Bill Miller: A Hanlan Letter

Edward ‘Ned’ Hanlan, the hero of Toronto, one of Canada’s first sporting stars.

31 July 2020

By Bill Miller

In the HTBS show-and-tell mini-series, it’s time for rowing historian and writer Bill Miller to show a unique letter written by professional sculler Edward Hanlan.

I’m fortunate to posses about a dozen of what I would call very special historical rowing items. I’ve chosen one that I’ve never described, so you’re just about the first to see this Edward Hanlan handwritten letter. Hanlan wrote about his upcoming 1881 race with Australian, Elias Laycock, for the World Championship on the River Thames.

page 1
page 2

If you’re unfamiliar with Edward Hanlan, he won the professional World Championship shocking the Australian Edward Trickett on the Thames in 1880. Hanlan was the American Champion from Toronto and had huge support from the Canadian-American sporting (gambling) population. He defended his World Championship title many times, including the Laycock challenge referred to in this letter. I’ve included both the original copy (above) and what I hope is a more easily readable printed version below.


                    Fox & Hounds Hotel
                            Putney Dec 30th [1880] 

   Dear Col [Shaw]
                 Your kind letter just to hand. I am feeling well and I am rowing as well as I ever did. Bass is not so well as he might be but I think he will be all right in a few day[s]. I am takin as good care on my self as I can and I think when the day of my race comes I will be in good fix – and if I don’t make Mr. Laycock hop over this course I am not Edward Hanlan. I have three good boats and

 – page 2 –

I have good oars and rowlocks. We have lots of rain up here and I can assure you that I would sooner be home than here. I am about sick of this now and when this race is over, I don’t want any more of “old England. I had a good row this morning with Bass. That proof copy from Mr. Peverelly of New York is very nice and I will (keep) for my Scrap Book. I have no more to say at present

                   Yours Truly
                        Edward Hanlan

“Col” is most likely Colonel Albert D. Shaw, American Consul at Manchester, England, who is one of the Hanlan Club “advisors/backers”.

On February 14, 1881, Edward Hanlan defeated Elias C. Laycock, New South Wales, Australia, for the World Championship, from Putney to Mortlake “Easily”. Time – 25:41. The race was scheduled for the beginning of February but was delayed daily for two weeks because of ice.

His training partner is possibly George Bass, president of Harvard Boat Club, 1870.

Peverelly was an active rower, edited the periodical, Aquatic Monthly and Nautical Review and wrote a great book, The Book of American Pastimes (1866).

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