Keeping Terms: PHT’s Cambridge Years: Part III, 1903-05

Peter Haig Thomas’ rooms in Trinity College, Cambridge, probably pictured in 1904, displaying mementos of races won and animals shot. When I was a student in the 1970s, most male students’ rooms were decorated with the famous image of Che Guevara and stolen traffic signs. Also, you could have an Athena poster objectifying a woman providing that it was in black and white (this made it art).

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

Third Trinity, winners of the 1903 Cambridge University Coxswainless Fours. After the heats, the Yorkshire Post wrote of the upcoming final, “it is almost impossible for Third Trinity to lose.”
Third Trinity beat Lady Margaret by 75 yards in the final in a time of 11mins 4secs.

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.

On 7 March, training moved from Ely to Henley where the crew stayed with Sir John Edwards-Moss for six days. Here the crew, the non-rowing President, Mr John Edwards-Moss, and the coaches (CWH Taylor and FJ Escombe) are pictured with Sir John at his house, Thamesfield, just upstream of Henley Bridge. Standing back right is Stanley Melbourne Bruce, later the eighth Prime Minister of Australia, 1923 to 1929.
The location of this picture of the crew in training is unknown but it seems to capture the stiff, strict and unyielding style of so-called “Orthodox” rowing.

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.

Cambridge moved to Putney on 14 March, twelve days before the Boat Race.

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.

Oxford nearly a length up at Harrods.
At Hammersmith Bridge, Oxford’s lead had been reduced to two-thirds of a length.

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.

Cambridge won by 4 12 lengths, in a time of 21 minutes 37 seconds.

Magdalene or University Pairs, Cambridge, 5 May 1904

Thomas and Edwards-Moss (Third Trinity) beat H Sanger and RR Walker (Lady Margaret) in the final by 110 yards in eight minutes.

Lowe Double Sculls, Cambridge, 14 May 1904

GS Russell and PH Thomas rowed over, the only entry due to injuries.

Head of the River, Cambridge, 8 – 11 June 1903

Many newspapers reported that, “Third Trinity had little difficulty in keeping their position as Head of the River.”

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…

The crew (with Third Trinity men named in bold) was, from bow: WH Chapman, FS Kelly, BC Johnstone, CWH Taylor, FJ Escombe, PH Thomas, AK Graham, RH Nelson and cox, GS Maclagan. Kelly, Graham and Maclagan were Oxford men. Also pictured are coaches Claude Goldie and Rudie Lehmann.
The final. Leander easily beat London by a length in a heat and New College, Oxford, in the final, also by a length.

Stewards’ Challenge Cup, Henley, 5 – 7 July 1904

Taylor, Chapman, Nelson and Thomas entered the Stewards’ as Third Trinity.
The final. Third defeated London in the heat and then easily won against Winnipeg RC, Canada, finishing one-and-a-half lengths up and equaling the record for the event, 7min 30secs. 

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. 

Some of PHT’s snapshots of Tunis from his album of hunting pictures.

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.

The Cambridge Crew that lost by three lengths in 1905.

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 

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