oxford by 1 length. See Boatrace 1890s

Boat-race at Barnes Bridge, Henry Taunt, 1890

Boat-race at Barnes Bridge, Henry Taunt, 1890
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive;

1890: HEAD OF THE RIVER - Brasenose
Second night: Keble caught a crab and lost an oar.
Fourth night: Owing to the absence of Tims a mistake was made in the starting guns which led to a dispute.

1891: BOATRACE - Oxford by ½ length. See Boatrace 1890s
1891: HEAD OF THE RIVER - Brasenose.

1892: BOATRACE - Oxford by 2¼ length. See Boatrace 1890s
1892: HEAD OF THE RIVER - Magdalen
1892: from the Boys Own Paper:

by an Exeter College Man

A visitor, who on going to Oxford for the first time at Commemoration, sees on the River every kind of and species of craft from the eight and centreboard to the Canadian and pun,t will carry away a feeling that great and noble as the University of Oxford herself maybe yet the love which all her members bear for her is increased to a very great extent by her fortunate situation on the Isis.
That the River is regarded with affection by every generation of undergraduates is undoubted.
No one who Witnesses the ardour with which men, sometimes for 5 years, toil and "plug" at an oar in the attempt to earn their "Eights" colours or perchance the coveted "Blue" attendant on the 'Varsity race, can have any doubt that it is quite as much the fascination of the everchanging river as the exhilaration of the exercise that chains them to their boat.

Practising under Difficulties - "It is not always May"

A college is often held in estimation among the undergraduates more by its place on the river than by the "testamurs" scholarships and honours which its more studious members gain.
Thus Jesus College which is somehow always near the bottom of the river, is spoken of as a very nineteenth-rate college or referred to in the present-day slang as "Jaggers".
The slang of the undergraduate of today is very simple and consists in attaching the suffix "er" to every word of any length.
It may be best illustrated by the following letter:-

Dear Johnnie,
I was very sorry I did not see you last night but I had to finish an ecker and then go to speak at the Ugger: afterwards I had a game of pills with Jones and was nailed by the Progger.
Will you come and do a brekker with me on Thursday.
I have a Wugger and a Quagga coming: the latter is an awfully good chap at keeping the conversation going.
I would go up the river with you afterwards but we are playing Jaggers at Rugger and ought to walk them.
Yours faithfully,
A B Smith.
St Boniface College

In ordinary English this would read as follows:-
Dear Johnnie,
I was very sorry I did not see you last night but I had to finish an exercise and then go to speak at the Union: afterwards I played billiards with Jones and was caught by the Proctor.
Will you come and have breakfast with me on Thursday.
I have a Worcester and Queen's man coming: the latter is an awfully good chap at keeping the conversation going.
I would go on the River with you afterwards but we are playing Jesus at rugby and ought to have a walk over.
Yours, etc.
A B Smith
St Boniface College.

Since then so much importance is attached to the place of the college boat on the river it follows that the rowing man becomes a class by himself and a hard-and-fast line divides him from the other descriptions of athletes, the most intolerant members of the O(xford) U(niversity) B(oat) C(lub) being inclined to regard the Blues gained on the cricket or football fields as illegitimate innovations!
The limit which a man of ordinary physique sets to his ambition is a seat in his College Eight; and to affect this an amount of training has to be gone through which strikes one at first with astonishment, and in addition he must graduate through his College fours and Torpid races.

The Clinker Fours: Waiting for the Gun.

His path is beset by many difficulties.
As a freshman he finds himself religiously left alone for perhaps more than a week, and when at length he sallies forth to the river to be "tubbed" he is at a loss to distinguish his College barge.
With hardly an exception, each College possesses a barge.
Under the upper deck are changing rooms, and a large saloon with lounges, easy chairs, reading and writing tables.
They are picked out in the college boating colours, but unless they are decorated with the actual College Crest, it is difficult to distinguish them, as the boating colours are not necessarily the same as those by which each college is popularly known.
The colours, independent any sport, of each college are as follows:
1 Balliol: Dark blue (broad) red and white stripes.
2 Brasenose: Black and Yellow.
3 Christchurch: Dark blue and white in small squares.
4 Corpus: dark blue and red.
5 Exeter: red and black.
6 Hertford: Scarlet and white.
7 Jesus: Green (dark) and white.
8 Keble: red white and blue.
9 Lincoln: dark and light blue.
10 Magdalen: white and black
11 Merton: white, with red Cross.
12 New: white and purple.
13 Non-Collegiate: Broad olive green edged with white and Claret.
14 Oriel: white and dark blue.
15 Pembroke: Pink and white.
16 Queens: dark blue and white.
17 St John's: yellow Scarlet on chocolate ground.
18 Trinity: Broad dark blue, white edging.
19 University: yellow and blue.
20 Wadham: light blue and white.
21 Worcester: pink and black.
In addition to these every member of a college is entitled to wear a dark-blue flannel coat with the college crest ...

The Barge having been found the "tubbing" commences.
This bears no resemblance to little Mr Bouncers "tumbies", but is a much more serious matter.
The coach, a senior man, stands up in the stern of a two oared boat with the rudder lines in his hands, and the novices pull him up.
Then starts an incessant course of correction and instruction which increases in vituperative force as his acquaintance grows until it ends, at times, in vivid abuse.
Despite the coach's bark, our tyro may find himself in the trial torpid, an eight-oared craft with fixed seats, preparing for the February races.
They are familiarly spoken of as "Toggers" and represent the college in the minor races in the spring and also supply the material for the eights.
If the tyro "shapes" well enough for the Torpid and is conspicuous therein, he may at the end of his second year have reached the summit of a moderate man's ambition, and be entitled to his Eight's colours.
The racing takes place in June, and the boat manned by the same number as the Togger differs from it in having sliding seats.
Every College puts one crew on the river, and the crew is subjected to strict training for weeks before.
Their object in so doing is to obtain the utmost weight, strength, and endurance, and so an institution has sprung up in many colleges termed "Breakfasting the Eight".
It is rather a large business, as the rowing man is apt to be not only heavy in avoirdupois but also in conversation.
His information on external matters being bounded by the knowledge that Magdalen is "going very strong" and that Jesus as usual is "very rank".
If you are not a boating man, your acquaintance with the majority of your guests will be but slight, and this does not add gaiety to the proceedings.
Your scout, who has ordered generations of Eights' breakfasts from the kitchen, saves you from the necessary necessity of thinking out a novel and appetizing menu.
It is invariable, and as follows follows: Soles, steak or chicken, marmalade, watercress, fruit, and chocolate instead of tea or coffee.
During the actual week of the races it is customary to invite the Eight up to one's rooms and give them two glasses of port and fruit ad lib.
The breakfasts however commence some three weeks before the struggle, and at the same time all indulgences are knocked off.
Before breakfast the crew must run around the parks, a distance of about one mile, and throughout the day must abstain from herba nicotiana sive tobacco as the Statutae Universitatis Oxoniensis has it in unrivalled canine Latin.
In addition to this they have a separate dinner in hall and they must do the "Downy" regularly at 10:30 p.m.
The day arrives.
Our freshman, now become a senior, knows that his boat for an entire week will be at once the pursuer and the pursued, and that it will cover itself with glory if it succeed as a pursuer, but will be received in silence at the landing stage if it failed to elude the "bump" of the boat pressing on behind.
The actual racing lasts from a Thursday to the following Wednesday, and each boat rows over the course from Iffley to the 'Varsity barge once a day in either the 1st or 2nd division.
The second division which starts at 4:30 p.m., consists of the boats which are in position on the River from the 12th to the 21st.
An interval of 1½ hour is allowed between the first and second division as the highest boat at 4:30, the "sandwich" boat, rows the course over again at 6, so as to give it an opportunity of making a bump.
Brasenose has held the position of head of the river both in Torpids and the Eights for some seasons.
Indeed last February it made the record for the Torpids having been head for six consecutive years.
Magdalen, New, Christchurch, Balliol, are also sturdy opponents for the honour.
A distance of 160 feet separates each boat, and one behind the other they race for upwards of a mile amid the encouragement of their partisans.
The encouragement is of divers kinds:
"Now you're on them";
"All you know";
"Well rowed New";
"Bravo Magdalen";
intermingled with pistol shots, whistles, rattles, dinner bells, etc. making up such a medley as fairly frightens them on to exertions.

Lent Races at Cambridge: a bump at Grassy

When one boat has so far gained on the other has to have slightly overlapped, the cox of the hindmost steers for the other; and should his bow touch any part of it the bump has been made, and on the succeeding day they change their places.
At commemoration there is a procession of the boats in the order on which they left off on the last days racing.
The "Head of the River" is moored opposite the 'Varsity barge, and as each boat passes, the crew, with the exception of stroke and bow, stand up and salute her with the oars.

1892: Saluting the Head Boat -

1892: Saluting the Head Boat
1892: Saluting the Head Boat. [not in Boys Own Paper]

The last boat on the river usually has about three oars in it and is solemnly overturned.
Immediately men in every description of flannels are swimming about before the 'Varsity barge cheering on "BNC" ad nauseam, while men are tossed out of the punts which put across to fetch man from the bank to their own barge, not in spies but in battalions.
With regard to the cox whose object has been to keep himself as light as possible and has perhaps deprived himself of the enjoyment of a square meal for weeks past, he receives in the majority of cases more kicks than ha'pence.
As the losing crew in the boat race invariably attribute their defeat to bad steering, so the eight merry men have been bumped never fail to tell the cox that he should have "washed them off" however impossible it may have been.
Harder still is the fate of the cox who makes his shot at a retreating boat and misses.
It is rare to get within bumping distance again, and the diminutive specimen in the stern pays dearly for his bad judgement.
This is especially hard on him as he is unable in many instances to judge his distance with any accuracy.

That is however the more doleful side which is soon forgotten.
Who can indeed estimate the advantages which such a training on the Isis affords for the serious work of life by giving him abundance of health, strength, resource and endurance; which brings back colour to the cheeks and hope to a jaded heart, as overwhelmed for a time by the mystery and heavy weight of the world's cares, he gazes up at the photo of his College Eight and remembers the swing of the oars, the bound of the boat, and her life between the strokes, the cheers from the bank which greeted their efforts as the almost imperceptible shock throughout the boat proclaimed that their exertions were crowned with success and that they had made the coveted bump?
E. G. M.

E W Hazelhurst, Our Beautiful Homeland, Oxford -

Christ Church Meadow, with its Broad Walk and its mighty trees, ...
It is here that on Show Sunday, in Commemoration Week, in June, those who hold high places in the University, with favoured guests, and some few undergraduates, pace up and down, or used to pace up and down in days gone by; for it belongs to a more modern pen to say whether the old custom still obtains, or whether it has passed away with other things of ceremony ...

1892: Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis -

Oxford - May, 1892.
Dear Family:
I came down here on Saturday morning with the Peels, who gave an enormous boating party and luncheon on a tiny little island. The day was beautiful with a warm brilliant sun, and the river was just as narrow and pretty as the head of the Squan river, and with old walls and college buildings added.
We had the prettiest Mrs. Peel in our boat and Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain, who was Miss Endicott and who is very sweet and pretty.
We raced the other punts and rowboats and soon, after much splashing and exertion, reached the head of the river. Then we went to tea in New College and to see the sights of the different colleges now on the Thames. The barges of the colleges, painted different colors and gilded like circus band-wagons and decorated with coats of arms and flying great flags, lined the one shore for a quarter of a mile and were covered by girls in pretty frocks and under-grads in blazers.
Then the boats came into sight one after another with the men running alongside on the towpath. This was one of the most remarkable sights of the country so far. There were over six hundred men coming six abreast, falling and stumbling and pushing, shouting and firing pistols. It sounded like a cavalry charge and the line seemed endless. The whole thing was most theatrical and effective.

E W Hazelhurst, Our Beautiful Homeland, Oxford -

None who have once heard it can forget the roar mingled with the rattles, pistol shots and bells, that draw closer and even closer, as the Eights come racing to the Barges. Scarcely music perhaps, but for all that a part of the song of Oxford life.

1893: BOATRACE - Oxford by 1 length and 4 feet. See Boatrace 1890s

MC Pilkington . . . . . . . . . H Legge . . . . . . . . . . . J A Morrison
Oxford VIII, 1893
C M Pitman . . . . . . V Nickalls . . . . . . J A Ford . . . . . . Portman? . . . . . . W A L Fletcher . . . . . . H B Cotton
Oxford VIII, 1893

1893: HEAD OF THE RIVER - Magdalen
Sixth night: Jesus rebumped St Mary Hall through the latter breaking an oar.

1894: BOATRACE - Oxford by 3½ lengths. See Boatrace 1890s
1894: HEAD OF THE RIVER - Magdalen
Third night: This race was memorable for a wonderful escape of Magdalen when head of the river. New College were generally thought to be the faster crew, but were not fast enough to catch them. A great crab was caught, however, in the Magdalen boat, on the bow side, just below the Weirs' Bridge, which stopped the baot, and brought her over to the Oxfordshire shore. Meanwhile New College had come up on the Berkshire shore, and were overlapping. The race seemed over, but the Magdalen stroke, H B Cotton, put on a magnificent spurt, and before the New College coxswain could get across the river, had put his boat out of danger.

1895: BOATRACE - Oxford by 3½ lengths. See Boatrace 1890s

Oxford, 12 seconds ahead at Barnes Bridge, 1895

Hugh Cotton rowed bow for Oxford - and was reported to be the only man who did not get influenza in race week. However he then had a severe illness of the lungs which culminated in his death the following October.

Hugh Cotton
Hugh Cotton

Coach Rudie Lehman wrote of him:

Though lost and dead, you die not here;
And, wheresoever men may range
Who once at Oxford held you dear
And called you friend, you know no change:
Still shall we see you stride along,
Smiling and resolute and strong.

We shall grow old, but you abide
In all our hearts as staunch and true
And young as when on Thames’s tide
You gripped your oar and won your Blue --
But hush! I hear the passing bell,
Oh dearest friend, farewell, farewell

1895: HEAD OF THE RIVER - Magdalen
Fifth night: Pembroke rebumped Wadham 'owing to a fearful crab in that boat'.
1895:  A bumping Race, Francis Frith -

1895:  A bumping Race, Francis Frith
1895:  A bumping Race, Francis Frith

1896: BOATRACE - Oxford by 2/5 length. See Boatrace 1890s
1896: HEAD OF THE RIVER - New College
Fourth night: Oriel stopped by a block and had their boat smashed by St Catharine's.
Balliol College Archives have two dramatic photographs from the Torpids -

BEFORE: 1)St Catharine's Togger 2) New College being bumped by 3)Balliol 4)Trinity 4 in the distance
1896 from Balliol College Rowing Archives

[ Then, presumably Balliol did not easy soon enough, crashed badly into New College and were in turn hit hard by Trinity 4 sinking their boat and leaving the crew to swim for it - ]

AFTER: New College with bows up the bank, Balliol sunk and swimming for it,
and Trinity trying to work out what they had hit!
The next boat is headed for the swimmers and may not yet have stopped
1896 from Balliol College Rowing Archives

1897: BOATRACE - Oxford by 2½ lengths. See Boatrace 1890s
1897: HEAD OF THE RIVER - New College
First night: Oriel started badly and were bumped, but rebumped St Edmund Hall next night.
Second night: Wadham ran into the bank. Worcester rowed past, but did not stop for some time, so that when they stopped Merton ran into them, broke an oar, caught a crab, and were bumped by Lincoln.

1898: BOATRACE - Oxford easily. See Boatrace 1890s
1898: HEAD OF THE RIVER - New College
Second night: St Catharine's blocked at the Cherwell; Orile rowed past them but were rebumped. Third night: Brasenose caught a crab and were rebumped by Hertford.
Fifth night: Brasenose broke a stretcher and were rebumped by Hertford.

1899: BOATRACE - Cambridge by 3 lengths. See Boatrace 1890s
1899: HEAD OF THE RIVER - New College
First night: Brasenose broke an oar and were bumped by Hertford, but rebumped them next night.
St Catharine's lost an oar through a crab.