The Story Of A Celebrated Oarsman

Let us stay at the bay of Djurgårdsbrunnsviken in Stockholm for a little while. As I mentioned in my entry of yesterday, the 1912 Olympic Rowing Regatta was held on these waters between 17 and 19 of July. The club house of Stockholms Roddförening , one of Sweden’s most prominent rowing clubs at the time, was the Swedish Olympic Rowing Committee’s headquarters. In the old photograph above from the Olympic regatta, we can see how the place is buzzing with people, boats, and activities. The participating rowing nations’ flags are raised on flag poles outside the boat house.

What caught my eye is the fellow standing slightly to the right, with a distinguished profile and a hand in his right-hand pocket, gazing out on the water, maybe looking for his crew, the eight that took the Olympic gold medal. The gentleman is none other than George Duncan Rowe (1857-1934) of the Leander Club. Rowe, who was the great-great grandson of Nicholas Rowe, Poet Laureate to George I, was educated at Marlborough College where he played cricket – and very seriously, one might add. If he missed a catch or made another mistake in a match, after the match he would hand in his resignation, which always was turned down by the team captain. Rowe went to Oxford where he took up rowing. He rowed in The Boat Race twice, in 1879 (losing) and in 1880 (winning), the latter year as its President.

He became a member of Leander Club and was later the club’s Honorary Secretary and also Captain of the Boats. In 1919, Rowe was elected President of the club. At every annual dinner he would offer his resignation, which would be totally ignored by the members. (His resignation from the Presidency came in February 1934, when he died.) For many years, he was also a Steward at Henley. Rowe married late in life. The year after the Olympic Games in Stockholm, he found himself at a dinner party where he was asked to accompany a young lady on the piano when she was playing the violin. Every time he made a mistake she hit him on the head with her bow. A short while later they married. She, Frances, was 21 years old, Rowe was 56. They had seven children; the sixth of them was Antony Duncan Rowe (1924-2003), who was also a famous oarsman.

On 4 July 1906, George Duncan Rowe was portrayed in Vanity Fair by ‘SPY’ and it was stated that he was “A celebrated oarsman who prefers cricket to rowing and golf to both.” But it was added that “he rowed better than he played cricket, and is a better cricketer than golfer.”

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