15 March 2023
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch takes a final look into Peter Haig Thomas’ photo album, his pictures covering a particularly successful period for Third Trinity Boat Club, whether racing on the Cam, on the Tideway or at Henley. (Here are Part I and Part II.)
Cambridge University Coxswainless Fours, 6 November 1903
Training for the 1904 Boat Race, January – March 1904
Sixty-one men had originally put themselves forward for Trials and the final eighteen had raced at Ely on 5 December 1903. Several men whose places in the Cambridge Boat Race crew were virtually assured did not take part in the Trail race. These were PH Thomas, BC Johnstone, J Edwards-Moss, H Sanger and RV Powell. Eventually, Edwards-Moss, the President, did not row against Oxford because of injury.
As usual, training on the Cam began with almost the final crew on the return from the Christmas break in the second week of January 1904. “Strict Training” began on 15 February with most time spent at Ely.
The Orthodox style could make a boat move fast but it was much more difficult to teach and to learn than what would later be called the “Fairbairn” method. Steve Fairbairn held that crews should not unduly focus on positioning their bodies according to rigid rules but should instead concentrate on the movement of the blade, creating an easy, flowing and enjoyable stroke.
Boat Race Day, 26 March 1904
The date of the 1904 Boat Race was initially the subject of some controversy as, at first, 30 March was chosen. However, this was in the solemn Holy Week and there were many objections. The only other date was 26 March, but the tides meant a 7.45 am start.
The Times said that the race “was one of the best… since 1896, for the result was in doubt for nearly three-quarters of the course; but it of course no means that the crews themselves were good. Indeed, they were not; and it would not be too much to say that the Cambridge crew would have been beaten by any of the winning crews of the last five years.”
George Drinkwater later noted that, although Cambridge still had PH Thomas, “they had lost the great Third Trinity trio: Chapman, Taylor and Nelson.”
Initially, a higher rating Oxford took the lead and were clear by the Mile Post. However, Cambridge established a good rhythm and began to move up, assisted by some poor steering by Oxford at Harrods.
By the Doves pub upstream of Hammersmith Bridge, the crews were level. Cambridge pushed ahead and were clear by Chiswick Steps as Oxford struggled to maintain form.
Magdalene or University Pairs, Cambridge, 5 May 1904
Lowe Double Sculls, Cambridge, 14 May 1904
Head of the River, Cambridge, 8 – 11 June 1903
Grand Challenge Cup, Henley, 5 – 7 July 1904 (Won as Leander)
The Times of 27 June 1904 noted in its Henley preview:
For the Grand Challenge Cup, the Leander Club (the holders) have a very strong eight, five of whom belong to Third Trinity, Cambridge, who some time since were expected to enter on their own account, but decided not to do so, and throw in their lot with Leander. This proceeding has caused much unfavourable comment…
Stewards’ Challenge Cup, Henley, 5 – 7 July 1904
The Boat Race, 1 April 1905 (Lost)
It was often the case in this era that some men got into Blue boats or college crews when they were no longer genuine students. Most famously, Magdalen College, Oxford, won the Stewards’ in 1907 with the 41-year-old Guy Nickalls at stroke. Nickalls, having not taken his degree in his youth, claimed that he was thus still “in residence” at Magdalen and so could be part of the student crew. Peter Haig Thomas’ album of snapshots that he had taken himself show that he was hunting in Tunisia from 29 January to 16 March 1905 and so presumably was not “keeping terms” as students were required to do.
When Haig Thomas returned to Britain two weeks before the 1905 Boat Race, the Cambridge crew had lost Wormald and Sanger to injury. George Drinkwater:
PH Thomas came into the boat untrained; he had just returned from an expedition in Africa and was not fit and, although the experience did not do him any physical harm, he had incurred a very great risk both to his constitution and his reputation. These changes did not improve the crew or its chances, and the result of the race was an easy victory for Oxford.
It was a rather unfortunate end to an otherwise remarkable university rowing career, fortunately one immortalised by photography.
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