> became a matter of national pride. When
Trickett lost to Hanlan in 1880 the result was
considered by Australia to be a national calamity,
such was the importance of the sport. In 1884
the race for world champion between Hanlan
and Australia’s Bill Beach practically brought the
whole of Sydney to a standstill with estimates of
half of Sydney’s population watching the race.
of the events was left invariably to the backers
who were juggling other balls and had varying
motivations. Often the lack of rules meant that
the will of one umpire would decide the outcome
of races, leaving spectators unsatisfied. Also, with
money being such a crucial part of racing, it
meant in a time of economic downturn the sport
The rise of Australia’s dominance was, according
to Stuart Ripley in his book ‘Sculling and
Skulduggery’, “effectively the end of the great
period of professional rowing in (England)”.
Australia’s reign continued until 1907 when
New Zealand moved in. William Webb, followed
by Richard Arnst held the title in New Zealand’s
hands for the next four years. Professional sculling
in Australia was waning. The days of huge crowds
and big bets looked to have passed and Australians
started to pay more interest to other sports.
The professional side of rowing did not appear
to hinder the development of amateur rowing. It
represented, rather, another branch of the sport
with amateur rowing continuing alongside.
Amateur rowing, on the other hand, organised
itself more successfully and sustainably. Towards
the end of the 19th century the number of
rowing clubs and associations throughout the
world had grown.
© Courtesy of the River & Rowing Museum
Last year Wanganui, New Zealand, the birthplace
of professional William Webb, commemorated
the 100th anniversary of the 1908 World Title won
by Webb against Richard Tressider of Australia.
The commemoration was a head-to-head singles
race, dubbed the Billy Webb Challenge, raced
over the same course as that of the professional
world championship race. At the start line was
the current Olympic Champion Olaf Tufte (NOR),
World Champion Mahe Drysdale (NZL) and
wildcard Hamish Bond (NZL). The winning purse
was $5,000 ( 2,700 USD). Much public banter
between the two main contestants took place.
As far as I am aware no public betting occurred
and, as far as I am aware, no underhand tactics
took place. Tufte won. The challenge for 2009 has
The Professional Sculling World Championships,
however, continued on until 1957 albeit fading
interest. Its downfall is often attributed to
corruption, race fixing and dishonest betting.
An international federation, the International
Rowing Federation, FISA, was formed to help
provide a uniform set of rules governing racing.
At the first meeting in 1891 five European nations
attended. None of the nations involved in
professional sculling were involved. Part of their
decree was a definition of an amateur oarsman.
But a key component to the demise of professional
racing was the sport’s inability to organise and
keep up with the times. There were very few
rules consistent across all the nations involved..
There was no governing body and internationally
the races followed separate paths. Organisation
Professional sculling had no such organisation
and the very nature of the game did not seem
to lend itself to the possibility. But there can
be no denying its longevity and the mark the
scullers made on rowing history including the
introduction of the sliding seat.
Ripley, Stuart, Sculling and
Skulduggery, A history of
professional sculling, (2009)
Boyne, Daniel J., Kelly, A father, a
son an American quest, (2007)
Meuret, Jean-Louis, The FISA
Centenary Book, (1992)