Henry Searle: “How I Won The World Championship”, Part 1

In an e-mail Bernard Hempseed of New Zealand, author of Seven Australian World Champion Scullers, writes that he recently obtained Scott Bennett’s book The Clarence Comet: The Career of Henry Seale 1866-89 (1973). In the book is a discussion of an newspaper article Searle wrote after he had won the World Championship in 1888. It was published in Leeds, Bernard writes, but a reprint was done in Hobart after Searle’s death, in December 1889. “I found the reprint and have managed to make a transcript of it”, Bernard writes. And he would like to share it with HTBS’s readers! The article will be published in three installments on HTBS, today, tomorrow, and Monday. Thank you very much to Bernard! Enjoy HTBS readers.

The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.) 11 Dec 1889
“How I won the World Championship”
by Henry E. Searle
Champion Single Sculler of the World

[Our cable message published to-day tells of the death of Searle, the champion sculler, cut off in the prime of manhood and the hay-day of honourable prosperity. The following record of his career, and his own narrative of how he won his last great race, taken from the Leeds Times, will be read with interest.]

The British public, through the Press and in other ways, have taken so mach interest in me since I attained the position of Champion Sculler of the World, and have been so hospitable and kind, that I venture to give the following account of myself with a view to satisfy all legitimate curiosity they may have in regard to myself and my doings, A further reason that urges me to this course is that it will, once and for all, relieve me from the necessity of answering needless questions, however pleasurable they may be, to each fresh questioner become somewhat tedious to the replier.

My full name then is Henry Ernest Searle. I was born on the 14th day of July, 1866, in Queen’s-street, at Grafton, on the Clarence River, in N.S.W., and am now 23 years of age. Both my parents are of English birth, and they went out to Australia to settled just as Grafton was being settled, it was very small and very wild when my father first took up his abode there; sugar-cane and maize growing, cattle raising, and mining being the chief industries which attracted colonists. In a few years it became an important centre, and is now a large and flourishing city. It has a noble situation on the Clarence River, which is here about half-a-mile wide; the site of the town being about 45 miles from the Heads, as we call the mouth of that river. The Clarence is a fine broad river, to which the Thames in comparison is but a creek. Its rise and fall does not average more than 6ft., except in heavy rains; it has long reaches of from five to six miles, straight as a racecourse, so that it is admirably suited as a nursery for oarsmen, and it is no wonder that it has turned out many and good ones. But in my young days there was very little shipping on it.

After living seven years at Grafton, and while I was still a mere child, my father shifted to Esk Island, which he had bought, and there he set up farming maize, cane etc. Elk Island is about 40 miles from Grafton, and so much nearer the Heads. There I grew up, at first attending school, and then assisting my father in his farming operations. When at school we had to row three and a half miles either way, for in those days roads were few and far between, and water travelling was the usual mode of progression. In fact, life at Esk Island was not unlike what life must be in Venice. It is not, therefore, surprising that from an early age I took kindly to the sculls. The boat contained my sister and my younger brother. We used often to race other boats bound on the same errand, and I may add that the Searle boat generally showed the way. I always had a great ambition for rowing, and, used often to say that I wished to become to become a sculler. In my boyish attempts I put in all I knew of hard work, and, as I have said, very successfully, so that I soon got known as a smart lad.

When I was 17 my father bought me a racing skiff, and in that I practiced for twelve months. Next year, at the age of 18, there was a local regatta at Chatsworth Island for all comers in watermen’s skiffs for which I entered and scored my first win in my first public race. This was a happy augury for my future success. I need scarcely say that Trickett’s reputation had reached me as a boy when I was at school or working with my father, and his many victories had fired my ambition. Trickett was often the subject of our conversations, and when we had any great match on I used often to say to my father “I wonder who is going to win today’s race”, and I generally managed to pick the winner.

After winning a few races I often told, my parents, in my youthful enthusiasm, that I wanted to be the Champion Sculler of the World.

My next race was at Harewood Island, in waterman’s skiffs, double sculls. My partner was F. Fisher. Three pairs started, and we rowed second, but the first boat being disqualified we got the prize. The same day in a youths’ race, age 19, I scored another win; and a few months later at the same place, against all-comers, in light skiffs over a 3½ mile course, level start, I beat M. Wallace and M. Driscoll who were both reckoned very good men. On the same day I suffered defeat in a mile race, M. Wallace kindly showing me the way home. I have on more than one occasion returned him the compliment since G. Baker was third on this occasion. My next race was again at Chatsworth Island in light skiffs, level start, and again I got the victory, beating A. Baker, M. Wallace, G. Bush, and L. Pringle. After this race I got handicapped. For instance, at the regatta at Yamba I had a 10 lb. handicap against A. Baker and M. Wallace, who were at feather-weight. Owing to rough weather my boat was nearly swamped, but though it was half full of water I managed to come in second, Baker being first. All this time I was doing my regular work at the farm, seeing to things, and generally assisting my father; but I would take half an hour in the morning or in the evening for practice.

My next race, if I remember rightly, was at Palmer’s Island. I had a 16 lb. handicap, A. Baker 16 lb., Wallace 10 lb., and G. Baker feather-weight. I won, Wallace being second. I rowed again at Palmer’s Island with 28 1b. handicap, A. Baker 81b., Wallace 71b., and Reid a feather. After a good race, I leading about a mile, my weight began to tell, and Baker passed me, though I managed to follow him home a good second. Then I rowed a match with M. Wallace, at Chatsworth, over a 2½ mile course, and won easily. A fortnight later I rowed a match with S. Davis, also over a 2½ mile course. It was a clinking race for the first half-mile, but I beat him easily at the finish.

The second installment of Searle’s article will be published tomorrow.

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