Americans At Henley In 1895

This drawing from the archive of Life Magazine depicts an event that comes with a good story that, although it has been told many times, is worth telling again. In 1895, Cornell University was going to compete at the Henley Royal Regatta for the first time. The American eight, however, was going to experience what R.D. Burnell calls, in his Henley Regatta (1957), “one of those unfortunate episodes.”

In the first round of the Grand Challenge Cup, Cornell was meeting the favourites, Leander, who had won this event four years in succession. The two crews seemed ready at the stake boats, but when the umpire called out “Are you ready?” several of the oarsmen in the Leander boat called out “No!” The umpired did not hear this and yelled “Go!” Cornell started, while some of the English oarsmen took one stroke and then stopped. They were counting on that the umpire was going to call back the Americans for a re-start. However, the umpire thought Leander made a bad start and allowed the Americans to go on. With Leander still at the start, Cornell crossed the finish line, winning the race.

Among the Henley crowd, it was commonly considered that the Americans, when they saw that their opponents did not start, should have stopped rowing. When they failed to do so, they were regarded to have shown unsportsmanlike manners. “Moreover,” Henry Bond writes in A History of Trinity Hall Boat Club (1930), “[the Americans were rowing] in a style, taught them by their professional coach, quite at variance with English doctrines.” The Americans’ coach was Charles Courtney, who had been a very successful amateur, then professional, sculler before he was hired to train Cornell’s oarsmen. It did not help that Courtney would not fraternize with the rest of the rowing community at Henley, which was also seen as a mark of incivility.

The drawing is showing the next day’s semi-final race between Trinity Hall and Cornell, where the Cambridge crew did the impossible; they rowed Cornell to a stand-still, or as Bond writes, that ‘the Hall’ “began to gain steadily, and when they were passed, Cornell collapsed, and the Hall paddles in amid the greatest noise ever heard at the Regatta.” Burnell states, that the town of Henley was very noisy that night. The Americans’ battle-cry “Cornell, Cornell, I yell Cornell” was now defied with the newly coined “The Hall, the Hall, I bawl the Hall.”

In the final the following day, the Hall beat New College in a great race.

A footnote is that there was actually a countryman to the Americans in the Trinity Hall boat. No. 6 was B.H. Howell of New York. He would later become more known as a victorious sculler in the Diamonds and the Wingfields, but that is another story.

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