The 1897 Diamond Challenge Sculls

Artist Henry Charles Seppings Wright gave this view from the Grosvenor Club Enclosure (later to be The Remenham Club) of the final of the 1897 Diamond Challenge Sculls between Harry Blackstaffe (on the Bucks side) and Ned Hanlan Ten Eyck (on the Berks side) in The Illustrated London News, 24 July, 1897. St Mary’s Church is a well-recognised land mark in the background. Like many other images on rowing and boat racing, this is featuring the spectators and the liveliness on the riverbank, while the race is a secondary event in the background.

Three American scullers competed for the 1897 Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta. In his first heat, W.S. McDowell of Delaware BC easily defeated the Hon. Rupert Guinness, who sculled for Thames RC that year. The previous two years Guinness had won the Diamonds, but then in the colours of Leander. The second American was Hunting Howell, who could not really be counted as an American, despite that he was from New York. Howell sculled for Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and it was first when he was admitted to ‘the Hall’ in 1894 that he had taken up the oar. Howell had a lucky draw and had his first heat in the ‘quarterfinal’ where he met G. McHenry of Thames RC. McHenry had sculled in the Diamonds before, in 1892 for a Paris club, and in 1893 in the colours of Thames RC. Hunting did not have any problems winning his first race in the Diamonds. In his next heat, he was to race against his countryman from Massachusetts, Edward ‘Ned’ Hanlan Ten Eyck, named after the Canadian world professional sculling champion, who was his god father. Ten Eyck of Wachusett BC, who was four years Hunting’s junior, had been allowed to enter the Diamonds despite the Henley Stewards suspicion that he was a professional. This assumption was mainly based on his coach, his father James Ten Eyck, who was a well-known professional oarsman.

Hunting Howell

At this time, there was a growing irritation among certain men in the English rowing establishment about having American oarsmen to compete at Henley. There was no way for the Henley Stewards to do a ‘background check’ if the American oarsmen racing at Henley were real amateurs, or if they were semi-professionals, or even full-time professionals. Nevertheless, this did not affect or relate to Howell. In his case it was different, as he was sculling in the black and white colours of a well-respected Cambridge college. He was thereby molded in the proper English way.

Harry Blackstaffe

The American Trinity Hall man rowed a great race, but at the end, Ten Eyck beat him, but only by a quarter of a length. In the final, in a new record time, 8 minutes 35 seconds, Ten Eyck easily defeated Harry Blackstaffe of Vesta RC who sculled in his first final of the Diamonds. Even Blackstaffe, whose friends called him ‘Blackie’, had in the beginning of his rowing career had difficulty being regarded as an amateur as he was working in the meat trade. Before the winning ceremony, some of Blackie’s friends urged him to protest the result as Ten Eyck was, in their eyes, a professional. Blackie refused as he saw a protest as an unsportsmanlike gesture.

To celebrate his victory, poor Ten Eyck did everything wrong, at least in the eyes of the English rowing press. He and his father ‘attended a dinner given in honour of himself and his father at the Half Moon at Putney by all the best known English professionals’, Geoffrey Page writes in Hear the Boat Sing: The History of Thames Rowing Club and Tideway Rowing (1991), and continues, ‘This surely was an open confession of guilt.’

In the 1898 issue of the Rowing Almanack and Oarsman’s Companion, its editor Edwin D. Brickwood, signature ‘Argonaut’ (Diamonds winner in 1859 and 1862), reflected on the passed rowing season, when he wrote about Ned Ten Eyck: ‘the very strong presumption from his parentage, his associations, and his appearance, that he was by no means of the British type of amateur, still less a gentleman amateur.’ In his article Brickwood mentioned all the professionals who were present at Ten Eyck’s celebration banquet at the Half Moon: the boat builders John H. Clasper, George Sims and W. Winship, and the famous oarsmen Tom Sullivan, Bill Barry, Charles ‘Wag’ Harding, Bill East and twenty others. Brickwood sourly rounded it up with a Latin phrase: Noscilu e sociis – ‘It is known from its associates’.

For the 1898 Henley Royal Regatta, the Stewards turned down Ten Eyck’s application to defend his title in the Diamonds.

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