World Sculling Championship

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The World Sculling Championship (1863–1957), evolved from the Championship of the Thames for professional scullers.

Only the sport of boxing claims an older Championship of the World. It is notable that Jack Broughton, the "Father of Boxing", trained scullers for prize contests which had their roots in wager races which had taken place from the middle of the 18th century on the Thames.


The first race for the Professional Championship of the Thames took place between Westminster and Hammersmith, on the River Thames in London in September 1831, when John Williams of Waterloo Bridge challenged Charles Campbell of Westminster for the Sculling Championship of the Thames. This was just over a year after the first Wingfield Sculls race for the Amateur Championship of the Thames had been held.

The race was initially dominated by oarsmen from the Thames, but a fierce rivalry soon arose between Newcastle and London after the famous Tyne sculler, Robert Chambers became the first non-Londoner to secure the title in 1859.

In 1863 the race became for the Championship of the World. when it had its first non-British entrant, Australian Richard A W Green. Green lost to Chambers but changes were afoot and as an increasing number of professional scullers from Australia; the US and Canada started to compete, Britain lost its dominance, failing to secure a win between 1876 and 1920. For details of the subsequent English Championship only see English Sculling Championship.

Championship Sculling Course Parramatta River Sydney NSW Australia 1920

The first overseas sculler to claim the title, was Australian Edward Trickett, who won his first race in June 1876, Trickett held the title for the next two races (1877 and 1879), both of which were held on his home river, the Parramatta. Trickett eventually lost out to Canadian Ned Hanlan (the first sculler to use a boat with a sliding seat), in 1880 on the Championship Course on the Thames. This course was over a distance of a little over four miles but for other races on other courses there was no set distance. These other courses varied between three and five miles approximately.

Professional sculling saw a marked downturn with each of the world wars. Although a few races were held after the 2nd World War, they failed to arouse the interest of the public or attract the standard of competitor seen in the earlier years of the Championship, and as the amateur / professional split in rowing was slowly abolished, the race died out. The Title lapsed in 1958 when Evans Fischer retired undefeated.

The 1908 World Title race was commemorated in December 2008 when Olympic champion Olaf Tufte defeated three time World Champion Mahé Drysdale and wild card race winner Hamish Bond on New Zealand's Whanganui River to take home the $5000 cash prize.[1]


Engraving printed in the Illustrated London News in September 1889 for the match between Henry Ernest Searle of Australia and William Joseph O'Connor of Canada

A person wanting to become the champion would issue a formal challenge to the existing Champion for a match and would offer a certain sum of money. Sometimes a person would issue a newspaper challenge to the winner of another match and deposit a sum with the paper which would theoretically 'bind' the subsequent match. The stake was not a fixed amount but it had to be high enough to be worth the champion's time and reputation and which would discourage frivolous challenges. Typically the stake would be £100 or £200 a side for a state or national championship and £500 or more each for the world title. Sometimes additional expenses were expected as well. Under the rules such as they were, the Champion would have three months to accept the challenge or else forfeit the match in favour of the challenger.

The challenger and Champion, or their agents, discussed the 'terms' and came to an agreement. Sometimes challenges failed at this stage as there was no agreement or the challenger was unable to raise the money. Once the challenge was accepted the 'articles' would be drawn up and signed by the contestants and witnessed. The articles would state where and when the match was to be held, who the umpire was to be, how much the stake per side was to be and when it was to be paid in, and who the literal stake-holder was to be, and a few other details. From time to time it was agreed that the loser would receive some money as expenses which at least prevented a total loss. The stake-holder was often the Editor of a newspaper. The race was then supposed to run within another six months.

Seldom did challengers or Champions have to put up their own money in these sorts of competitions. The normal arrangement was that wealthy backers would put up the money. The backers were usually syndicates of gambling men. The backers of the winner of the match got their money back, and collected any other bets placed, but the winning man personally got the money put up from the backers of the loser. Side-bets between the actual contestants themselves were not unknown. Contestants were also often rewarded by splitting the 'gate.' i.e. the profit from sales of boat tickets and souvenirs. The nature of sculling meant that not all spectators could be charged to see the race but a split of sixty-forty to the winner was common.


Professional scullers tended to attract more media attention than the crews, since their individuality gave the media and public a greater chance of recognition. "The Aquatic Oracle" published in London in 1852 lists hundreds and hundreds of professional races from 1835 to 1851 between watermen. While many were for small sums of money it gives an indication of the extent of the activity. Betting on races was widespread and in the late 19th century, sculling or wager racing was perhaps the greatest spectator sport in London at the time. Many tens of thousands of spectators attended each race. By the turn of the century prize money had become so great that some scullers made up to nearly £5,000 a year in prizes and side bets, and £2,000 for a race.

Betting was simplified by recourse to past performances and present form would be followed by hordes of spectators at training sessions.


The very earliest races were informal events between working watermen who raced in their everyday work boat or wherry. These rowing boats were used to carry passengers and goods from one part of the river to another. As racing became more formalised the work boats were superseded by specialist racing craft. Several technical developments assisted in this transformation from the job of waterman to the sport of rowing. These were;

(1) the development of light weight boats built solely for racing.

(2) the outrigger which placed the oar's pivot point outside the boat allowing for more leverage.

(3) the swivelling rowlock, and

(4) the sliding seat which also allowed for more oar movement. These developments greatly increased the average speed of racing. Generally in contemporary reports these types of boats were referred to as "outriggers," "best and best," or "wager boats."


A foul is the touching of any part of an opponent's boat or sculls by any part of your own boat or sculls. In the early days of professional rowing, fouling an opponent was an accepted part of the game as a contestant would often deliberately foul to gain an advantage. As racing boats became lighter and frailer this practise became less and less accepted and was finally done away with as actual rowing skill was counted as more important than disabling the opposition. Later title or money matches outlawed fouling and generally the man doing the fouling lost the match. However, because contestants faced the opposite way to the way the boat travelled, accidental fouls sometimes occurred particularly as races were often held on rivers that had bends in them. No lanes were marked out as in modern courses and in a close race a foul could happen as both men tried to get around the bend as quickly as possible. It was not unknown for a contestant to engineer a foul against himself to thereby try to win the race. In most matches an umpire or referee would rule on these sorts of fouls as to whose fault it was, usually at the time, but sometimes only after the race had finished. From time to time he would decide that the foul was accidental with no advantage to either sculler, and would order the men to continue racing. Many races were decided on fouls rather than who was the better sculler and many men felt hard done by when the decision went against them. The umpire's decision was final.


Year Date Champion Beat Time Course
1831 9 Sep Charles Campbell John Williams NTT Thames (Westminster to Hammersmith)
1838 1 Nov Charles Campbell Robert Coombes 42 mins Thames (Westminster to Putney)
1846 19 Aug Robert Coombes Charles Campbell 26 mins 15secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1847 19 Sep Robert Coombes Robert Newell 23 mins 46 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1851 7 May Robert Coombes Thomas J MacKinney 27 mins 30 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1852 24 May Tom Cole Robert Coombes 25 mins 15 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1852 14 Oct Tom Cole Robert Coombes 23 mins 35 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1854 20 Nov James Messenger Tom Cole 24 mins 45 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1857 12 May Harry Kelley (GBR) James Messenger 24 mins 30 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1859 20 Sep Robert Chambers (GBR) Harry Kelley (GBR) 25 mins 25 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1860 18 Sep Robert Chambers (GBR) Tom White (GBR) 23 mins 25 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1863 14 Apr Robert Chambers (GBR) George W Everson (GBR) 25 mins 27 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1863 16 Jun Robert Chambers (GBR) Richard A W Green (AUS) 25 mins 35 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1865 8 Aug Harry Kelley (GBR) Robert Chambers (GBR) 23 mins 23 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1866 4 Jul Harry Kelley (GBR) James Hammill (USA) 32 mins 45 secs Tyne
1866 22 Nov Robert Chambers (GBR) Joseph Sadler (GBR) 25 mins 4 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1868 6 May Harry Kelley (GBR) Robert Chambers (GBR) 31 mins 47 secs Tyne
1868 17 Nov James Renforth (GBR) Harry Kelley (GBR) 23 mins 15secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1874 16 Apr Joseph Sadler (GBR) Robert Bagnall (GBR) 24 mins 15 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1875 15 Nov Joseph Sadler (GBR) Robert W Boyd (GBR) 28 mins 5 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1876 27 Jun Edward Trickett (AUS) Joseph Sadler (GBR) 24 mins 35 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1877 30 Jun Edward Trickett (AUS) Michael Rush (rower) (AUS) 23 mins 27secs Parramatta, Sydney
1879 29 Aug Edward Trickett (AUS) Elias C. Laycock (AUS) 23 mins 29 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1880 15 Nov Edward Hanlan (CAN) Edward Trickett(AUS) 26 mins 12 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1881 14 Feb Edward Hanlan (CAN) Elias C. Laycock (AUS) 25 mins 49 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1882 3 Apr Edward Hanlan(CAN) Robert W Boyd (GBR) 21 mins 25 secs Tyne
1882 1 May Edward Hanlan(CAN) Edward Trickett (AUS) 28 mins Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1883 30 May Edward Hanlan(CAN) John A Kennedy (USA) 19 min 4 sec Point of Pines, Boston USA
1883 18 July Edward Hanlan(CAN) Wallace Ross (CAN) 27 min 57.5 secs Odensberg, New York, USA
1884 22 May Edward Hanlan(CAN) Elias C. Laycock (AUS) 22 mins 46 secs Nepean, Sydney
1884 16 Aug Bill Beach (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 20 mins 28 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1885 28 Feb Bill Beach (AUS) Thomas Clifford (AUS) 26 mins 1 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1885 28 Mar Bill Beach (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 22 mins 51 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1885 18 Dec Bill Beach (AUS) Neil Matterson (AUS) 24 mins 11 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1886 18 Sep Bill Beach (AUS) Jake Gaudaur Snr. (CAN) 22 mins 29 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1886 25 Sep Bill Beach (AUS) Wallace Ross (CAN) 23 min 5 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1887 26 Nov Bill Beach (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 19 mins 25 sec Nepean, Sydney
1888 11 Feb Peter Kemp (AUS) Thomas Clifford (AUS) 23 mins 27secs Parramatta, Sydney
1888 5 May Peter Kemp (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 21 mins 36 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1888 28 Sep Peter Kemp (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 21 mins 25 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1888 27 Oct Henry Ernest Searle (AUS) Peter Kemp (AUS) 22 mins 44 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1889 9 Sep Henry Ernest Searle (AUS) William Joseph O'Connor (CAN) 22 mins 42 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1890 25 Apr Peter Kemp (AUS) Neil Matterson (AUS) 21 mins 13 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1890 15 May Peter Kemp (AUS) John McLean(AUS) 21 mins 45 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1890 15 Dec John McLean (AUS) Peter Kemp (AUS) 22 mins 13 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1891 28 Apr Jim Stanbury * (AUS) John McLean (AUS) 22 mins 15 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1891 7 Jul Jim Stanbury * (AUS) John McLean (AUS) 18 mins 25 secs Parramatta, Sydney (short Course)
1892 2 May Jim Stanbury * (AUS) Tom Sullivan (NZL) 17 mins 26 secs Parramatta, Sydney (short Course)
1896 13 Jul Jim Stanbury * (AUS) Charles R. Harding (GBR) 21 mins 51 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1896 7 Sep Jake Gaudaur Snr. (CAN) Jim Stanbury (AUS) 23 mins 1 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1898 4 Jul Jake Gaudaur Snr. (CAN) Robert Johnston (CAN) 20 mins 25 sec Vancouver Harbour
1901 7 Sep George Towns (AUS) Jake Gaudaur Snr. (CAN) 20 mins 30 sec Lake of the Woods, Ontario
1904 30 Jul George Towns (AUS) Richard Tresidder (AUS) 21 mins 28 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1905 22 Jul Jim Stanbury * (AUS) George Towns (AUS) 19 mins 4 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1906 28 Jul George Towns (AUS) Jim Stanbury (AUS) 19 mins 53 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1907 2 Mar George Towns (AUS) Edward Durnan (CAN) 22 mins 27 secs Nepean, Sydney
1907 3 Aug William Webb (NZL) Charles Towns (AUS) 20 mins 35 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1908 25 Feb William Webb (NZL) Richard Tresidder (AUS) 20 mins 28 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1908 15 Dec Richard Arnst (NZL) William Webb (NZL) 19 mins 51 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1909 21 Jun Richard Arnst (NZL) William Webb (NZL) 18 mins 15 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1910 4 Apr Richard Arnst (NZL) George Whelch (NZL) 21 mins 51 secs Akaroa Harbour, New Zealand
1910 18 Aug Richard Arnst (NZL) Ernest Barry (GBR) 20 mins 14 secs Zambezi River, Northern Rhodesia
1911 29 Jul Richard Arnst(NZL) Harry Pearce (AUS) 19 mins 46 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1912 29 Jul Ernest Barry (GBR) Richard Arnst (NZL) 23 mins 8 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1912 14 Oct Ernest Barry (GBR) Edward Durnan (CAN) 22 mins 31 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1913 21 Jul Ernest Barry (GBR) Harry Pearce (AUS) 24 mins 9 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1914 7 Sep Ernest Barry (GBR) Jim Paddon (AUS) 21 mins 28 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1919 27 Oct Alf Felton (AUS) Ernest Barry (GBR) 25 mins 40 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1920 31 Aug Ernest Barry (GBR) Alf Felton (AUS) 24 mins 32 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1921 11 Jun Richard Arnst (NZL) Pat Hannan (NZL) 22 mins 34 sec Wairau, New Zealand
1922 5 Jan Darcy Hadfield (NZL) Richard Arnst (NZL) 19 mins 46 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1922 18 Apr Jim Paddon (AUS) Darcy Hadfield (NZL) 19 mins 19 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1923 21 Jul Jim Paddon (AUS) Darcy Hadfield(NZL) 19 mins 46 secs Richmond
1924 12 Aug Jim Paddon (AUS) Alf Felton (AUS) 17 mins 55 secs Brisbane
1924 20 Sep Jim Paddon (AUS) Major Goodsell (AUS) 17 mins 7 secs Richmond
1925 21 Mar Major Goodsell (AUS) Bill McDevitt (AUS) 22 mins 20 secs Clarence
1925 27 Jun Major Goodsell (AUS) Pat Hannan (NZL) 21 mins 31 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1925 7 Nov Major Goodsell (AUS) Jim Paddon (AUS) 22 mins 50 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1926 3 May Major Goodsell (AUS) Tom Saul (AUS) 23 mins 11 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1927 5 Sep Major Goodsell (AUS) Bert Barry (GBR) 24 mins 13 secs Burrand Inlet, Vancouver
1927 6 Dec Bert Barry (GBR) Major Goodsell (AUS) 21 mins 40 secs Burrand Inlet, Vancouver
1930 31 May Ted Phelps[2] (GBR) Bert Barry (GBR) 22 mins 45 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1930 11 Oct Ted Phelps[2] (GBR) Bert Barry (GBR) 22 mins 48 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1932 5 Sep Ted Phelps[2] (GBR) Major Goodsell (USA) 17 mins 2 secs Long Beach, California
1933 1 Sep Bobby Pearce (AUS) Ted Phelps[2] (GBR) 19 mins 26 secs Lake Ontario,
1934 5 Sep Bobby Pearce (AUS) W G Miller (USA) 19 mins 52 secs Toronto
1938 9 Sep Bobby Pearce (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20 mins 35 secs Toronto
1948 20 Nov Evans Paddon (AUS) Max Fisher (AUS) 17 mins 20 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1949 7 May George Cook (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 15 mins 09 secs Evans River
1950 22 April Evans Paddon (AUS) George Cook (AUS) 21 mins 58 secs Evans River
1952 5 April Jim Saul (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20 min 33 secs Richmond River
1952 Sept 13th Evans Paddon (AUS) Jim Saul (AUS) 21 min 50 secs Richmond River
1953 13 June Evans Fischer (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20 min 55 secs Richmond River
1954 7 Aug Evans Fischer (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20 min 57 secs Clarence River
1957 25 May Evans Fischer (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20 min 46 secs Clarence River


  1. Bill Beach, Bobby Pearce and Evans Fischer all retired undefeated.
  2. James Renforth died while champion. Sadler later rowed for an open title.
  3. Peter Kemp gained the title twice other than by races; once by formal forfeit from Beach, once upon the death of H Searle.
  4. Richard Arnst gained the title once other than by a race; on the forfeiture of E Barry.
  5. Charles Towns ad Bill McDevitt both held the title by the forfeiture of George Towns and Jim Paddon respectively. Neither successfully defended it.
  6. R Chambers & E Paddon either gained the title once each by forfeit, or alternatively, one of their races was for an open title after the retirement of the holder.


  1. ^ "Olaf too Tufte for NZ boys". 8 December 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d "Remembering Putney's 'greatest oarsman'", Wandsworth and Putney Guardian, Newsquest Media Group - A Gannett Company, 10 November 2008, retrieved 2 February 2009 CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

Further reading[edit]