25 October 2017
William O’Chee writes:
As readers will know, HTBS sometimes highlights items of rowing memorabilia that come up for auction. One recent piece was identified as being of particular historical significance. The item in question was a pewter presentation tankard given in 1875 to the winners of the Brasenose Scratch Fours, and constitutes a relic of a portion of Oxford rowing that is largely unrecorded by rowing historians.
A consortium of past members of the College purchased the item, which has now made a welcome homecoming over 140 years after it was first presented.
Although rowing between the colleges had been taking place at Oxford since the first Head of the River in 1815, many men who rowed never got to compete in the two major regattas of Torpids and Eights.
The reason for this was that until the late 1870s colleges were restricted to enter one crew in each competition. However, the membership of the boat clubs of significant rowing colleges far exceeded those who could be accommodated in two crews.
To enable these members to race, the colleges organised their own regattas, which usually comprised races between scratch crews to ensure some uniformity of competition, and to encourage those who had not yet made the college crews.
In most cases, the college boat clubs did not keep lists of their members, and only rarely did they record the names of those competing in college regattas. The surviving trophies from these races, therefore, provide important historical and social information about college rowing in the 19th century.
Throughout this period, Brasenose College was arguably the most successful of the Oxford Colleges, claiming the Head of the River in Torpids 22 times in the 62 years it was contested between 1838 and 1900. They were also Head of the River in Eights 20 times between 1815 and 1900.
In spite of this, 1875 was still a relatively successful year. There were three Brasenose men in the Oxford crew that won the Boat Race by six lengths: J.P. Way at stroke, T.C. Edwards-Moss at seven, and H.P. Marriott at two. The year before, Brasenose had made the Finals of both the Grand and the Visitor’s at Henley, and in 1875, they were head of the River in Torpids.
An Ale Verse that year (ale verses are songs accompanied by mulled ale at the College feast on Shrove Tuesday) showed the College was buoyant at their achievements on the river, and looked forward to the success of the Eight, known as the Childe of Hale:
Or shall I turn to prophesy tonight?
(Beer sometimes does give people second sight) –
Shall boating honours be the pleasing theme
On Isis fair or Thames broader stream?
Shall I exalt the Brasenose Three, and say
How Cambridge R(h)odes must yield to th’ Oxford Way?
Shall I show beer prevailing in the race,
The Brasenose Torpid keeping well her place,
The Eight regaining hers (she cannot fail!)
And fortune smiling on the Childe of (H)ale?
However, a better understanding of the depth of the Brasenose College Boat Club can be found in the account of the B.N.C. Regatta held at the end of May.
A page from the Boat Club Minute Book shows there were sufficient men to provide four crews for the Scratch Eights race, which was eventually won by a crew stroked by Knollys, who triumphed over a crew stroked by J.P. Way.
Of the Scratch Fours event, somewhat less is known, although there were also four entries. However, the names of the winning crew are recorded, and are the same as those shown on the trophy. The crew was composed of:
Bow: E. Jacob
2: A.J. Kayll
3: F.O. Harke
Str: T.C. Edwards-Moss
Cox: B.C. Littlewood
Fortunately, we know something of what became of these men due to the painstaking work of the Rev Edward Buckley and Falconer Madan in the late 19th century. They succeeded in compiling a detailed register of all members of the College from 1509 to 1909. The register remains the definitive work on Brasenose alumni of this period, and is an invaluable guide to the lives of Brasenose College oarsmen.
Edward Jacob came up to Brasenose from Uppingham School in 1874, but it took five years before he made his only appearance in the College Torpid in 1879. Peculiarly for the time, he became an electrical engineer. He died in Gothenburg in Sweden in 1891.
Andrew Kayll was in the Head of the River Torpid that year, before rowing in the Eight in 1875, 1876 and 1877. They were Head of the River in 1876, but could not maintain their place and fell to third position the following year.
Frederick Harke matriculated in 1874, and represented the many members of the Lancashire gentry to up to Brasenose. Apart from this win, his sole claim to rowing fame was being a member of the 1876 Torpid, although this crew was unable to maintain the college’s winning streak of the two previous years.
The coxswain, Benjamin Littlewood matriculated in 1872, and was one of the many Brasenose men who went on to the church, becoming Vicar of Warfield and Bracknell in Berkshire.
However, it is Tom Edwards-Moss (frequently known as T.C.) who lends the trophy its real historical significance. He matriculated in May 1874, having previously rowed at Eton. At Eton, his extraordinary rowing ability came rapidly to the fore, with his first appearance in the Eton eight being in 1871, when they were runners up in the Ladies Plate. The following two years, he stroked the Eton eight, who were runners up to London Rowing Club in the Grand in 1873. They were runners up to London again in 1874, when Edwards-Moss was Captain.
Shortly after coming up to Oxford, he earned the seven seat in the 1875 Oxford crew, and was to be a permanent fixture in the Oxford crew until 1878. During this time, Edwards-Moss was O.U.B.C. President from 1876 to 1878, and a member of the 1877 crew which rowed a dead heat with Cambridge.
For all of this, some of his greatest rowing successes came in Brasenose colours. He and Marriott combined to help Brasenose clinch the Head of the River in Eights in 1876. That year, they were also part of a composite Brasenose and University College crew that entered the Grand, although once again Edwards-Moss made the final but failed to win. To make matters worse, the Brasenose men lost to their erstwhile crew mates from University College a few hours later in the final of the Visitor’s Challenge Cup.
In 1877, after six years of trying, Edwards-Moss finally achieved success at Henley. In the Diamonds that year, he was the dominant sculler of the regatta, wining each of his first two heats by four lengths. In the final, Edwards-Moss rowed away from his rival, A.V. Frere of Kingston Rowing Club, and ‘won as he pleased’ in 10 minutes 20 seconds.
The following year, he bettered his Henley result by achieving two wins. In the Diamonds, rowing in Brasenose College colours, he successfully defended his title. He also teamed up with W.A. Ellison, rowing as Oxford Etonians, to win the Goblets.
1878 saw Edwards-Moss play a significant part in rowing history in a different way. As O.U.B.C. President, he was one of the signatories to the resolution which defined an amateur oarsman, and which banned professionals and “mechanics” from Henley and other significant rowing competitions.
After leaving Oxford in 1878, Edwards-Moss achieved success at Henley one more time, when he rowed in the Leander eight that won the Grand in 1880.
Shortly thereafter, he turned his attentions towards a career in politics. In 1885, he was appointed Principal Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, a position he occupied until his election as MP for Widnes in November 1886. He seemed destined for high things, but his career came to an end with his resignation due to ill health in 1892. He died the following year from influenza and typhoid fever.
The passage of time has somewhat dimmed the memory of Tom Edwards-Moss, however, he was someone who played a large part in shaping British rowing, both on and off the water. The return of the 1875 Brasenose Scratch Fours trophy to Oxford is not only a fitting tribute to Edwards-Moss, but also those other men who rowed with him, and who in their own ways played equally valuable parts in the life of the Brasenose College Boat Club.