I find it fascinating that no matter how well you think you know the facts of history, the more you research the more nuanced and closer to the historical reality you come. Even revising and revisiting old research can create new understanding and insight. Although I knew the facts of the 1870’s pretty well having researched it twice-once for the club history and once for the Ballarat Regatta history-it wasn’t until going through my books and my notes again that it suddenly struck me-there were only three regattas a year Melbourne, Ballarat and Geelong. They all followed one another usually November through to March and often they would be a two day regatta-not because of the numbers of entries but because it took so long to travel to Melbourne or Geelong the oarsmen would often have to stay one or two nights. The degree of difficulty in getting crews ready for regattas and then actually getting to regattas cannot be overstated. The only mode of transport was the train and pre WW2 members often told that in the 1940’s crews would have to put their boats on a trolley at the boatshed and then push it down Webster Street to the station. Then arriving in Melbourne they would have to get their boat from Flinders Street Station load it on another trolley and push it across Princes Bridge to the rowing clubs!
With so little opportunity for open racing, scratch racing and trial fours became very important. Scratch racing gave all the rowers a chance to compete and the coaches a chance to see who raced well. From the scratch racing crews were selected and then before the regatta season, Trial fours would be held and the crews for the regatta would usually be the winning four. Trophies for these intra club races were astonishing-solid gold medallions, intricate silver goblets and gold watch fobs. These were often donated by the patron of the club or a committee member! On the November 9th 1877 the club held eight-oared scratch races with nine club crews competing for trophies. That’s nine eights from one club-72 oarsmen rowing in heats probably two eights to a heat and gradually narrowing down to the final. It would have taken all day! The crew stroked by Mr Tregaskis won and were presented with trophies donated by the officers of the club.
This season the club was presented with two yachts- Mr. O. E. Edwards presented ENIGMA and the president Mr. H. R. Caselli presented THE RUBY. Later in 1877 the Ballarat Yacht Club was formed with Mr. O. E. Edwards the first commodore and Mr. H. R. Caselli was appointed judge-a position he would hold until his death in 1885. Ballarat Regatta was, for the last time, a combined rowing and sailing regatta with scratch eights and scratch fours and three yacht races. Ballarat Rowing Club won both the rowing races from Ballarat City. There were no outside entries for the rowing but as it was the very first sailing regatta held on the Lake Albert Park Yacht Club sent up six of their yachts by rail. On the morning they arrived they were loaded onto horse drawn wagons and travelled in procession down Sturt Street to the lake. There was much excitement and it was a huge affair with a half day holiday declared and some 6000 spectators attending! A band was playing and the hotels were doing a roaring trade and the racing became almost an afterthought.
In March the City crew of Gibbs, Fitzgerald, Crampton and Hughes set a record time for the mile on the Lake (The Star, Tuesday, March 1st,1877) Despite training obviously going very well and setting record times, the club did not record any wins at either Geelong or Melbourne 1877. Also interesting to note is that the racing uniform is now a white cap with a red star!
FIRST LIFE MEMBER-Mr. J. W. Graham was present at the annual meeting in 1877. He served as captain of the club in its infancy and was the founder since it was he who called that first meeting in November 1870. So at this meeting he was awarded the first life-membership of City in recognition of the important role he had played in the formation of the club.
The Victorian Rowing Association was formed in 1877 to further the interests of all rowing clubs in the colony and to assist with co-ordination of regattas. Ballarat City was one of first 20 clubs that were the foundation members of the VRA. Many of these initial affiliates no longer exist.
The club held a most innovative and incredible fundraiser this year. A Grand Concert was held in the August to raise funds for the much needed new equipment. The Star reported that 45-50 pounds was raised through ticket sales. In today’s terms that is $4500 to $5000! This was to become an annual event with the first concert being a gala event of amazing and interesting items! Mr. Peter Cazaly, club captain, was also a singer of some renown contributed an item and managed the band. I’m sure he used his connections in the musical world to assist with other performers. The concert was a great success and raised much needed funds for the club as well as contributing to the cultural life of Ballarat.