Keeping Terms: PHT’s Cambridge Years: Part II, 1902-03

Peter Haig Thomas (PHT) adopts a winner’s pose, 1901.

14 March 2023

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch continues with the Blessed (Third) Trinity.

As I noted yesterday, Peter Haig Thomas’ arrival at Trinity College, Cambridge, in late 1901 coincided with the start of a particularly successful six years for Third Trinity, one of the college’s two boat clubs, “Third” primarily for Old Etonians. The Boat Race historian and Old Blue, George Drinkwater, wrote:

From 1901 to 1906 “Third” were Head of the River and won almost every important race on the Cam, some of the records they established remaining unbroken to the present day (1929). At Henley, they won the Grand in 1902, lost to a strong Leander crew by six feet in 1903, and provided five men for the winning Leander crew of 1904. Against severe competition they won the Stewards’ consecutively from 1901 to 1904 and Goblets in 1902 and from 1904 to 1907. These Third Trinity crews formed the backbone of the (Cambridge) University crews of that time… 

PHT put together a photo album of professional 4 inch by 5 inch plate camera pictures recording his time rowing at Cambridge, part of a period when Third Trinity dominated amateur rowing. Here, we look at the academic year, 1902 – 1903.

Cambridge University Coxswainless Fours, 7 November 1902

The names under the photograph are in the wrong order, from stroke they should be Nelson, Edwards-Moss, Thomas, Chapman. The Thomas family became “Haig Thomas” in 1917.

The Manchester Courier of 8 November 1902:

Third Trinity, for the third time in succession and for the tenth time in 21 occasions, carried off the annual contest for (the Cambridge University Coxswainless Fours), and by their victory added to their many wonderful triumphs during the last twelve months, having carried of every single event they have competed for on the Cam or at Henley

CUBC Trial Eights, 6 December 1902

Trial Eights were (and are) an important part of crew selection for the Boat Race in which the last sixteen oarsmen and two coxes race each other, supposedly in two matched crews. The participants are wearing their white Trial Caps. Sixty-four men had originally put themselves forward for Trials.

As was customary for many years, Cambridge’s Trials were held at Ely where this picture was taken, probably outside Appleyard’s Boathouse. It was reported in the press that, “Being engaged in an examination, PH Thomas had to be conveyed to Ely by motor car and the race was consequently delayed…” His crew still lost by three-and-a-half lengths though PHT made the final selection for Boat Race Day but I doubt that he passed his exam.

Training for the 1903 Boat Race, January – March 1903 

The Cambridge Crew for the 1903 Boat Race outside Leander with, standing on the left, William Dudley Ward, an Old Blue and one of the coaches. The crew order for the 1 April Race had been settled by mid-February.

Training was on the Cam from early January until 19 February, then there was a move to train at Ely. On 9 March there was a further move, this time to Henley for nine days. 

The final two weeks were spent in practice at Putney.

Boat Race Day, 1 April 1903

The 1903 Boat Race was not the event’s finest hour (or even finest 20 minutes). The umpire intended to shout “Are you ready?” and then fire a pistol. However, the gun failed to go off, the umpire became distracted, Cambridge (who had squared their blades on the “ready”) started to move on the strong tide and Oxford only followed when their opponents were one-third of a length up. The Dark Blues were thrown by their unfair start and, according to George Drinkwater in the seven seat, they “rowed like a beaten crew from the first stroke.”

The view from Hammersmith Bridge with Oxford three lengths down.
At Barnes Bridge, Cambridge had a four-and-a-half length lead.
Cambridge won by six lengths in 19 minutes 33 seconds.

Magdalene or University Pairs, Cambridge, 9 May 1903

Thomas and Nelson.

The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of 16 May 1903 said of the final:

The two Third Trinity Blues (Thomas and Nelson) were well together and held (Lady Margaret) all the way, eventually winning with a good deal in hand, in the fast time of 7min 48sec.

Lowe Double Sculls, Cambridge, 16 May 1903 

Thomas and Nelson again.

The Globe of 18 May 1903 wrote:

Nelson and Thomas had no difficulty with Croft and Edwards-Moss in the Lowe Sculls. They won easily by 120 yards in 8min 12 sec.

Head of the River, Cambridge, 10 – 13 June 1903

The Cambridge Independent Press of 19 June 1903:

The Third Trinity eight was not… to be compared with the powerful combination which rowed Head of the River last year, but they lacked neither stamina nor life, and each evening they had an easy row over.

The Third Trinity 1st May Boat Crew, 1903.
The Third Trinity 1st May Boat afloat, 1903. 

Grand Challenge Cup, Henley, 7 – 9 July 1903 (lost).

One the first day of the three-day Henley Royal Regatta, CJD Goldie (who was in Third Trinity’s Grand and Silver Goblets crews) was taken ill. Initially, “Third” was going to row the Grand with only seven oars but eventually decided to rearrange the crew and include the untrained CH Chalmers who weighed in at 60 kg. They beat London and got to the final – which The Times called “one of the finest races ever rowed, a quarter of a length being the greatest lead that either crew ever had, Leander winning by six feet only.” Had Goldie been fit, it is easy to imagine that the result would have been different.

The final of the 1903 Grand, Leander beat Third Trinity by six feet.
This picture of the Third Trinity Grand Crew of 1903 must have been taken just after the final as it includes Chalmers but not Goldie and some of the crew are wearing enclosure badges.

Sir John Edwards-Moss is included in the picture above (front row, second from the right), presumably in his role as host to the Cambridge crews rowing at Henley. If so, it is probably his house, Thamesfield, in the background. His estate was agreeably sited on the river, a few hundred metres upstream of Henley Bridge on the Berkshire bank. Although an Old Oxford Blue, Sir John was a genial host to both universities at various times during his residence at Thamesfield, 1891 – 1935.

Stewards’ Challenge Cup, Henley, 7 – 9 July 1903

Third Trinity beat London and Leander to meet the Royal Netherlands Rowing and Sailing Club in the final. The Cambridge men won by 1 3/4 lengths, The Times calling the winning crew “the best four seen for some years.”

Colquhoun Sculls, Cambridge, 21 November 1903

PH Thomas, winner of the 1903 Colquhoun Sculls.

The St James’s Gazette, 21 November 1903:

The (finalists) were PH Thomas, Third Trinity, who had reached the deciding heat without a race, and GG Russell, King’s. It was a capital race up to Ditton Plough but after this Thomas went right away and won easily by seventy yards in 8min 33sec. During the race Russell lost the fin of his boat, which affected his steering somewhat. 

Tomorrow’s final piece covers 1903-1904, plus PHT’s hasty inclusion in the 1905 Boat Race. 

All pictures courtesy of Tony Haig Thomas.

My four-part biography of Peter Haig Thomas, “The Unorthodox Orthodoxist” is on HTBS:

Part I Ladies and Lucre

Part II Boats not Books

Part III Ye Whose Style is Orthodox 

Part IV Accepting His Teaching 


  1. Not to be pedantic but I think the photo of the 1903 crew isn’t of them outside Goldie! To me the boathouse behind them bears a much closer resemblance to the recently-constructed Leander..

  2. You are right, Orlando, well spotted, I do not think that historians can be too pedantic. It has now been corrected. The lucky horseshoe above the doors has now gone but in later pictures taken while it was still in place, someone had turned it the other way up. According to superstition, ends pointing down means that the good luck is able to flow out and surround the building. If it is hung over a doorway with ends up, it will catch good luck.

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