Richard Henry Dana III: An American Oarsman in England – Part II


“Tom Brown at Oxford” by T[homas] Hughes, first published in serial form in “Macmillan’s Magazine” in 1859. Then the story was published as a two-volume book in 1861. This image is from the title page of the one-volume book published by Macmillan and Co. (London) in 1879.
12 November 2020

By Göran R Buckhorn

Here follows the second part of Richard Henry Dana, III’s diary Hospitable England in the Seventies – The Diary of a Young American 1875–1876 (1921). (Read part I here.) Dana III has come back to England after a nearly six month trip on the continent. In May 1876, he is in Oxford for the bump races.

Richard H. Dana, III.

Richard Henry Dana, III, arrived in Oxford on May 18, the second day of the 1876 bumping races. He wrote in his diary:

[…] I entered by the road from the station. Had I known how ugly that part of town was I should have got out at the station before Oxford and entered by the Magdalen Bridge. […]

[…] I met many fellows with their flannel suits for boating or cricket, with soft, round cloth caps, of different colors, having small visors. White flannel trousers are always worn in the exercise suits. A dark blue coat is the most common, with the arms of the college over the left pocket. Magdalen men wear a bright scarlet coat. I called on Edmund M. Parker […] at Keble College and found him in, just putting on his flannel boating suit or “flannels” as it is called, to run with his crew. […]

[…] I saw the river and barges for the first time. The barges, which are moored along the bank, look very like the saloons of small river steamers. They are flat boats with a top not unlike a horse-car, only larger, with rows of windows close together. One end of each is fitted up as a reading-room with chairs, tables, daily and sporting papers, writing materials, and furnishings more or less luxurious according to the taste and wealth of the various colleges. Keble is the only college without a barge. It hires some rooms on the opposite bank and further up the river.

The smallest and poorest barge is that of Brasenose, which bumped University last night and is now head of the river and was the college of “Tom Brown” at Oxford. The other end of each barge is an ordinary dressing-room, generally with hand-basins, but never baths, for the members. The dressing accommodations are rather small. Each barge has its college flag flying, and the University barge for the use of the ‘Varsity crew and officers of the O.U.B.C has the flags of all the colleges hung from one mast in the order of the boats as they stand on the river, and also has a band of music. There were many ladies, mostly young, with gay dresses, bright cheeks, and sparkling eyes, on the top of their favorite college barges or along the banks, making a brilliant and lively scene.

We crossed the river to get to the towpath by means of a little “punt” poled by a water-man who expects a penny unless you are a subscriber to Sadler, the boat-builder. […]

[…] It was the second division that was rowing. Each college at Oxford has a boat club and nearly every club sends an eight-oar crew to row and maintain its position on the river. There are twenty-one eight-oar crews racing this year, and as the course is short, they are for convenience divided into two divisions. [Then followed a description of the rules of bump racing.]

[…] We had not long to wait, but at exactly twenty-five minutes past five the five-minute gun was fired and at twenty-nine past, the one-minute gun, and at half-past, the starting gun. […]

The start in The Eights. From “Tom Brown at Oxford” by Thomas Hughes, the 1879 edition. Illustration by Sydney P. Hall.

[…] Soon we heard a distant roar and saw the crowds of fellows in the flannels running along the towpath […] and could just catch glimpses of the jerseys of the crews swinging backwards and forwards in regular time. The men running on the bank divided themselves into clusters, cheering the boats of their respective colleges. I ran along with the crews the last part of the way. Their rowing was in general not unlike ours, only that in Harvard as a rule none but the University crews carry out the correct principles so well in actual practice. The men were not stronger or larger than members of our ordinary class crews, if I except two or three crews in the first division. […]

[…] After a hurried dinner at the hotel, went down to see the first division row. The rowing in the first division was naturally better than in the second. Some men rowed very finely. The crews had been practicing only three weeks on account of the lateness of the Easter vacation this year, and so none of them were perfectly “in swing together.” It was only surprising to see that there was as much rhythm where the men were so little used to watch other’s motions. It showed what good coaching could do.

The advantages for coaching at Oxford are excellent. There is a towpath about eight feet broad close to the river for twenty miles or more up and down, and so narrow is the river that a shout can easily be heard across. The coach for the University crew follows it on horseback, and day after day they never row out of his sight. […]

May 19 […] Went down to the river to see the second division row. Keble made a bump. I met Louis Dyer, my beloved classmate at Harvard, at the hotel […] We went down together to the river to see the first division row. They pointed out to me some of the University oarsmen now rowing in different crews. They were very fine fellows, but none larger or better oarsmen than Daniel C. Bacon or Wendell Goodwin, my fellow members of the Harvard University crew. […]

May 20 […] We [Dana III and F. R. Burrows of Trinity College] walked across the Magdalen Bridge and looked at the Tower […] I am now much more in the spirit of Oxford and begin to feel its fascinating influence. Like Niagara Falls it grows on one slowly. It requires several days to enjoy it fully. We visited Magdalen Chapel and cloisters and looked down on Addison’s Walk. Words fail me to express the charm and beauty of these places.

The proctors at Oxford hold although an inferior position to those at Harvard. At Oxford they are nothing but a police force. […] They are despised by the best students and detested by the rest and get no respect from the professors or tutors. With us a proctor is usually a recent graduate who is given a room in a college hall, has to maintain reasonable order and quiet, but is not obliged to go round the town spying on the students. […] I met Dryer […] He had procured a room for me in Balliol. […] We visited New College Hall and cloisters. This name shows the antiquity of Oxford. New College was founded one hundred years before the discovery of America. […]

The Oxford University Barge. From the website “Where Thames Smooth Water Glide”.

[…] We saw the races from University College barge. The Burrows presented me to Boit, the admiral of the O.U.B.C., who was very cordial. I dined in Trinity Hall with Douglas Robinson of St. Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire. He was a nephew of J. C. Tinné, captain and the largest man of the Oxford four that beat our Harvard four in the Putney to Mortlake race in 1869. Some of the English newspapers had tried to make out that the race was not close, though Oxford only beat Harvard by six seconds, a much closer finish than in the average race between Oxford and Cambridge, but Robinson told me that his uncle said that it was a very hard race to the end; that Oxford had expected to pass us much sooner than she did, that toward the end we began creeping up, and they had to row every ounce that was in them to keep the lead. […]

May 21 […] I had an appointment to see Edward Moss, the stroke and captain of the Oxford University crew, in his room in Brasenose after church. When I got there he had gone, but his friend who had made the appointment said that Moss had mistaken the hour and was off holding the “Derby” lottery for the great horse-race. To think that such things are going on on Sunday in quiet, religious Oxford and that, too, before most of the chapels were over! […]

Salter’s new offices at Folly Bridge, in “Jackson’s Oxford Journal”, November 10, 1900. From South Oxford Community website.

May 22 […] The engagement was to meet Edward Moss at Brasenose in his room. When I arrived he was out. From there I went down to the boat-houses and had a talk with Salter about his system of letting boats. Fast pleasure boats were the most popular. Lunched with Waldo Burnett at Keble. E. M. Parker was there, and after lunch Viner, who is on the Keble boat, came in. From his account the Keble crew were more limited in the diet than we were in ’72, ’73, and ’74; about as strict as we were in the freshman crew in ’71. It was raining for the first time since I have been in Oxford this afternoon, but cleared off in time for the races. In the second division there was a close and exciting race between Trinity and Lincoln. Trinity just succeeded in making the bump only a few feet before it would have been too late, as Lincoln was close to the finish.

A four-oar row down the river had been arranged for me. Jupp and Darbyshire, the nephew of the celebrated late University stroke oar of that name, went with us. We left our boat under one of the long bridges and walked to the start of the first division. The boats were kept in position by long poles held by water-men from the shore and also by a cord held by the cockswain [alternative spelling of coxswain]. The Oriel crew had been bumped every night for several nights running, and the men were thoroughly demoralized. They tried to appear calm, but they were evidently very nervous. They lose their heads as soon as they start and have not once got through the “Gut” before being bumped, so that Hall, their cockswain, the famous one who steered the Oxford four against Harvard in ’69 and almost won the race for Oxford in ’70 by sheer good steering, had no chance to show his powers. […]

May 23 […] Went out rowing in a four-oar tub with sliding seats. The president of the Magdalen Boat Club went out with us. They made me row stroke. I was sorry that I was not in better condition, for I saw that I was committing faults which I rarely did at home, merely from being out of “swing” and “wind.” I felt, too, that they were criticizing me all the way. They told me that if I could wait a few days more, when the races were over, they would get up some nice crews to row with me, but that now almost every good oarsman was in one or the other of the twenty-one college eights. […] While on the river-bank I passed by and had pointed out to me the bow of this year’s ‘Varsity crew walking past. He was not quite so tall as Tucker Daland, who rowed port bow in the Harvard crew of ’73, and not so squarely built. He looked like a plucky fellow.

May 24 At half-past eight I breakfasted in Dyer’s room with the Balliol crew. They were a fine set of men, all good students, for no one can enter or keep in Balliol without being one. They were all tall and manly and had a healthy color in their cheeks. Their breakfast, which was of course a training one as the crew had one more day of racing, consisted of tea, dry toast, butter bread, mutton chops, dropped eggs, beefsteak, plain lettuce, and artichokes, and they ended up with orange marmalade, of which they partook an abundance. They said almost all the Oxford crews used it. The Balliol crew does not take oatmeal porridge as most of the others at Oxford. […]

[…] I walked down High Street with Bishop Mylne at racing speed. He has so much to do that he walks ventre a terre [‘full speed’] all the time. He was on his way to see a student from Keble who is dangerously ill. Bishop Mylne told me that he made use of every moment when awake; for example, he sometimes coaches the crews, having been a celebrated oarsman in his college eight, and while waiting for the crew at the college barge he would write letters. He seems more American in this “hurry up” than English. […]

Balliol College, in the 1870s. From Balliol College website.

May 25 […] Rowed down the river in a four-oar through Iffley Loch, as far as the Swan Inn, if I recollect the name aright, where we got out and pitched quoits. The great jumper [Michael George] Glazebrook rowed with us. Two years ago he made the highest amateur running jump on record. […] Glazebrook gave me some useful hints about running jumping.

In the evening dined in Balliol Hall with Dyer and later went to the Balliol eight wine, that is, a jollification given in honor of the Balliol crew, which had made three bumps this year and holds a good place on the river, so there was a lot of enthusiasm and the place crowded.[…] Every member of the crew, cockswain included, was toasted separately. The toasts were drunk mostly in champagne. The answers to the toasts were not particularly bright and witty, but were manly, good-natured, and modest. They had no little singing, usually calling for a song as well as a speech, and all joined in after each toast with the refrain “For He is a Jolly Good Fellow.” They took me in as one of themselves and called on me for a Harvard song. They knew I was a Harvard ‘Varsity stroke oar and captain and had followed their crews every day I had rooms in Balliol. I was puzzled for a moment what to choose. “Fair Harvard” is dull […]. At last I bethought me of “The Lone Fish Ball,” which was generously applauded. […] They then toasted the United States and asked me to respond. […] These few words apparently pleased them, as they were followed up with “For He is a Jolly Good Fellow.” Was this not “just awfully nice” of them? […]

[…] I cannot close the account of my delightful visit at Oxford without speaking of the easy hospitality, manliness, freedom from care, even happy-go-lucky character of the men. They were much more blithe, jovial, and lightly merry than our Harvard students, who take both play and pleasure more seriously. The Oxford men, too, bore defeat good-naturedly. Oxford on a bright day in May during the bumping races, with all the young lady visitors and its spring verdure, is at its best. […]

Part III will continue tomorrow with Richard Henry Dana, III’s days in Cambridge. He also visits Henley Royal Regatta and London Rowing Club.

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