New Rowing Book: The Brownsville Blacksmith

Beach coverGreg Denieffe writes:

On 16 August 1884, William (Bill) Beach defeated Edward (Ned) Hanlan on the Parramatta River, Sydney, to claim the World Professional Sculling Championship. 130 years to the day, in Beach’s home town of Dapto, New South Wales, his great-granddaughter Yvonne Downes, launched her biography of Beach, The Brownsville Blacksmith, The story of William Beach. The short press release reads:

William Beach grew up in the Illawara district of NSW in the 1850s and from an early age he loved to row. His talents as an oarsman were soon obvious and set him on a course to become the world champion sculler of the 1880s. He took on the greatest names of the era and won. After an unprecedented career he retired undefeated. He is still remembered today in rowing clubs around the world and in the names of many places in his local community. As a local hero he was even the subject of a popular song extolling his triumphs.

Beach champion
World champion sculler William Beach

On 14 August, the Illawarra Mercury reported:

A book profiling the life of the Illawarra’s first world champion, William ‘Bill’ Beach, will be launched at Dapto Leagues Club on Saturday.

The Brownsville Blacksmith has been written by the champion sculler’s great-granddaughter Yvonne Downes.

In 1884, Beach ‘astonished the world’ by defeating Canadian Edward Hanlan in the World Professional Sculling Championships on the Parramatta River. He became an instant Australian sporting hero and retained his title on six occasions in Australia and overseas before retiring.

Beach lived most of his life at Dapto, learn to row on Lake Illawarra and was active at a time when professional sculling was a prominent international sport. His name lives on in the Illawarra through a park at Brownsville, IRT’s William Beach Gardens and the William Beach Brasserie at Dapto Leagues Club.

Ms Downes, who lives in Tasmania, expects about 120 people at the launch, which is being held 130 years to the day since Beach won his first world title.

Beach and his wife, Sarah, had 12 children and their descendants are scattered far and wide, but many will be making the effort to attend the launch, which will take place in the Sinclair Room at Dapto Leagues Club at 10.30 a.m. Historical society representatives and rowing organisations will also attend.

Ms Downes said compiling the book had been ‘enlightening’.

‘He excelled in a time when there was little in the way of organised sport and before the modern Olympics,’ Ms Downes said.

Beach was generous with his time and went on to contribute greatly to the Illawarra when his sculling days were over, she said.

He was a trustee of the Dapto Showground and Gooseberry and Hooka Islands, and became an alderman on the Central Illawarra Council. He died at Brownsville on January 28, 1935.

Funds raised from the book will go towards restoring Beach’s heritage-listed grave in St Luke’s Church of England cemetery, Brownsville.

Beach proud relativies
Proud relatives: Bill Beach’s great-granddaughter Yvonne Downes and great-great-great-nephew Mark Matthews visit his grave in St Luke’s cemetery, Brownsville. Picture: Adam McLean.

The Brownsville Blacksmith is published in Tasmania by Forty South Publishing and copies are available from them or from the author Yvonne Downes ( The book is priced at $AUD34.95. Postage within Australia is $AUD12.00 and to Great Britain $AUD40.00.

Hardback ● 176 pages ● Illustrated ● Publication Date, 6 September 2014.

Three (arguably, the three greatest) of the seven Australians to hold the title of ‘World Professional Sculling Champion’ now have dedicated biographies. Downes’ book joins those of Gordon Trickett, Ned Trickett Champion Sculler of the World (2000) and Scott Bennett, The Clarence Comet: The Career of Henry Earnest Searle, 1866-89 (1973).

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