It is inevitable that when we talk about sport personalities, it is the great stars we mostly bring up, or those who maybe did not make it to the top, but there are some good stories to tell about them because they were real characters. In professional rowing we could for example mention the Biglins, Ned Hanlan, Charles Courtney, Ned Trickett, James Renforth, Harry Clasper, William Beach, Jim Stanbury, Richard Arnst, Ernest Berry, Ted Phelps, and Bobby Pearce. I am guessing that the sculler in the picture above probably would not make the list.
Like many of the professional English scullers, he was a Doggett’s Coat and Badge winner (in 1888), but with his 5 ft. 5 ½ in. and 9st. 5lb. he would not be regarded as one of the heavy boys. It is said that he made a name for himself in 1883, when he, at 16 years old, won the Chelsea Coat and Badge, and a year later, the Putney Coat and Badge. He raced against some, for us today almost unknown professional scullers, Tyrrell, Follett, and Norval. In a magazine from the mid-1890s it says, that “he pulls a beautiful even stroke, gets well over his sculls, while his leg-work is greatly admired.”
He trained the New Zealander Tom Sullivan when he had challenged George Bubear for the sculling championships of England, which Sullivan won in September 1893. Thereafter, he, himself, challenged Sullivan for the championship title. They sculled for the title in February 1895, and Sullivan lost the title to his trainer. In July 1896, he challenged the Australian Jim Stanbury for the Sculling World Championships, but Stanbury defended his title and won the wager of 200 pounds.
So, who was this mysterious sculler? Well, he was Charles R. ‘Wag’ Harding. I know very little about ‘Wag’, or why he was given this nickname. Michael Grace does mention him in the chapter on Tom Sullivan in his eminent book The Dolly Varden Legacy. (‘Wag’ Harding can also be seen in the photograph of the Doggett’s winner in my entry on 2 December 2009.)