James William Graham-Founder and first Captain 1870

In 1870 Lake Wendouree finally filled after 5 years of drought and such low water levels that only one of the 5 fledging rowing clubs-Alabama,Tay, Lubentia, Ariel and Ballarat- only the oldest Ballarat Rowing Club had survived. Ballarat had started as the Regatta Club in 1862 and in 1864 Robinson McLaren, the father of rowing in Ballarat, proved that if the reeds were cut down on the then swamp then then it could be used for rowing. So the Regatta Club moved from Burrumbeet to the shores of Lake Wendouree and changed their name to the Ballarat Rowing Club. In 1865 began a series of dry years that resulted in the basin drying up completely. The reeds actually caught fire when it was dry and there being no water to extinguish it, it was just left to burn. But it did clear the troublesome rushes away completely and after torrential rains in October 1869 the Lake was for the very first time a Lake in reality not just in name.

So the thoughts of rowing men turned to rowing again and on November 17th 1870, J. W. Graham held a meeting of interested men. On November 18th, 1870 the (Ballarat) Star newspaper reported that the first meeting, chaired by Mr. J. W. Graham, was well attended by boating men. They passed a resolution that a new rowing club be formed to be called the City Rowing Club. Subscriptions were set at 1 pound per year. Mr Thomas Cowan, the Mayor of Ballarat in 1869, was elected president, Daniel Brophy (publican and prominent citizen) as treasurer and Mr. A. E. Little the honorary secretary. About twenty members enrolled themselves and the meeting was adjourned.

One week later the adjourned meeting was held, again at Brophy’s Hotel in Sturt Street with Mr. Graham in the chair. A committee was elected comprising the following gentlemen: – Messrs. Bryant, Jinks, Smith, Tynan, H. Copeland, Sweeney and O’Donnell. Mr. Graham was appointed Captain and it was decided that the club colours would be a blue cap with a red stripe.

So in the short space of just over a week, the club had a name, a committee and a uniform but still nowhere to call home and, as yet, no boats to row in. The new committee quickly took things in hand and at a meeting on December 7th decided to rent the boatshed of the now defunct Alabama Club for 5 shillings per week. The captain reported he had an offer made to him by Mr James Edwards, boat builder of Melbourne, to supply boats. This meeting also adopted a Code of Rules that would govern the operation of the club. Unfortunately no record of these exists to my knowledge.

Two Vice-presidents were also elected at this meeting being Mr. H.B. Chalmers, current mayor of the City of Ballarat and Mr Robert Lewis. James Boyd and Joseph Armstrong were added to the committee. As can be seen with the mayor of the day and his immediate predecessor both on the committee, the City Rowing Club identified quite strongly with young City of Ballarat through both its name and representation on the committee. In a further link with the development of Ballarat, the town was declared the City of Ballarat on September 9th,1870 -the club taking the name of the newly proclaimed Ballarat City in the November of 1870.

Moving with a speed that, in retrospect seems extremely rapid, on the 30th of November 1870, a mere 12 days after its foundation, the Ballarat City Rowing Club entered its first regatta held on their fair home waters of Lake Wendouree. An 11-foot wide channel had been cut by the steamer Victoria and by hand by men in boats wielding sickles. All was set for a great aquatic contest with much wagering on crews and criticism on styles freely given by the general populace. The very first entry from the club was a Maiden four comprising the following men; Messrs. J. Sweeney, J. Boyd, E. Bryant, and A.Welsh.

The race was rowed over a mile and a half against crews from Civil Service and the Ballarat Club. The club’s second entry was in the Youth’s Sculling race with Fredrick Hughes wearing City’s new colours. There were six other races on the program the Junior and Senior fours, pairs and sculls. As could be expected with so little time for preparation the Maiden four came in third. However young Fredrick Hughes succeeded in winning the Youth Sculls upheld the club’s honour. He rowed the mile in 6 minutes, 47 and three quarter seconds securing not only the 3-pound prize money but also a place in club history as the first winner at an open regatta. Mr. P. Cazaly was listed on the management committee of the regatta. This was Peter Cazaly that would later in 1872, become Captain and coach of Ballarat City and lead them to some of their finest achievements. He was also great uncle to the famous footballer Roy Cazaly.

*(the original course on the Lake was a mile running from Mary’s Mount corner to the boatsheds


Born 1830-died April 19th, 1910.

Mr. J. W. Graham was one of the early pioneers of Ballarat. He was a well-known local figure especially at the Stock Exchange where he was a prominent member. He was born in the North of Ireland and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1851 on the ship “Eliza”. Soon after he moved to Victoria and settled for a short time in Geelong. There he was in business as a builder and contractor erecting a number of leading business buildings in Ryrie and Moorabool Streets and also a number of private residences in South Geelong between Newtown and the Barwon Bridge. He was attracted to Ballarat, as were many, by the gold rushes and he witnessed the fight between the diggers and the soldiers on Eureka on the 3rd  of December 1854. He was well acquainted with Raffaello Carboni, Peter Lalor, Verne, Black and other leaders in that rebellious movement.

Graham continued mining for some time at Smythesdale and other diggings and finally returned to Ballarat and his former trade as a builder in partnership with Mr. Carroll. Their workshops were on the site now occupied by Mr John Snow and Company (Myers). In his early days, Mr. Graham, who was a great sportsman, assisted in the formation of the regatta club and was associated with Ned Williams in the early days of the club. In 1870 he was founder and Captain of the Ballarat City Rowing Club. He also took a great interest in football and boxing. He was president of Albion Imperial Football Club when they won the premiership in 1882.He was the first secretary of the Ballarat Trades and Labour Council. He was one of the founders of the Ballarat Free Library and the Ballarat Old Colonist’s Association. It was as an officer and a member of the Old Colonist’s Association that Mr Graham was best known in the latter 20 or 30 years. He was the first president holding office from 1883 until 1886. In later years he became secretary and also filled this position at the Old Colonist’s Club. He retired from active work just two and a half years before his death. He also played an important part in the foundation and growth of the City Free Library and was one of its trustees at the time of his death. It was largely due to his enterprise and business acumen that the library obtained the very fine property in which its collection was held in Camp Street. For many years he acted as deputy returning officer to Col. Sleep in the City.

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