4 September 2020
By Göran R Buckhorn
Göran R Buckhorn remembers a fight.
Reading Chris Dodd’s article yesterday about Bob Janousek’s oarsmen who came into a fist fight within the crews at the 1974 Mannheim Regatta, I remember a similar episode when it came to blows which I wrote about in my book A Yank at Cambridge – B.H. Howell: The Forgotten Champion (2015) – a ‘boxing’ story I stole from Geoffrey Page. A Yank at Cambridge is about the American Benjamin Hunting Howell, who went to study and row at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in the mid-1890s. Howell, who later joined Thames RC, was not involved in the fight, but some of his teammates were.
This is how the story goes…
In 1866, the Thames RC had acquired a boathouse at Putney, which belonged to the boat builder William Styles of Isleworth. Manager for the boathouse was William East, Snr., whose son was the professional champion William ‘Bill’ East.
Bill East had strong connections to Cambridge University BC as he acted as their ‘waterman’. For many years, he took out the Light Blue coxes in a boat to show them how to steer on the sometimes unruly waters of the Thames between Putney and Mortlake.
With Bill East around Thames RC, many of Cambridge’s rowers went to the club after they left the university and had landed a job in the city. This was what happened in 1898 when some Trinity Hall oarsmen, William Fernie, William Bieber and Hunting Howell, joined the club. Some ‘Hall’ rowers, including Richard Croft, were already members. Croft took the Colquhoun Sculls in 1893 and the Lowe Double Sculls in 1894 (together with Adam Bell). He also rowed in the Hall’s eight who won the Head in 1894 (with Fernie and Bieber) and in 1895 (with Fernie, Bieber and Howell). Also, the Hall’s David Campbell-Muir, who got his Blue at the same time as Howell, in 1897, would become a member of the club.
For the 1898 Silver Goblets at Henley, Fernie raced in the Thames RC’s pair with A. ‘Bogie’ Bogle, who was ‘a very difficult and aggressive crew member’, Geoffrey Page writes in his marvellous book on the Thames RC, Hear the Boat Sing (1991) – what a wonderful title, by the way. For some unknown reason, Bogie was not on speaking terms with his partner in the boat on the day of the final where they were going to race against A. M. Hutchinson ‘Old Hutch’ and Steve Fairbairn of Jesus College BC. Fairbairn – yes, the famous coach to be. The Jesus crew were some 15 years older than the youngsters in the Thames boat.
On the way to the start, Bogie and Fernie tried to pull each other round which they continued to do during the race. Old Hutch and Fairbairn took an early lead at a high rate which was doomed to fail. The Thames pair soon was in front and won comfortably.
In Hear the Boat Sing, Page writes: ‘[Bogie and Fernie] did not stop at the line. Legend has it that they continued to Marsh Lock, where they got out and fought it out on the bank. It is not recorded who won the fight, but the boat was left for the boatman to collect.’
I cannot say that rowers are particularly violent people. However, when it comes to exchanging blows, at least they seem to keep it within the crew.