The Tyne Crew - James Renforth,
Harry Kelley, Robert Chambers,
Percy, Bright (spare man)
© Courtesy of the River & Rowing Museum.
Gift of the British American Arts Association from the Collection of Thomas E Weil
Racing for cash –
the era of professional scullers
Edward Hanlan (Canada) has a Hollywood movie
about his life. Edward Trickett is marked as the
first Australian sportsman to become a world
champion. Henry Searle had upwards of 170,000
at his funeral procession.
Professional sculling appears to have developed
roughly simultaneously in five countries: Australia,
England, New Zealand, Canada and the United
The professionals raced in a single, usually in
a head-to-head style. They raced for money.
Spectators and the athletes themselves placed
bets. The amount of money was, even by today’s
the professional sculling era of rowing’s
history is invariably seen as shady. i arrived
at this topic with the belief that the
scandals around high monetary stakes and
betting caused the ultimate collapse of
professional rowers. i depart, however,
feeling other elements perhaps played
a greater role.
In its heyday the cash purse for the winner was, in
today’s terms, thousands of dollars. Similarly the
betting amounts were substantial. For example
for the race between Hanlan and Trickett in 1880,
bets would have amounted to the equivalent of
between 10 million USD and 20 million USD.
In England, the professional sculling championships
are considered to have started in 1831, when
the first races between English competitors
took place. It was not until 1863 when Australia’s
Richard Green travelled to England and raced
Robert Chambers that the first international
race can be truly claimed. It was grandly titled
the Championship of the World. Chambers won
and the title remained in England for another
Especially around the turn of the 19th century,
professional scullers were big names in sport.
Famous. Revered. James Renforth (Great
Britain) had 100,000 mourners for his funeral.
Backers looked after the professional scullers.
They provided the stake money for challenges
and looked after all aspects of their charges from
organising coaches to accommodation. In return
backers hoped to make money through betting.
The tide turned to Australia’s favour when
Edward Trickett travelled to England, beat
English champion Joseph Sadler and brought
the professional world champion title home to
Professional racing, especially around Sydney,
grew and flourished to the extent that it >