Intercolonial Gig race, The Finish, Saltwater river 1873. Melbourne crew first lower right hand corner; Ballarat City second middle picture. Courtesy La trobe Picture Collection SLV.


During the 1970’s and 80’s the members of Ballarat City had no idea of our amazing history and no idea of the incredible achievements of the rowers of the 1870’s. Having lost 80 years of memories in the disastrous boatshed fire of 1950, even the older members only had memories going back to the 1920’s. Both my husband and I loved to hear the stories of the early days and many a cold winter night in Ballarat working alongside the pre-war members at weekly working bees, we learnt just enough to make us want to find out. So we resolved to start collecting Annual reports and researching newspapers. As this was 1979 and we were on the Committee, training and racing 6-7 days a week and working full time, the serious work didn’t start until 2000 when I was at home with our 2 year old son. Imagine my excitement when we discovered the incredible achievement of 1873-the club entering a crew in the very first Intercolonial fours race and placing second against all odds.

 In January 1873 the club took delivery of a new four called THE WENDOUREE. Built by Edwards, boat builder of Melbourne, she measured 42 feet in length and had three inches more beam than most Victorian gigs. She weighed only 120lbs and had been intended for the Intercolonial Regatta but had not been used up until her trial on Lake Wendouree. The members of the club were reportedly highly pleased with their new four.

In just over two years of existence Ballarat City was about to claim its first major achievement on the national stage. And what a tremendous achievement it was. The young club sent a crew off to contest the first official Intercolonial four race to be held on the lower reaches of the Maribyrnong at Footscray in March 1873. It was reported on February 3rd that the crew comprised Messrs. Giles, Crampton, Maurice Drynan and John Cazaly. They were coached by club captain Peter Cazaly and Mr. J. Jinks was the emergency. They were to race in the recently purchased boat THE WENDOUREE.

On March 26th the City crew made a change with John Stout replacing Drynan. I didn’t know until I obtained the newspaper articles on Zachariah Giles (posted in the 1872 blog) that Maurice Drynan(or Drinan) applied for leave from his job at the Railways but they didn’t receive his application. Mr. Stout obviously ended his association with the Ballarat Rowing Club and stepped into the boat beginning what was to be a long and illustrious career at City, racing in the Intercolonial four. The crew spent  a week training at Footscray prior to the big race and received very little attention in the copious newspaper reports in all the metropolitan papers that preceded the big event. The press dubbed the Sydney crew the “giant killers” from Sydney Town and gave them the lion’s share of the plaudits. Also competing were crews from the Ballarat Club, Melbourne Rowing Club and Hobart Town.

Over the week the excitement grew to fever pitch with all the bets going Sydney’s way and nothing but scorn for the Ballarat City boys who rowed on the “rush beds”. The race was held on the Lower Yarra course over a distance of 4 miles. In a hard fought race, the like of which had not been seen in the colonies before, Ballarat City’s young crew distinguished themselves and astounded the press placing second. In doing so they defeated the “hitherto invincible Sydney crew” and secured the twenty-five pound second prize. Melbourne Rowing Club actually won the event in a time of 25 minutes and 50 seconds. Ballarat City were a mere 10 seconds (half a length) behind. Had the City crew a little more experience, as two of them were just Maiden oarsmen, they might well have snatched victory on the line. Had they not had to make a last minute substitution maybe they would have won. Instead they were watching the Sydney crew and keeping a little in reserve to hold off the renowned blistering finish of the Sydneysiders and so they allowed the Melbourne crew to make a break. Had the race been fiveminutes longer the pundits also said the City crew would have won. James Cazaly was in the winning Melbourne crew making it three of the famous Cazalys in the race.

The crews were rowing in boats with no sliding seat.This meant that for four miles the oarsmen  had to row the boat using their backs, arms and shoulders and very little leg drive. Because the strokes were much shorter the rating (number of strokes per minute) would have been much higher-stroke rates of 40-42 were quoted for the entire four miles!

At the Annual meeting that year, held on Friday August 8th 1873, Mr. J. Josephs the president waxed lyrical: 

    “ The members of this crew deserve the highest credit for the perseverance and self denial they displayed in their training, together with the game and skill exhibited in securing second place in the greatest race ever rowed on Victorian waters. The Ballarat press also gave notice to their metropolitan counterparts of the inadvisability of discounting the rowers from Ballarat:

The Ballarat crews had no show at all, said those seaside Daniels, and least of all the Ballarat City crew. Sydney was likeliest to be first, and if Melbourne were not first must be second. We are glad that Melbourne won, for to have Ballarat City second to Sydney would have been sharp death to some of our loving friends in the metropolis, and we must have wept over the tragedy. But “you never can tell”, and so the pooh-poohed City crew came in second, and some people say would have been first had the race lasted another five minutes. So much for the “swamp” and the “reed pond,” despised of our brothers of the briny.” (Excerpt from the Star,March 31st,1873.)


 On a rainy, squally Wednesday April 9th 1873 the club again competed at the Geelong regatta and were successful in winning the club’s third and fourth races. In the Maiden four-oared gig for the prize of 12 pounds, Messrs. Hughes, C. McPhillimy, Crampton and Z. Giles with J. Jinks cox, were winners. The club also had its first success in senior ranks winning the Senior Four-oared gig with prizes of 20 pounds and the Ladies Trophy. This crew comprised J. Stout, J. Cazaly, W. Crampton and Z. Giles with J. Jinks cox. However, this race was anything but clear-cut with a collision occurring between the Ballarat crew and Ballarat City. City entered a protest and the regatta committee decided that the race should be rowed over again the next day. However the crews voted to divide the prizes-one would take the prize money and one would take the cup. So the respective strokes tossed for it with Ned Williams of Ballarat winning and choosing the cups. This meant that City would get the 20 pounds. Satisfied the City crew returned home. However, the regatta committee did not see it that way and so the Ballarat Club rowed over the course the next day claiming all the prizes-the money and the cups .The whole affair caused some decidedly bad feelings between the clubs with Peter Cazaly stating at the Annual meeting in September that the club had been diddled out of the prizes. Eventually, after much argument Ballarat Club did hand over the prize money as initially agreed.

At the end of May the club held its scratch races with much public support and interest. The following is taken from the Star newspaper report of May 29th: –

 The boating on Lake Wendouree on Wednesday was similar to a regatta so many craft were out. The scratch matches of the City Rowing Club were the attraction, between 300 and 400 persons assembled on jetties and the side of the Lake to witness the races. There were six heats and the contests were for gold medals offered by the Club. A circular course, a mile and a half in length was marked off by flags….

………….The final heat was rowed at 5 o’clock, between Giles’ and Hughes’ crews. The latter got the inside of the course and on the fall of the flag obtained a strong lead, which was soon increased to half a length. This advantage was never lost and after rounding the last flag, Hughes spurted away beating Giles by four lengths and winning the four medals. The time taken in this race was 9 mins 50 secs. Mr. Matthews was the judge and Mr Peter Cazaly the umpire. Credit is due to the latter for the promptness displayed in bringing the boats to scratch at the time fixed for the races. Everyone appeared pleased with the excellent rowing and the keen struggles for victory were of an exciting character. A good number of pleasure parties were out in boats, and the followers of Izaak Walton (fishermen!) could be seen in every direction.” ( Report from theStar, News and Notes, May 29th , 1873)

Spurred on by the splendid effort of placing second in the Intercolonial race in 1873 the membership of the club swelled to 121 with a large number of applications for membership presented at the Annual Meeting. This meeting was held on 11th August at Brophy’s Hotel. And it was a momentous one in the development of the young club. Mr. J. Josephs resigned as president in June and being so close to the annual Meeting the election to fill the position was held over until then. At this meeting, Mr. H. R. Caselli, noted Ballarat architect was unanimously elected to the position of president, a position he would hold for the next 11 years. Although not a rower himself and later suffering considerable ill health, his standing in the community and his interest in the club and all things aquatic made him a highly respected and beloved leader. I will feature more about Henry Richards Caselli in the 1874 blog.

The club now had a considerable fleet of boats being: two stout four-oared gigs, three string test four-oared gigs, three pair-oared boats, four clinker sculling boats, one out-rigger sculling boat, four sets of oars and three pairs of sculls. The committee also ordered from Biffen’s, the celebrated London, Thames boat builder an outrigged four with all the modern improvements-sliding or fixed seat, right or left hand spoke rowlocks and steering with or without coxswain. The boat was due to be delivered in November 1874 at a cost of 345 pounds(~$34,500 today!) Imagine the excitement and trepidation of awaiting a boat all the way from England. Much of the money for this boat was raised by club members who ran several special fund raising events.

The Captain Peter Cazaly at the conclusion of his report this year, urged all rowers to ‘adhere diligently to practice, study patiently the art of rowing on proper principles; be abstemious, regular and temperate in (your) habits, taking well to heart that he who would excel in rowing must shun delights and live laborious days, must be obedient to discipline avoiding conceit and ever ready to receive instruction’! He was certainly a hard task master!

Intercolonial Four 1873 second prize Ballarat City Rowing Club. Was held in the Vizard Collection and sold by auction to unknown in 2012

Silver Rowing trophy by William Edwards, with silver gilt bowl and bright cut decoration of swags and ties interspersed with three shaped cartouches, each bearing inscriptions: ‘Intercolonial Champion Gig Race 29th March 1873 Second Prize Won By John Stout No 1, John Cazaly 2, Wm Crampton 3, Z Giles Stroke,Thos Finks Cox’,

Cup resting on triform supports as oars and on foot engraved with rowing race and beaded rim. Marks: W Edwards/ Manufacturer/ Melbourne / sterling / silver to foot rim ref JBH no 113. Weight:230 grams. Height 20 cm. Provenance: Private Collection. Notes: the race was held on the lower Yarra with Melbourne winning.

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