A couple of weeks ago I was very excited to meet with the great grand-daughter of Alfred McLaren. She had been researching family history and found a copy of my book “Boys From the Rush Beds-The History of Ballarat City Rowing Club 1870-2004” and discovered my research about her great grandfather and also her great uncle Robison McLaren. The family had known about their involvement in boxing but knew nothing of their pioneering role in rowing in Ballarat. Both had been a bit mysterious and not much known and the family had not talked much about Alf in particular.
Alf’s older brother, Robinson McLaren, of course was the father of the sport of rowing in Ballarat and instrumental in holding and running the very first rowing regatta in the district at Burrumbeet in 1862. He also was a bare knuckle boxer and had reputedly won the Championship of California before he came to Australia. He famously ran McLaren’s Saloon in Main Road and there is an S.T.Gill print of two boxers, one of which could be Alf, fighting in the ring at the Saloon. After the success of the first regatta he formed the Regatta Club which on the 5th of January 1864 changed its name to Ballarat Rowing Club.
Alf was remembered also for the part he played in trying to rescue his rowing partner James Pringle when their boat overturned in a sudden squall on Burrumbeet when they were training for the second regatta. Alf’s great grand-daughter did have a copy of a poem that was in the possession of the family and she kindly sent it to me. In my post of November 18, 2020, I wrote about this tragic accident. Since researching the details, I have always thought how terribly sad it was that Mr. Pringle should die so far from home. In reading the poem by W.Stitt Jenkins, In Memorium, J.W.R. Pringle, you get an even greater sense of both the tragedy and the heroism of Alf McLaren.
If it had not been for this accident, rowing might not have developed on Lake Wendouree when it did. It was Robinson and Alf McLaren who led the way and proved that the Lake would be suitable for rowing and proved that the reeds could be cut to create clear water.
In my second book, The History of Ballarat Regatta, I put the following dedication.
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBINSON McLAREN
Pioneer, adventurer, entrepreneur, oarsman, boxer, publican
The true father of rowing in Ballarat. Founder and instigator of the sport of rowing in Ballarat district, founder of the first rowing club in Ballarat, the Regatta Club, later to become Ballarat Rowing Club and founder of, first secretary and starter at all the early Ballarat Regattas. Pioneered of the use and development of Lake Wendouree for the pursuit of aquatic sports. His first trial cutting of the rushes in late 1863, proving that clear navigable water could be found on Yuille’s Swamp, provided the impetus for the subsequent development of the Swamp into the finest sheet of inland water in the Colony of Victoria and the jewel in Ballarat’s crown.