The Bournes: 3 – The Theoretical Coach

Bob Bourne’s father Gilbert Charles Bourne, was born in 1861. At the age of six, the family doctor declared him unfit for sports as he had a heart disease. However, at a new medical examination at Eton, young Bourne was given a ‘clean bill of health’. He immediately began to row competitively but, as The Time’s obituary put it, “as his style was unpleasing to the authorities, he was given only a humble position in Lower Boat choices.” It all changed in the spring of 1878, when Bourne unexpectedly was picked for Trail Eights, and he rowed bow of the Eton eight, and the crew reached the final of the Ladies’ Plate at Henley that year. He was Captain of the Boats in 1880 and 1881.

G. C. Bourne rowed in the bow seat in Oxford’s winning Blue boat, both in 1883 and 1884. In front of him sat, at two-seat, R.S. de Havilland and they would later become advocates for the English orthodox style taught by the famous Dr. Edmond Warre, head-master and their rowing coach at Eton.

G.C. Bourne, who became a famous professor and coach at Oxford, used his studies in zoology, marine biology, and mathematics to mix in with his coaching. He coached Oxford for several periods from 1885 to 1927 (12 of his Blue boats won The Boat Race). His love for theory, whether it was to coach, to build boats, or the best dimensions of oars – their length and the width of the blades – is clearly seen in his wonderful book A Text-Book of Oarsmanship with an Essay on Muscular Action in Rowing, which was published in 1925 (reprinted in 1987).

Here is a 5-minute newsreel from 1925, Getting Well Together, “by courtesy of Doctor Bourne” [who is coaching the dark Blues in this film!]:


More about Dr. G.C. Bourne in tomorrow’s entry!

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