B.C. · Oared vessels began to be
used for transport, commerce, fishing, life-saving and war, but, while there
are occasional references in classical texts to boat racing, rowing
primarily for exercise, non-ceremonial recreation or competition was not
common before 1800.
Lenormant Relief c. 400 B.C. -
1274 · The
first reference to a "regata" appeared in Venetian
documentation; Venice’s dependence on water transport provided a natural
venue for the evolution of medieval and Renaissance water festivals. By
1315, the Venetian regata included boat races among other forms of aquatic
display and entertainment [Dodd].
1454 · The first
Lord Mayor’s water procession was held in London [Dodd], which was to grow
to include numerous magnificent guild barges, and to continue for over four
centuries, until 1856. The colorful annual event, with its pomp and ceremony
and liveried watermen, undoubtedly contributed to the interest taken by Eton
boys in aquatic activities and to the initiation at Eton in 1793 of the
Procession of the Boats.
Illustrated by Brian Allderidge, from State
Barges on the Thames
1715 · Thomas
Doggett established a prize for watermen in their first year of
apprenticeship, to be raced for on the Tideway in London (August 1), that is
now one of the oldest, continually running athletic contests in the world.
The Coat and Badge that were awarded brought fame, though little fortune, to
the wearers, who were also eligible to man the Royal Barge on state
1756 · A race in
New York between a Cape Cod whaleboat and a New York pettiauger was won "with
the greatest ease" by the former (April).
1768 · A regatta
was held at Walton-on-Thames [Dodd].
1775 · A major
water festival and regatta, described in a paper of the day as a "novel
amusement recently introduced from Venice," was held at Ranelagh
Gardens at Chelsea on the Thames (June 23). An event like this could now
draw royal patronage and commissions, such as the engagement of Handel to
compose his "Water Music."
1788 · Two
eight-oared cutters, the Chatham and the Invincible, engaged
in a race from Westminster to Richmond on the Thames (September 8), which
became the first boat race recorded in England’s
1790 · The Star
Club and the Arrow Club were active on the Thames in London.
1793 · The first
recorded Procession of the Boats was held at Eton College, England’s
leading boy’s private school located outside London on the Thames at
Windsor, and the custom of organizing groups of boys from the same master’s
house to obtain a boat for pleasure, exercise or a contest with another
house became institutionalized.
Procession of Boats c. 1850
1805 · The first
boat race was held in Australia [Dodd].
1807 · A boat race
took place in New York over a course from the Whitehall Stairs to Blackwell’s
Island and return.
1811 · Two New
York Whitehall fours, the Knickerbocker and the Invincible,
raced from Harsimus, New Jersey to the Battery flagstaff.
first records of boating appear at Westminster School in London.
1814 · A regatta
held in Chester included a race for women for a two guinea prize.
1815 · The first
college boat club was organized at Oxford University, and the first recorded
contest among the Oxford college boat clubs for Head of the River was won by
The start of the Oxford bumping races prior to 1825
1816 · The first
Canadian boat race was held in St. John’s Harbor, Newfoundland (August
10), and continues today as the "Quidi
1818 · The Star
and Arrow boat clubs joined to form the Leander Club in London.
four-oared American Star beat the New York in a race from
Williamsburg, Long Island to Castle William, Governors Island.
1822 · The
earliest team rowing print shows a boat race at Oxford.
1823 · The
Knickerbocker Club became the first boat club to be organized in the United
four-oars, the Whitehall and the Richmond, raced from Robbins
Reef Light to Castle Garden, the Whitehall victorious.
1824 · The
Whitehall boat American Star, manned by four New York
watermen, defeated the Certain Death from the British warship Hussar,
racing four miles from the Battery flagstaff to Hoboken Point and back for a
$1,000 prize before 50,000 spectators (December 9); the winning boat was
presented as a gift to the Marquis de Lafayette on his farewell visit to New
York the following year.
The 1824 four-oared Whitehall Victorious
1826 · A regatta
was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia (July).
1827 · The first
college boat club was organized at Cambridge University, and the first
recorded contest among the Cambridge college boat clubs for Head of the
River was won by Trinity.
Boat Races On The Cam, 1837
1828 · Anthony
Brown of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, developed a form of outrigger for
racing boats [Dodd].
1829 · In their
first contest, Oxford defeated Cambridge in eight oared cutters before
20,000 spectators at Henley-on-Thames, England (June 10), where the river
offers about a mile and a quarter of straight course. Ultimately known
simply as the Boat Race, this fixture of the British sports scene and summer
social calendar moved to the Tideway for the second contest, in 1836, where
it has been an annual event, with few exceptions, each March or April since
The Oxford Crew of 1829
commenced a storied boat race rivalry with Westminster School in London
(July 27) that marked the beginning of inter-mural schoolboy rowing.
in England were held in Portsmouth, Southsea and Gosport [Dodd].
1830 · The
Wingfield Sculls were first contested for the amateur sculling championship
of the Thames.
1831 · The first
English professional sculling championship race was held between two
watermen, C. Campbell and J. Williams, in London.
1833 · Seven
eights and four sixes raced in a Philadelphia regatta (November).
Schuylkill Regatta c. 1835-1840 - Undine Barge Club
1834 · Durham
Regatta in England was founded after almost 20 years of aquatic festivities celebrating
the victory at Waterloo.
· WALKER’S MANLY
EXERCISES, the first book to extol the virtues of rowing for fitness and
health, was published first in London, then in Philadelphia (1836).
· The first rowing
association, the New York (or Castle Garden) Amateur Boat Club Association,
· A double-scull defeated
pair-oar in what became known as the "Jersey
Blue Race" from Jersey City to Robbin’s
reef and return.
· Regattas were held
among established clubs in Philadelphia.
· In a New York Harbor
contest of two six-oars manned by Whitehall watermen, the Wave bested
the Eagle (July 21). The Wave was again victorious in the
first regatta of the New York Amateur Boat Club Association (September 19),
held at Castle Garden.
1836 · Lyrics and
music titled "Light May the
Boat Row" were published in honor of the New York Boat Clubs (the Wave
won again, in a nine-boat race on September 19); sheet music with rowing
related themes or illustrations appeared for the next century.
· Hamburg RC was organized as
the first boat club for Germans [Dodd].
Hamberger Ruder Club racing an English Rowing Club, 1844
1837 · Two
pair-oared match races were held in New York (July 18 and 19), followed by
two four-oared races (August 4 and 13). Ten thousand spectators watched the
six-oared Wave three-peat in the third New York Amateur Boat Club
Association regatta (September 25), while the six-oar Disowned won a
match for $2,000 over seven miles against the Geo. Washington
(September 26). Newburgh, New York began sponsoring regattas for six-oared
boats, and added four-oared events in later years (1839, 1841 and 1842).
Poughkeepsie also held a regatta for six-oars on the Hudson River (August
13), followed by an 1839 regatta for six-oars and four-oars.
· The Canton Regatta Club was
formed in China [Dodd].
1838 · The Societe
Havraise de l’Aviron became the first French rowing club [Dodd].
· Match races in New
York included the victory of the six-oar Wizzard-Skiff over Kosciusko
(June 1), the triumph of the four-oared Whitehall over the Passaic
(June 11), the defeat by the four-oared Shamburgh of Whitehall of the
Independence of Newark in a five mile race from Robbin’s Reef to
Castle Garden for $2,000 (September 10), the loss of $1,000 by the Disowned
to the Spark in a five mile race, and the victory of the four-oared Fairy
over the Brooklyn.
1839 · The first
Henley Regatta was held, establishing the "Henley" distance of
about a mile and a quarter as the principal alternative to the four mile "classic"
distance. The Regatta received Royal sponsorship in 1851.
Henley Regatta broadside - 1839
· Match races in New York in
1839 included the suspicious victory of the four-oared Shakspeare
over the Shamburgh over a course from Robbin’s Reef to Castle
Garden for $2,000, perhaps the first fixed race in U.S. rowing (June 2), the
victory of the four-oared Duane over the Willis over a two and
a half mile course down the Hudson from Washington Market, and return, for
$500 a side (August 1), and the victory of the six-oared Ann, of
Peekskill, manned by professionals, over the amateurs of the Wave,
its first defeat ever (October 1), before a crowd of 15,000. In a same day
re-match, the amateurs turned the Wave over to a crew of Whitehallers
who bested the Ann in a race from the Battery to Bedloe’s Island
and back for $1,000. In Philadelphia, 7,000 viewed a six-oared regatta on
the Schuylkill (July 18).
Illustrations of boat races first appeared in English newspapers and
1841 · The
Newburgh, NY regatta for eight six-oars featured the first elimination heats in
a U.S. regatta (July 14); a race among nine four-oars followed the same day.
1842 · The first
publication devoted to rowing as a sport, A TREATISE ON THE ART OF ROWING AS
PRACTISED AT CAMBRIDGE, appeared in England.
· Four eight-oared boats
raced over the Chelsea course in a regatta in East Boston (August 3).
1843 · In one of
the legendary contests in the sport, following the illness of one of their
crew, seven Oxford oarsmen, stroked by the brother of author Thomas Hughes,
defeated a Cambridge eight over the Henley course.
· The first U.S. collegiate
boat club was organized at Yale (May 24).
· The Royal Thames Regatta
was organized as the first of several annual contests for professional crews
on the Tideway at London.
· Stephen Roberts claimed the
singles championship of New York after defeating Sydney Dorlon in two of
three races (September 29).
1844 · A racing
single with outriggers and an inboard keel made its appearance on the Thames
· The first boat club was
organized at Harvard.
1845 · Out-rigged
racing boats, most effectively modified by Harry Clasper,
professional waterman from Newcastle-on-Tyne, appeared on the Tideway.
· The first modern sport and
the eventual "national sport"
shared common ground as a four-oared regatta was held (September 22) at
Elysian Fields, Hoboken; that same year, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club
was formed, and their playing grounds at the Elysian Fields became the
birthplace of baseball.
1846 · The Ghent
club was organized in Belgium [Dodd].
· The Arrow Club was formed
in St. Petersburg, Russia [Dodd].
1849 · Henry David
Thoreau published A WEEK ON THE CONCORD AND MERRIMACK RIVERS, the chronicle
of a trip with his brother in an oared boat in 1839; numerous journals of
oared travels appeared over the next four decades, culminating in the
classic THREE MEN IN A BOAT, published by Jerome K. Jerome in 1889.