– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

Posts tagged “rowing

reading closely

tcd1An interesting enquiry from last year, demonstrating that the internet is a brilliant research tool, but that like any source it needs careful interpretation, and that not all immediately available information is correct or complete.

The enquirer requests information on William Hussey 1867-1939, son of Thomas Hussey of Kensington, stating that the images sent with the enquiry, of a Ladies’ Challenge Cup medal,  clearly show that WH rowed for Balliol when they won that particular race in 1891.

The enquirer has probably searched for something like ‘ladies challenge cup 1891’ and found the Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ladies’_Challenge_Plate for the Henley Regatta’s Ladies’ Challenge Plate race, won by a Balliol crew in 1891, and concluded that Hussey must have been part of this crew.

In fact the medal shows nothing of the kind, and a closer look reveals quite a different story.

First I checked whether William Hussey had indeed been a member of Balliol – the college registers are not 100% infallible, but they are pretty good. No result, so back to the medal for other clues. A little more scratching around online revealed several things that didn’t add up to support the Henley & Balliol assumption:

  • Date: Henley is always held over the first weekend in July, but 1 July 1891 was a Wednesday. (thanks Time and Date!)tcd2
  • Race name: the Ladies’ Challenge Plate race at Henley has never been known as the Ladies’ Challenge Cup – it is the only Henley trophy that isn’t the Something Cup.
  • Winner name: the LCP is an Eights race, not an individual one, so even if each member of the winning Eight had a commemorative medal, it would not be inscribed ‘won by [any single name]’. Cf. Henley commemorative medals at http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/18783/lot/59/, a particularly nice find after searching for images of the LCP medals for visual comparison.
  • Double-checking with another source – even supposing everything else was somehow wrong, we have a photograph of the Balliol Eight that did win the LCP in 1891; the rowers were: Rofe, Rawstone, Darbishire, Mountmorres, Fielding, T Rogers, Farmer, F Rogers, cox Craig-Sellar. Not surprisingly, no Hussey.

So if it was not at all connected with the Henley Royal Regatta or Balliol’s win there in 1891, what is this medal? Balliol-based evidence stops here, but ‘we have no further information about this’ seemed a bit abrupt when most of what I had already found out was from non-Balliol sources anyway. Besides, by this time I wanted an answer to the puzzle, if I could find one!

Look at it again – the intertwined letters on the medal look like T C D, in a distinctively Irish style, and Trinity College Dublin’s Regatta does include a Ladies’ Challenge Cup race. But to check up further, one might try looking at the club’s own site: http://www.tcdlife.ie/clubs/boat/archive.php. The answer is probably in Raymond Blake’s book, In Black and White: A History of Rowing at Trinity
College Dublin
. My research ends here; I can’t spend any more time on this enquiry, and the answer won’t add to knowledge of the Balliol archives.

And there are still questions: why should the medal read TCD when TCD’s boat club has been known as the Dublin University Boat Club since 1847? Is the DUBC (TCD) Ladies’ Challenge Cup race rowed by singles or eights? Is there any evidence at all that this is a rowing medal?

It’s rare that answers to archival enquiries are either complete or absolute – often, the best we can hope for is to add another interesting piece to the puzzle, or point in another direction.

Scratch boats

College rowing is a minefield – or treasure trove – of arcane jargon. Here’s an explanation of one term: scratch boats (can be eights, fours or pairs):

A scratch eight was a boat made up of some college rowers and some non-rowers for a college regatta – that is, a single-college regatta, boats all made up only of Balliol men racing against each other. Judging from 19th and early 20th century Boat Club training records, scratch boats had a couple of training outings before the regatta, if that. There are no longer single-college regattas, but the name survives in the Christ Church Regatta, which is held in December for novice boats from all colleges, and the scratch boat tradition survives in what are now called beer boats, rugger boats or gentlemen’s boats at Summer Eights – that is, groups who get together with little or no training, to compete in the lower divisions of the intercollege competition, for fun.

Occasionally I am asked about pewter commemorative tankards, inscribed with the title of an event – ‘ Balliol College Scratch Fours 1902,’ for instance. These are indeed commemorative tankards and not trophies, not an award but a souvenir of the event, and probably each of the members of the boat had an identical one.

One illustrative example from the records: from the 1889 journal I gather that the Balliol College Regatta was quite large, and happened in early June, a few weeks after Summer Eights. It involved only Balliol men; the event in 1889 started with four heats of three coxed fours, followed by five scratch eights in two heats and 10 pairs in 3 heats.

composition of one of the 5 Eights:
Bow J.A. JOHNSTON (Balliol 1885, College 2nd Torpid)
2 D.J (not I). YOUNG (Balliol 1885, no College rowing)
3 H.J. O’BEIRNE (Balliol 1884, coxed College 2nd Torpid)
4 W.B. BROWN (Balliol 1883, no College rowing)
5 H.L. HERVEY (Balliol 1884, no College rowing)
6 D.W. MONTGOMERY (Balliol 1885, College 2nd Torpid)
7 F.W. GALPIN (Balliol 1884, College Torpid, Eight and OU Trials)
Stroke F.J. WYLIE (Balliol 1884, College Torpid & Eight)
Cox L. HARRIS (not Balliol)

Stroke pair were experienced rowers (they set the pace and rhythm for the whole boat, so must be the strongest and most skilled); Bow, 3 and 6 had done a little rowing but were only in their first year (Torpids boats trained very little before the March races in those days, and O’Beirne didn’t row but coxed) and 2, 4 and 5 had done no other rowing. Cox was borrowed from another college – with inexperienced rowers in the boats and several boats on the river, it was probably wise to have experienced coxes in all the boats! Scratch boats for 1889 are similarly balanced. Unfortunately, we have no photographs of the college regatta for any year.