Rowing on the Parramatta River

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Professional sculling was a popular spectator sport of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, drawing enormous crowds to watch races.

Edward Trickett became Australia’s first sports champion when, in 1876, he defeated the English champion, Joseph Sattler on the Thames River.

Enthusiasm for sculling led to the formation of several rowing clubs along the river, chief of which was the Sydney Rowing Club. Although formed near Circular Quay in 1870, the Sydney Rowing Club purchased land at Abbotsford and later moved its headquarters to the Parramatta River site.

One of the most important annual events was the Greater Public Schools Head of the River regatta which was held between Ryde Bridge and Cabarita Ferry Wharf from 1893 until 1935, when the event was transferred to the Nepean River. Trams ran almost non-stop from the Enfield depot taking huge crowds to Cabarita Point to watch the finish of the race. Supporters chartered ferries and launches, decorated them with their team’s colours and made the spectacular trip along the river to the finishing point.

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Posted on August 21, 2013, in Canada Bay and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. James Tyrell (1875-1961) in Old Books, Old Friends, Old Sydney (1952) provides a glimpse of the excitement surrounding sculling when he was a boy:

    ‘Our own hero was, of course, Bill Beach… he was a member of Balmain Rowing Club and always rowed in colours*.

    When there was a boat-race between Beach and Hanlan, swarms of people, a mixed procession of many thousands, on horseback or in horse vehicles or on foot, made the pilgrimage through Drummoyne and Five Dock to Abbotsford and the river. A sculling match, in those halcyon days, was not merely a sporting encounter; it was the big event of the moment. The crowds went to it, by land or up the river in boats, from all parts of Sydney and farther afield. Afterwards the stakes were paid over in Larry Foley’s hotel, in George Street, near King Street, with a white horse for its sign…’

    The William Beach Memorial in Cabarita Park, of course, celebrates the achievements of the ‘undefeated champion sculler of the world’. Read more about William Beach in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

    * The colours he rowed in were black and gold, the colours of the Balmain Rowing Club.

  2. A splendid prize! Joan passed on a paragraph she came across recently on Trove:

    ‘On 13 June 1885 at the Mercantile Rowing Club, Fred Ives received ‘a beautifully worked pair of slippers’ for his 2nd place in the Handicap Outrigger Race on the Parramatta River.’

    (The Sydney Morning Herald , 15 June 1885, page 8e)

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