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Wendouree Ballarat Rowing CLub

Rowing Clubs Ballarat

The Ballarat Rowing Club was the first club formed in Ballarat for regular aquatic exercises, some contests on Lake Burrumbeet with both sailing and rowing craft having been the harbingers of the safer and more convenient boating settlement and exercises at Wendouree. We have not space here in which to detail the origins of aquatic sports, but may say that Messrs. Cooper and Dobson, at Burrumbeet, and the McLarens, Ned Williams, Ben. Oxlade, and others in Ballarat, were the pioneers, closely followed by Ward, Taylor, and others, still to be found about the shores of Wendouree. From their initial doings have come the well appointed clubs of to-day, the many well fought contests on local and other waters, and the respectable position occupied by both the sailing and rowing fraternities of Wendouree. 

The club was born on the 20th November, 1861, at McLaren's hotel. Bridge street, when it was resolved to form a regatta club, under whose auspices a regatta came off at Burrumbeet on the 31st January, 1862. The club had for its first officers S.T. Clissold, president; J.W. Pringle and C.W. Sherard, vice-presidents; W. Clarke, honorary secretary; R. McLaren, starter and treasurer; and E. Williams, E. Scrase, J.H. Harris, J. Ahrens, R. Davidson, H. Golightly, J. Calder, J. Cummins, A.C. Kerr, and Cochrane, committeemen. The club afterwards changed its name to the Ballarat Rowing Club, and it now numbers about 100 members, and its present officers are F.M. Claxton, president; R.W. Holmes and J. Shiels, vice-presidents; F.W. Commons, captain; G. Read, vice-captain; J.P. Moran, treasurer; C.J. Aikens, secretary; and E. Williams, G. Tonner, P. Marxsen, L. Cutter, J. Pobjoy, J. Lonie, and R. Ditchburn, committeemen. 

After the Ballarat club came the Alabama in 1864. It lived for a year or two only, and after that came the Wendouree, the Lebentia, the Ariel, and they all died after a short existence. 

The City club was formed in 1871 and has a members' roll of close on 100, its officers in February last being D. Brophy, president; C. Salter, M. Cahill, and W.P. Béchervaise, vice-presidents; E. Bailey, secretary; J. Fitzgerald, treasurer; A. McNaughton, captain; J. Barnes, vice-captain; and R. Toy, J. Byrne, W. Robertson, W. Trahar, A. Kortlang, M.B. Jenkins, J. Aikens, J.J. Dobson, and R.A. Strachan committeemen. 

In 1884 was formed the last of the rowing clubs so far, and it revived the old name Wendouree. Its officers are J. Hickman, president; Colonel W.C. Smith, and Messrs. McDonald and Hartley, vice-presidents; J. Whitelaw, captain; C. Leggo, vice-captain; G. Male, secretary; G. Miller, treasurer; and D. Hare, J. McDonald, F. McGarey, J. Leggo, W. Archibald, O. Liddiard, and E. Cutter, committeemen. The Wendouree also numbers near 100 members.

The History of Ballarat, W B Withers

Ballarat Rowing Club History 2018-06-18.pdf

Ballarat Rowing Club est. 1861

Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), Friday 12 December 1873, page 3


Now that we have a fine sheet of water within a mile of the centre of the city, rowing has taken a foremost place amongst the athletic sports indulged in by our young men, and so much interest appears to be taken in the various contests that take place on Lake Wendouree, that a short history of the rise and progress of rowing and sailing in this district is sure to be appreciated by our readers. Very few of the young fellows who belong to our rowing clubs are aware of the difficulties that had to be surmounted by those who first tried to start this manly and health giving exercise in our midst. At the latter end of 1861 Mr Robert McLaren, now deceased, went to Melbourne to row a sculling race with Mr Prescott, of Richmond on the Upper Yarra. 

The Ballarat man won, and on his return he called a number of his friends together, Mr Edwin Scrase, late of the Napier Brewery, of the number, to consider whether it would not be possible to have some rowing in the Ballarat district The proposition was scarcely looked upon as a practicable but Mr Scrase approved of it, and Mr McLaren soon after went in search of suitable water He fixed on Lake Burrumbeet, and then suggested that a regatta should be held there. Mr Scrase thought this place too far from Ballarat, but his clerk sent out notices to several leading men and a meeting was held to consider the advisability of holding a regatta at Lake Burrumbeet. Amongst those who took a lively interest in the matter at that time were Mr Pringle, now deceased, Mr R. Davidson, and the late Mr Walter Craig. 

After a long discussion it was determined that the regatta should be held. Mr McLaren was then Commissioned to go to Melbourne to borrow four equal boats for the competitors to row in, and he obtained the boats from Mr J Edwards, of Princes Bridge. The regatta took place on the 31st January, 1862, and a report of the event: appears in the Ballarat newspapers of the time. The Star of 1st February, 1862, says that "the regatta was the chief topic of conversation in all circles of the community for some time past, and as a sporting event was one of the greatest successes ever held in the district. There was a watermen’s race in three two mile and a half heats, in which Robert McLaren beat Alfred McLaren, J. Edwards (of Melbourne), G. Nickels, T. Atkinson, and T. Taylor, all the competitors being Old Thames watermen. A. pair-oared race for amateurs in skiffs was won by Messrs E. Williams and Golightly, beating Pringle and White, Ahrens and Cummins, Davidson and Calder. This was in three two mile and a half heats, so that the winners had to row eight miles for their prizes, rather, stiff work considering the boats. 

Before the boats were returned to Melbourne, Mr R McLaren, delighted with the-success of the regatta, called a meeting to form a rowing club. This was successfully done, and two of the borrowed boats were purchased from Mr Edwards for £52. There were about sixty members of the club when it first started, and Mr Edward Williams was elected captain, which position he has held from that time to the present. Mr Wm Clarke was the first secretary, and held that position for some years, and Mr R. McLaren was the first treasurer. 

We question whether any other club ever started with the same difficulties before them as the Ballarat Rowing Club. They had two skiffs to row in, and their boat house was thirteen miles from Ballarat, at the Picnic Hotel. These drawbacks do not appear to have dampened the, enthusiasm of the members, however and in the March following two more four-oared boats were purchased," and on the 21st of April, 1862, the first scratch matches of the Ballarat Rowing Club took place on Lake Burrumbeet, and passed off most successfully, the winners of the pair-oared race in heats being Messrs Williams and A. McLaren, beating R. 

Picnic Hotel Burrumbeet

McLaren and Golightly, Williams and Harris, and Ahrens and-Pringle. The second regatta was to have been held in November, 1862, but before this date Mr Pringle was drowned in Lake Burrumbeet, Mr A. McLaren having a narrow escape from a similar fate. 

The regatta was therefore postponed to the 16th of January, 1863, which was almost more successful than the first. On this occasion Williams and Golightly won the pair oared race, R. McLaren the watermen’s sculling race, and Williams the amateur scullers’ race. At this regatta a pretty stiff breeze was blowing, and although the Star report says this breeze only produced “ a gentle ripple,” the water was so rough that great inconvenience was felt by the competitors, and it was determined to hold the next regatta at Lake Learmonth, the residents in the locality pointing, out to the club the peculiar advantages their lake possessed over Burrumbeet. On the 30th of November, 1863, the third, regatta took place at Lake Learmonth. 

When the members of the club first commenced training there, they soon found that they could row comfortably in much lighter boats, and four large half-outrigged boats were borrowed from Mr J. Edwards, of Melbourne. These were much better than those which had been in use on the larger lake, but still they were not up to the mark for racing, and Professor Irving when he came up from Melbourne to row, was disgusted with them. The races here were rowed in two-mile heats, with three turns in each heat, so - that the mettle of the rowers was pretty well tried. The club on this occasion gave £62 for the rowing prizes, and the Learmonth people contributed a similar sum for the sailing matches. This regatta eclipsed all previous ones, for the two Melbourne clubs, the Leander and the Ariel, were represented. Messrs J. Cullen and W. Cooper, of the Leander, won the pair-oared race, beating the Ariel men and two Ballarat clubs. Mr R. McLaren won the watermen’s sculling race for the third time. Golightly won the amateur scullers’ race, and J. Edwards and C. Bromley the watermen’s pair oared race. 0. Cazaly and E. Williams won the amateur double-scull race. The sailing matches were also good, and the third regatta was pronounced a great success by all. 

Learmonth, however, was still too far for the Ballarat men, and driving home with Mr E. Williams, Mr Robert McLaren suggested that an attempt should-be made to row on the Wendouree Swamp. Soon after this he attempted to get across the Swamp in a duck punt, but failed. Mr McLaren then gave up the Wendouree Swamp idea, and went in search of more water. He thought the swamp near Mr A. Fisken’s property at Lal Lal a likely place, and a regatta would no doubt have been held there had not two persons who held the right to use the water demanded some considerable sum for allowing the club the privilege of rowing there. To use the words of our informant, “Bob,” as he was familiarly called, “couldn’t see this,” and determined to try the Wendouree Swamp once more. At the second at-tempt he got right across in the duck punt, landing on the other side near the Oriental hotel. During this little voyage he had to hold the long rushes aside while he pushed his punt through them. A meeting of the Ballarat Rowing Club was then held at McLaren’s hotel to decide upon cutting the rushes at the Swamp. After some opposition from the Water Supply Committee, who were afraid that the water would be polluted, it was decided to call for tenders for cutting a channel three chains wide and eighty chains long, and the first contract amounted to about £33. After this another chain and a-half was cut in order to make a landing-place at Brace’s. Towards the expense of cutting rushes Mr Williams collected £17 in half-crowns in a very short time. This was at the latter end of 1864, and when there was an open space for rowing at the Swamp, the remains of the club’s boats were brought in from Burrumbeet, where they had got pretty well dried up from want of use. Soon after this the first boat-house was built at Wendouree. The £63 given for prizes at the regatta held at Lake Learmonth bad almost exhausted the club’s subscriptions, but a few members came forward with £5 each, and a house was built and the boats repaired. Rowing matters then began to look up, and Mr Edwards, of Melbourne, in August, 1864, erected a boat house of his own and brought a number of boats up here. 

The first races on Wendouree Swamp took place on 6th May, 1864. In a pair-oared race, Messrs E. Williams and J. Cazaly beat Messrs H. Golightly and R. Davidson, giving them 200 yards start in a mile and a quarter. In the scullers’ race, in heats, Williams beat Golightly; J. Cazaly beat Dr Whitcombe, giving him 150 yards in a mile and a quarter. Some times the boats had almost to be dragged through the rushes, and Williams, who sprained his wrist, by getting his oar foul of the dead rushes on the bottom of the Swamp, could not row in the final heat until, a fortnight after, when he beat Cazaly. Those who went to witness the first races on the Swamp were unable to see much from the length of the rushes. Soon after this the Ballarat Rowing Club purchased a four-oared clinker-built gig, which is still in their possession, called the Cosmopolitan. This was the first four oared boat ever brought to Ballarat. The first four oared race on Lake Wendouree, between the Ballarat and Melbourne men, took place on 8th October, 1864. The Ballarat Club crew, of which E. Williams was stroke, rowed in the Fanny, a string-test gig, rowed by the Sydney men at the Inter-colonial Regatta, held at Sydney just before, and purchased by Messrs Mackay and Ware, and sold by them to the club. The Prince of Wales Club crew, from Melbourne, whose captain was W. Manuel, rowed in a similar boat called the Sylph. The Ballarat men won, and on the same day E. Williams, of Ballarat, beat F. Alexander, of Melbourne, in a scullers’ race for a silver cup. The Sylph, which was built by Mr W. T. Green land, of Melbourne, soon after came into the possession of the Ballarat Rowing Club. 

The Ballarat Club was first represented at Melbourne in the regatta of 1864, when those who went down were fairly successful, the challenge -oars and two presentation cups being won by E. Williams and Cazaly. The Alabama Club started in Ballarat in 1864; and lived for about two years, and the Wendouree Club only existed for about six months. The Lebentia Club, which started after this was also short lived; and the Ariel Club winch started with one boat some time before, also met with a similar fate, but lived long enough to compete at the Ballarat annual regatta, which took place on Lake Wendouree on the 10th of February, 1865, and in the Bell’s Life report the writer says that the place was ‘‘ known on the map as a lake but goes on to state that it was only a swamp with no water for a regatta. The affair passed off most successfully, however. On the 9th November, 1865, the Ballarat Club, which had survived all the other clubs started here, sent competitors to the Melbourne regatta on the Upper Yarra, and E. Williams won the scullers race, and E. Williams and W. Wallen the pair oared race. At the Geelong regatta, in the same month, the Ballarat Club won the pair-oared batswing race and the four-oared gig race. The particulars of races which have taken place since those we have mentioned will, no doubt, be fresh in the recollection of our readers, so we will hot go into further details. A love for aquatic sports, seems to have been steadily growing since the first race was rowed in the district; and even during the long interval when Lake Wendouree was dry, the enthusiasm of our rowing men did not die out. The Ballarat Club even then sent competitors to the Melbourne and Geelong regattas, although the men, for want of water to row upon, -had to train in an apparatus made for the purpose. Now we have a fine sheet of water, which will no doubt be improved year by year, while it may also be staged that the number of members on the rolls of the two clubs now existing is steadily increasing.

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