Sydney Swann Sr: Oarsman, Sportsman, Motorist, Airman

The always reliable rowing historian Tim Koch of Auriol Kensington RC, London, sent me some information about Sydney Swann Jr.,’s father, Sydney Swann Sr., (1862-1941), both whom I mentioned in my entry yesterday. Tim is forwarding The Times’s obituary from 1941. According to the piece in the paper, Rev. Sydney Swann was not only a great sportsman, he was also a pioneer motorist and airman. Rev. Swann could also add some rowing innovations to his long list of achievements. Among other things, he came up with a special ‘flap’ under the sliding seat to stop water from moving back and forth in the boat. The below newsreel, ‘A Rowing Novelty’ from 1927, will show you how it would work.


Rev. Sydney Swann Sr., rowed at Trinity Hall and rowed for Cambridge in the Boat Race in 1883, 1884, and 1885; winning in 1884. He also won the Cambridge Sculls, and was in the winning crews in the Pairs and the Grand (1886 and 1887) and the Stewards’ (1885 and 1887). In 1890, Rev. Swann went to Japan as a missionary, and there he won a numerous of sporting events, including pole-jumping, running, and hurdling. He returned to England seven years later. Back in England, he was the vicar for several parishes during the years.

The obituary reads “A man of remarkable physical strength, he cycled from Land’s End to John o’ Groats in record time, riding from Carlisle to London in a day, and was the first to cycle round Syria. Another fear of his was to canoe from the head of Crosby Beck down to the Eden and thence to the Solway.” The Times’s obituary then continues, “In 1911 he rowed across the Channel in three hours 50 minutes, a faster time […] than any one had ever gone between England and France by muscular power.” During the war, Swann drove an ambulance in Belgium, the paper writes, and it also says “One thing at which he was not so successful was flying. In the early days he built several of his own machines, but they did not fly very far and after considerable expense he decided that the hobby was too costly.”

At the age of 55, Rev. Swann cycled, walked, ran, paddles, rowed and swam six consecutive half miles in competition with a lieutenant Muller of the Danish Army. They both did it in 26 min. and 20 sec.

In 1934, Swann was elected President for the National Amateur Rowing Association, NARA, at the time a governing body for working class men who wanted to row, but was banned to join a club belonging to the Amateur Rowing Association, ARA. Both organizations merged in 1956 into the British Amateur Rowing Association, BARA, which shortly thereafter was shortened back to ARA.

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