How About Singapore Rowing Club?

Now and then, HTBS receives correspondence from readers of the blog. The other day, we got an interesting e-mail from Matt Jennings in England. Matt has a question about an old rowing club in Asia, Singapore Rowing Club. Matt writes:

I came across the following quote the other week in the book The Escape from Singapore (1987) by Richard Gough, describing the fall of Singapore in February 1942 and refugees arriving in Sumatra:

They came in all manner of crafts [sic], junks, sampans, launches, boats of all shapes and sizes, including canoes and baulks of timber. Finally… one party of four in a hull from the Singapore Rowing Club brought the first definite news that the fighting had stopped. (page 98)

Matt now wonders if anyone knows more about Singapore Rowing Club and the event described in Gough’s book?

Googling around on the web, it seems that no rowing club in Singapore of today has much to do with the old ‘Singapore Rowing Club’ mentioned in The Escape from Singapore. According to Christopher Dodd in his The Story of World Rowing (1992), Singapore Rowing Club was founded in 1879. Dodd writes: ‘One of the founders was an employee of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. and he arranged for a ship to bring the first boat from Hong Kong’.

Some anient newspaper clippings reveal that the club, like most of the sporting clubs in Singapore in those days had members from the ruling class from the old country. In the newspaper Colonies and India (published in London), on Friday 6 February 1885, it states:

The New Year celebrations have been observed in Singapore in the usual manner by athletic sports on the Esplanade, and a regatta in the harbour. The Singapore Rowing Club sent a crew with one of their four-oared boats to Penang to compete with a crew of the Penang Rowing Club. This resulted in an easy victory for the Singaporians.

Maybe this was an annual regatta held between the Singapore Rowing Club and the Penang Rowing Club during the winter? Six years later, 21 November 1891, the London and China Telegraph published the following little note:

Arrangements have been made for Christmastide matches between the Singapore Cricket Club and teams from Selangor and Singapore Rowing Club has challenged the Penang Rowing Club to a match at the Straits.

Read another rowing article from 25 July 1901, in The Straits Times, a newspaper still printed today, about a race between two coxed fours, here.

Dodd again: ‘Pollution of the Singapore River forced the club to amalgamate with Singapore’s new yacht club in 1921’. Then he writes: ‘The club lost most of its property during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War.’ It is very likely that the ‘hull from Singapore Rowing Club’ that Richard Gough mentions in his book is the last boat from the old Singapore RC! After the war, the club came to life again and several regattas are known where the club, now called Royal Singapore Rowing Club raced against crews from the British forces.

The British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force all had crews, though, it was the latter which rowed best. During the 1960s, RAF had twenty-five clubs attached to bases in Britain, not counting the ones connected to their bases around the world (and close to a waterway). RAF Seletar and RAF Changi, for example, practiced in the Strait of Johor.

This is more or less what I could find. Is there anyone among the HTBS readers who has more information about Singapore RC? Please post a comment to this entry, or send HTBS editor, Göran R Buckhorn, an e-mail, at gbuckhorn – at – gmail – dot – com

~ Thank you!

Also, take a look at entry on 22 July 2014,

One comment

  1. Well, it's not about the Singapore RC, but the story behind your post reminds me of a somewhat similar scene that occurs in Hemingway's classic “A Farewell to Arms”. When the protagonist, having escaped from Italy to Locarno, Switzerland across Lake Maggiore, is asked at the customs house, “Why do you enter Switzerland this way in a boat?”, he responds, “I am a sportsman. Rowing is my great sport. I always row when I get a chance.”

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