I’m am making two posts today, as today marks a very special anniversary that I always like to remember, the death of Mr. James Pringle. He was one of the pioneers of rowing in Ballarat and his drowning at Burrumbeet while training, was one of the main factors in Robinson McLaren looking for a safer and more accessible place to row. I also like to acknowledge his passing as he had no family in Australia to mark his passing or to remember him.
After the huge success of the first Ballarat and District Regatta at Burrumbeet, the committee met again on the 14th of February 1862 and officially constituted the Regatta Club drawing up rules and accepting the nominations of twenty-two new members. Two boats were purchased in late February and in April the club held pair -oared races, again at Burrumbeet. The next Ballarat and District Regatta was planned for November 28th, 1862 but this was postponed due to tragic circumstances.
Mr. J. R. Pringle, a vice-president of the Regatta Club, it was reported on November 18th that he was drowned while training on Burrumbeet on November 17th, 1862. In most histories that is all the mention James Pringle receives, but his story is rather tragic and because of the impact his unfortunate demise had on the destiny of rowing in the district, I will fill in the details.
James Pringle and Alf McClaren (younger brother of Robinson McClaren) had gone out for a training row on November 18th when their boat was overturned by a squall. Both men clung to the upturned boat. Despite McClaren being a capable swimmer, he stayed with his training partner and friend until James could no longer hang on and slipped under the water. Mr Dobson, of the Picnic Hotel, had seen the men go out and was alarmed by the length of their absence. He went out to look for them and found Alf in a pitiable state. Of Mr Pringle there was no sign. Mr Dobson rescued Alf McClaren conveying him back to shore. But the rescue came too late for James Pringle. His body was not recovered for another seven days despite extensive searches and dragging of the lake with heavy boats brought up from Geelong by train. Mr Pringle had formerly been a member of the Regatta Club at Newcastle on Tyne in England. All his friends assumed that he was a proficient swimmer. Tragic enough as it was, this event was made even more tragic by the fact that Pringle’s only brother also drowned years earlier being lost overboard in a shipping accident. Mr Pringle’s funeral was a grand and sombre occasion with some 3000 people lining the way and attending the burial. He had been a member of the newly formed Ballarat Troop of the Victorian Lighthorse Regiment. His funeral was the first occasion that the Ballarat Troop provided a full military display of any sort in Ballarat. He was buried with full military honours in the Ballarat General Cemetery. Mr Pringle’s horse was led in the procession with his boots placed in the stirrups backwards. It would seem that most of the population of the town watched the procession and many followed it to the cemetery.
There is a poignant postscript included at the end of the funeral report in the Star, Wednesday, November 26th.
“A pleasing little circumstance has come to our knowledge in connection with the decease of Mr Pringle which will tend to show how widespread was the esteem to which his good qualities gave rise. His housekeeper, a lady of advanced years, sought and obtained from the immediate friends of the deceased gentleman the privilege, as she demanded it, of keeping watch over the body during the last night that it was to remain above ground. Mr Morris, in whose charge the body was placed overnight, permitted the good lady to have her wish; but previous to his retiring to rest she gave him many instances of consideration and generosity on the part of the deceased, whom she stated to have acted a truly filial part towards her. In the morning, Mr Morris found the old lady seated by the side of the coffin, the top of which she had strewn with flowers.”
His headstone is located in the Old Cemetery just alongside the Eureka memorial for the soldiers killed in that affair.