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Ideology and identity: George Towns and professional sculling.

Professional sculling was one of the few organised sports that enchanted the New South Wales public in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its popularity partly was due to the establishment of international competition, the production of a succession of world champions and the creation of an awareness of an Australian identity. (1) Professional sculling also became a showcase for superb manly specimens. It fashioned a sense of hero worship and provided evidence against contemporary fears of racial and physical degeneration. (2) Central to the sport's makeup was competition for money prizes, the opportunity for profit making and the emotional expectations and releases provided by gambling. (3)

Although professional sculling was predominantly a New South Wales phenomenon, scullers competed overseas as Australian representatives even before the federation of the colonies. Australia dominated world professional sculling between 1876 and 1907, 1922 and 1927, and arguably between 1933 and 1957. (4) Of the former period, New South Wales hosted twenty-three world championships and boasted seven of the nine world champions. Once Edward Trickett won the first world championship in England in 1876 and became Australia's first world champion in any sport, the entrepreneurial skills of the sport's organisers or backers were adjusted to a more global focus. (5) The sport's fundamental structure required higher levels of expertise. Backers were committed to accommodating international scullers and their supporters, chaperoning their men overseas, catering for massive crowds, conducting world championships, and sustaining the sport to procure maximum profit on a regular basis. To maintain the sport's structure and high profile, promising scullers were taken in hand by wealthy businessmen known as backers, who sponsored their oarsmen by providing the stake money for challenges and housing them during training. Backers attempted to recover their outlays and obtain profit by betting on their charges. (6) Such was the speculative nature of the business, and the backer was crucial to the sport's existence.

The late nineteenth century was an era when money- and gambling-based sports, which enjoyed a large proportion of the spectator pie, were being challenged by sports less reliant on money that sought intrinsic capital rather than financial returns where participants competed primarily for trophies and honour. It was a contentious time between the two streams, as each struggled to determine its ideologies, definitions and values, and gain supremacy. The stream that averred from financial inducements was broadly categorised as amateurism and although its constituents applied differing interpretations to the concept, (7) they held common beliefs that sport was training for higher calling and that there was no place for money in sport. (8)

The ideology of amateurism also infused the concepts of muscular Christianity, social Darwinism and rational recreation. These concepts, particularly the corporeal elements, were present and promoted in professional sports; however, the amateur establishment perceived that muscular Christianity was essential for character training. It blended the Christian, moral, physical and ethical dimensions and emphasised the concepts of honour, courage and loyalty. Physical training was thought to enhance personal and social values, such as the discipline of the mind, the pursuit of high morals and the demand of a life of high endeavour. (9)

Muscular Christianity gained its momentum during the intellectualisation of new social, behavioural and biological theory. Arguments concerning the survival of the fittest and evolution by natural selection were considered essential companions to muscular Christianity and perpetrated under the banner of social Darwinism. (10) The preconception was that the race that produced the physically and psychologically strong would triumph over life's daily rigours, and in national and international conflicts. The ideas of muscular Christianity and social Darwinism merged around the project of enhancing British stock, national character and efficiency, and countering fears of physical and racial degeneration. (11)

Both concepts provided impetus into a progressive ideology, which was inserted into social, educational, economic, political and military situations. Muscular Christianity was entrenched in Australian society by the 1870s, while social Darwinism gained widespread acceptance from the 1870s. (12) However, it was through education and sport that these conceptions gained social impetus. Athleticism and particularly team games were perceived as the medium through which character building and real manliness could be attained. Of the many qualities embodied in team games participation, it was fundamental in teaching young men in the ways of discipline and conformity and would serve the nation in producing men of excellent character and moral endeavour who would invest themselves in citizenship.

An amateur rowing perspective

The concepts of muscular Christianity, social Darwinism and athleticism were infused into society through the ideology of amateurism. The middle class, in creating its own class-consciousness and raising its respectability, expanded its influence throughout the community by attempting to constrain sport within the confines of amateurism. (13) It was a purposeful ideology, which would implant respectable values throughout the wider community. Middle class amateur officials believed that if sport was pursued for enjoyment only, then character, manliness and physicality would encourage the pursuit of excellence that would benefit national destiny.

New South Wales amateur rowing was designed for the educated, wealthy, eminent and privileged as one means to build character and reinforce middle-class moral and social values. (14) It was to be separate from work; it was not to entertain for commercial gain and competition was to be for pleasure and not financial reward. To achieve amateurism in its pure form, the New South Wales amateur rowing authorities imposed rigid class barriers so like-minded gentlemen could pursue their leisure and gain maximum benefits without the threat of undesirable, offensive or corrupting elements. (15)

Amateur rowing authorities were driven to repel the threat of professionalism and those from the lower orders. They believed that money in sport produced corruption and victory for a price, which was devoid of any intrinsic, moral or social value. The manual workingman was viewed as lacking intelligence, grace and manners. The need for the lower orders' restriction was based, in part, on an inherent fear that the professional sportsman and the manual worker had the capacity to overwhelm the sport. Middle-class amateurs believed that the systematically trained professional would threaten their existing social order and manual workers gained an edge in fitness and strength because they used their physical attributes in undertaking their occupations. (16) Amateur sportsmen, too, believed that they should not be asked to compete against men with whom they would never associate privately, socially or commercially. Both the professional and the manual labourer were expected to find consolation with their own kind rather than the refined, bona fide, gentleman amateur. (17)

The standardising of craft and imperial ties

Amateur rowing offered the ideals of teamwork, discipline and shared achievement. Professional sculling was based on individual performance; it was a selfish pursuit, which relied on money and gambling. Sculling, as distinct from rowing, required an oarsman to use two blades instead of one. It was an individual-based sport that relied on the sculler's expertise to synchronise balance, blade work and timing. Rowing was a team-based activity that required synchronised blade work to maintain boat balance. (18) Sculling, from a financial perspective, was viable because backers could support a sculler through training and stake him to race, whereas it would be unviable in most circumstances to support a four or eight-man crew through the same processes.

During the early days of the New South Wales colony oarsmen raced in many styles of boat. (19) As contests became regular and, with the development of regional and provincial championships, the need for boat standardisation surfaced. Similarly, the emergence of ideological and class categorisations of the gentleman amateur, the manual labourer and the professional (20) contributed to the differentiation in the style of craft used by the amateur and the professional.

The light skiff became standardised as the professional sculler's racing boat. It was an open craft, not in excess of twenty-two feet in length and eleven to twelve inches in depth, and it was reputed for its durability. (21) The light skiff's use from the novice to the high grader and its capacity to carry sandbag or lead weight for handicap racing also demonstrated the craft's versatility. Although the outrigger replaced the light skiff as the premier racing craft from the 1860s, it was still used by the professionals until the 1890s because it was cheaper (22) and also functioned as the traverse to the outrigger. (23) From the 1850s, the professionals utilised three other types of boats, in addition to the light skiff and outrigger; namely the Gladstone skiff, the waterman's skiff and the butcher boat. However, it was the outrigger which remained the premier craft throughout the period.

The outrigger, often referred to as a 'best-and-best' or 'wager' boat, was introduced from England in 1851 and quickly became the standard competition boat in the English-speaking world. (24) This uniformity opened the sport to international competition and the development of a professional sculling world championship from 1876. In a social and economic context, the outrigger's introduction created an unrivalled nineteenth-century phenomenon. (25) Between 1876 and 1907 seven Australian scullers dominated the English-speaking world and their ascendancy over England and particularly her dominions provided one yardstick to measure social progress. (26)

The creation of the world championship provided new meaning for professionalism. The seven champions came from manual labouring backgrounds (27) and they transferred from the manual labourer amateur sculler, (28) who rowed for cash prizes up to 10 [pounds sterling], into the professional ranks where backers secured them. At the professional level these backers staked them for sums in excess of 10 [pounds sterling] and generally in the 100s [pounds sterling]. Class barriers prevented a manual labourer from becoming a gentleman amateur (29) however, the social mobility attained by these champions through wealth and status won them the amateurs' regard. (30) The swift social mobility of these champions, their lionising and their adulation by civic and civil leaders fashioned a sense that labourers could improve their lot through sport. (31) Similarly, the backers of the champions had realised that international competition would transform professional sculling from a casual business interest into a serious and lucrative financial concern.

The Australian phenomenon stemmed from the outrigger's introduction, which provided the link between England and its dominions. The establishment of the world championship elevated the link to the highest level. The outrigger's original specifications were for a craft thirty feet to thirty-four feet in length, which weighed between thirty-two pounds and thirty-eight pounds and contained a fixed seat. (32) Scullers found that the fixed seat hindered their leg power and they improvised with leather inserted into the seat of their pants. Lubrication of the outrigger's fixed seat enabled the sculler to slide, which transferred more power into the sculls. (33)

By 1872, English oarsmen were using a newly invented sliding seat (34) and Edward Trickett introduced it to Australia in 1877 upon his return from England. Domestic boat builders improved the slide by inserting ball-bearing rollers. (35) Chris Nielsen, a professional sculler and boat builder, was impressed with the Robert Boyle designed light skiffs. (36) He produced a 'stump outrigger' of twenty-three feet in length, sixteen inches in width and seven inches in depth based on Boyle's product. (37) By 1891 the stump outrigger was placed into competition, but most of the top scullers were sceptical of the smaller vessel's superiority over the standard outrigger. (38) Nevertheless, Nielsen is credited with beginning the evolution of the modern outrigger. (39)

The local boat builders, who revolutionised the outrigger, in part, maintained Australia's domestic and international strength. They pioneered the craft's development, which complemented and supplemented the Australian enthusiasm to remain a world leader. It also reflected the northern hemisphere's declining interest in the sport. Between the 1850s and the 1880s professional sculling had prospered in England, Canada and America. (40) It was during this period that innovations, such as the sliding seat, were introduced. (41) The class and ideological infusion into society by the concepts such as amateurism helped diminish northern hemisphere professional sculling by the late 1880S. (42) From the late 1880s, northern hemisphere boat builders showed a waning interest in continuing to refine the outrigger. However, Australia, and specifically George Towns, maintained the craft's evolution and Australian sculling strength and depth.

A 'real' Australian

Towns was born at Bowthorne, near Hinton on the Hunter River, on 19 February 1869 and was the second of eight sons. His father, George Snr, was a boat builder and cattle and dairy farmer and from this environment young George acquired the skills for farming and boat building. George also learned to row on the Hunter River by carting produce in rowing boats and from the age of fourteen began competing in youth and novice events at Hunter district regattas. (43)

The promise Towns displayed in these regattas, in both light skiff and outrigger classes, enticed him to test his skills against accomplished watermen. This he did at Grafton on the Clarence River in May 1891 against the seasoned Sydney performers Charles Stephenson and Charles Dutch, and in September 1892 on the Parramatta River against the world champion James Stanbury and former world champion Peter Kemp. (44) Although moderately successful at those carnivals, his wider exposure alerted rowing scribes that the colony possessed a lightweight sculler with potential.

Towns returned to his father's boat building business following the September event and their attention was drawn to the possibilities of improving Chris Nielsen's stump outrigger. George Snr experimented with twenty-five feet craft and developed a false bottom in his boats that acted as a sluice box and assisted in keeping the outriggers watertight. (45) Most of George's racing was in the Hunter district in the smaller craft and by 1895 he was dominating the local events. Nielsen, on the other hand, had been promoting his craft on the New South Wales Northern Rivers and in Sydney with a measure of success. By August 1896 he was matched to race George Towns on the Raymond Terrace course (Hunter River) over three miles. (46)

The match race provided a significant passage for professional sculling. The stake for the race was 200 [pounds sterling] a side, which was the highest prize for a New South Wales event since the Stanbury/Sullivan world championship race of May 1892. Towns was unproven against polished watermen, such as Nielsen, and for their Raymond Terrace race both men were boated in their shorter crafts. Towns won the event, which encouraged his supporters to look towards England as the preparatory ground before challenging the Canadian world champion Jacob Gaudaur, who had defeated Stanbury in September 1896. (47)

Towns's Australian prospects were limited. By defeating Nielsen, his obvious and possibly only match was with James Stanbury, the former Australian world champion. Stanbury was considered to be superior to Towns and many rowing followers, who believed that he was the world's best sculler, were at a loss to explain how the Canadian defeated him for the championship on the Thames. Towns regarded himself as a novice who required regular competition against second-class opposition. With sufficient improvement, he hoped to develop the skills and stamina to dominate the English scene and hold the credentials to be backed against Gaudaur. (48)

Towns's followers were eager for their man to reach England for the 1897 rowing season and they proposed that Towns's trainer and Stanbury's former mentor, Peter Kemp, should accompany him. To fund the venture, his supporters would call upon public subscriptions and finance the shortfall. The cost for both men was expected to be over 1,000 [pounds sterling]. (49) The campaign, in light of Towns's uncertain quality, was highly ambitious and demonstrated the daring and parochialism of the Newcastle district. The venture contrasted with traditional overseas excursions by Australian professional scullers. Previous representatives were either Australian or world champions and they had extensive backing from Sydney. Most of those representatives were country scullers who were taken in hand by Sydney backers and developed into first-class watermen on Sydney's waterways.

The Sydney sporting press catapulted Towns before the public as the 'Coming Man'. The press reinforced, through Towns, expressions of cultural development and symbols of national destiny. It animated in Towns the abstract qualities that were considered archetypically Australian and defined what it meant to be Australian. Towns was embellished with every quality--good looking, tough, game, fast, cool, skilful, reliable, trustworthy and fully capable of representing Australians. He was Australian-born from Australian parents and Australians would neither regret sending Towns 'Home', nor should they fear him failing. The Sydney Mail urged for public donations to send Towns to England and designated which sums would place the Coming Man closer to the world title. Towns was gamely and manfully facing a great responsibility. (50)

Bullish as these views were for a novice aiming to tackle second-class English scullers, the disfavoured James Stanbury was aggrieved that public money was sought to send 'Home' an unproven man when he, the best sculler, was being ignored. Stanbury demonstrated that Towns and he should race to find the best sculler and if Towns proved himself there would be no objection to him going to England as an Australian representative. Stanbury added, 'If he is the better man he can go to England ... with more money and with a reputation of having beaten an ex-champion.' (51)

Stanbury's stand became more than an obstacle. Members of the Sydney rowing fraternity questioned Towns's credentials and the majority of Towns's supporters were divided as to whether the Newcastle man should face Stanbury before any consideration be given to funding an England trip. Clarence Hannell, who chaired a public meeting which was called to discuss Towns's overseas trip, stated candidly that 'he was of the opinion that no money for the trip to England would be forthcoming' until Towns raced Stanbury. (52) Money, though, would be made available for a Towns/Stanbury match.

The Coming Man, though, personified those abstract moral, social and psychological characteristics attributed to the Australian type. Towns refused to race Stanbury and headed for England in April 1897, with financial assistance from close friends. He also used his own money and saved his fare by working as ship's steward in the engineers' section aboard the Ophir. (53) His straitened circumstances did not permit him to transport rowing craft, although Richard Coombes (Referee), John Blackman (Sydney Mail) and 'leviathan' bookmaker Joseph Thompson were some who presented Towns with letters of introduction. (54)

Towns explained that for him to race Stanbury and be beaten would probably curtail his career. If he happened to defeat Stanbury, most opponents would avoid racing him, particularly Gaudaur, who would view Towns as too formidable. Towns had no illusions of his ability or that Stanbury was his superior and this was one reason why Towns sought to race second-grade opposition. On the eve of his departure, Towns concluded that 'it seems to me, which ever way it goes it will please some and disappoint others, so that as I cannot please everybody, I am going to please myself ...' (55)

It took Towns a further four years to develop into a first-class sculler. During this period he fostered, in England and Australia, an image that the self-reliant, ordinary colonist was an adventurer whose initiative, practicality and independence 'could get the job done' in all parts of the globe. He was above all else, a 'typical' Australian. (56) Whilst in England, Towns dominated the English scullers and in May 1899 won the championship of England. (57)

He introduced his short-length outrigger in the English championship of September 1898. The design was similar to his craft in which he defeated Nielsen in August 1896 and was built by the renowned English boat builder J.H. Clasper. Clasper was opposed to Towns's radical design and believed that the Australian was throwing away any chance of victory. (58) Towns, traditionally, would have been boated in a craft of thirty-one feet in length, ten inches beam, six and a half inches in depth amidships, three and a quarter inches forward and two and three-eights inches aft. Instead, his craft was twenty-five feet in length, eleven inches beam, six inches in depth amidships, four and a half inches forward and three and three quarters inches aft. (59)

After leading clearly for the first half mile of the contest, Towns collided into a heavy piece of driftwood, which split his craft. He rowed on maintaining his lead until two and a half miles when his waterlogged boat sank. (60)

However, in later competition, Towns persevered with his shorter craft and introduced adjustable swivel rowlocks and left and right hand oars. Matt Woods forged the rowlocks and these allowed Towns to alter the pitch to suit his sculls without losing any racing time or risking damage to the scull. He instructed George Ayling and Sons to produce left and right hand sculls. 'There is less round at the leather on the top edge of the scull; the little extra in that position assists to resist the tendency of the individual's hand, to draw the scull over backwards, and also keeps the oar blade square in the water.' (61) This innovation was contrary to the English oar-making custom of sculls being made so they could be used on either side of the craft.

Following on from his 1899 English championship win, English boat builders began favouring the short-length outrigger and most contests were decided in the shorter boat. (62) Towns's English championship defence against fellow Australian James Wray in September 1900 provided the platform for him to challenge Jacob Gaudaur for the world championship. The pair met on the Lake of the Woods, Lake Ontario, Canada over a three-mile course with one turn at the half-distance on 7 September 1901 for 250 [pounds sterling] a side. (63) Gaudaur, at six feet and twelve and a half stone, had a height and weight advantage over the five feet nine inch and eleven stone four pounds Australian although Towns, at thirty-two years of age, compared to the Canadian at forty-three years, was expected to compensate for the physical differences. The Sydney Mail, however, underpinned the ideology behind the Australian nation' s search for identity through sport and the masculine ideal. As a 'real' Australian, Towns' appearance was 'handsome, manly and determined ... He has the bearing and carriage of an athlete, and is one of those men who seem to get larger the more clothes they take off ...' (64)

Towns defeated Gaudaur in a Clasper-built twenty-five feet craft, while the Canadian rowed in a thirty-one feet Ruddock-built boat. The Coming Man had arrived and what was particularly significant for Australia and Australian professional sculling was that Towns's victory occurred in the year of federation.

Building a nation

The arrival of nationhood with its themes of homogeneity, optimism, development and identity propagated images of Australia maturing and connecting with the world's nations. Upon reaching adulthood, there was greater emphasis on defining, protecting and promoting things Australian. These included the development of modern industry, the maintenance of racial 'purity', moral soundness, wholesomeness and independence. (65) A certain amount of arrogance was needed to popularise what was distinctively Australian. Australian identity relied, in part, on the fostering of patriotic sentiment and one means of demonstrating the coming of age was through sport. The importance of perceiving the nation as virtuous, fit and capable of striving internationally was associated with sport, athleticism and hero worship. (66)

In George Towns, the nation had a shining example of 'young Australia'. Whereas other sportsmen had sponsorships when venturing overseas, Towns returned as an unencumbered champion. He was proof that the country produced worthy stock and desirable ambassadors of a splendid people and a resourceful nation. He was perceived as the embodiment of Australian character and identity and his feats were recognised and eulogised as the constructs for nation building. The excitement and national symbolism produced when Towns regained the world championship in the federation year reinforced the political and social emphasis that Australia was coming of age.

On his return to Australia in December 1902, Towns was feted in Adelaide and Melbourne and received civic welcomes in Sydney and Newcastle. Quarton Deloitte, the president of the New South Wales Rowing Association, which was the state's amateur rowing controlling body, stated that Towns 'was a thorough sportsman ... possessed of all the traits of character which enable a man to succeed ...' (67) It was also the beginning of a fruitful and long-lasting relationship between the professional sculler and the amateur rowing establishment.

Generating confidence

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the government of the professional sculling world championship became an important issue in rowing circles. (68) John Blackman, a vice-president of the New South Wales Rowing Association, lobbied Towns to assist in codifying professional sculling and enhance and prolong the sport as a powerful domestic and international force. (69) Towns favoured regulation, rather than the sport's traditional laissez-faire practices, (70) and he joined in with amateur and professional authorities to produce a set of rules and regulations to govern the world championship from August 1906. (71) Towns was the first world champion to race under the Australian-devised laws in March 1907.

The significance of codifying professional sculling was that it brought the amateur rowing and professional sculling authorities into a closer alliance and demonstrated that the amateur establishment would tolerate professionalism and work with professional authorities if the professionals shaped sculling as a meaningful social and cultural contributor and a cohesive unit that would complement amateur rowing and attach itself to the increasingly dominant amateur ideology. (72)

Towns's input into the codification of the sport was vital because without the world champion's consent professional sculling would remain unregulated, increasingly territorial and the champion and his backers would hold absolute authority. (73) With full control, they could manipulate the sport to gain the greatest profits by means of blocking overseas and local challengers, holding back aspirants or racing against inferior scullers. Such a predatory regime would struggle to compete with the increasing number of systematised sports for public support which were expanding the ideology that sport was a means to build character, enhance moral and social values, provide a patriotic and nationalistic lever, make available a training ground for higher calling, and not be purely a business concern.

The codification of the world championship by an Australian body also demonstrated an Australian confidence as an international leader, a radical departure from the imperial order where most sports operated in the shadow of English laws and directives, and a reversal of imperial intimidation insofar as Australia found no fear in dictating to England the new course and definition of professional sculling. (74) Clearly, the Australian confidence had stemmed from 1876 when Edward Trickett won the first professional sculling world championship on the Thames and Australia dominated the sport with a succession of world champions. The arrival of federation, Towns's English and international successes, his tenure to coach rowing in England and Hamburg, and his temerity as a colonial in instructing the renowned English boat building firms on outrigger construction and creating the prototype of the modern outrigger in the northern hemisphere, bolstered the Australian confidence.

Amateur/professional demarcation

On his return to Australia, Towns purchased land at Gladesville on the Parramatta River and commenced a scull and oar-making business. The original premises was destroyed by fire, but by September 1903 he had re-established and by 1905 had expanded his business to include boat building. His capacity for innovation increased his fame as a leading boat builder, particularly his strict attention to moulding a craft around the height, weight, reach and strength of a sculler. He also introduced a linen tape into the outrigger to prevent planks from splitting. (75) His shed produced all classes of competition boats to suit amateur and professional racing and his enterprise expanded to include exporting his craft to the northern hemisphere.

His mastery, though, was not confined to boat building. Towns plied his expertise to develop novice scullers, both amateur and professional, into national and international champions. For example, he converted and tutored the New Zealand professional cycling champion, Richard Arnst, into that country's greatest professional sculling world champion and arguably the best sculler to come from New Zealand. (76) From the amateur side, he coached the Tasmanian, Cecil McVilly, to become Australia's representative at the fifth Olympic Games in Stockholm and the winner of England's prestigious Diamond Sculls in 1913. (77)

His relationship with amateur rowing went beyond coaching. As discussed previously, he joined forces with the amateur rowing establishment to codify the professional sculling world championship and supplied amateur rowing clubs with craft and equipment. In July 1909, Towns offered the New South Wales Rowing Association a five-year lease of his premises, which accommodated the Association' s desire of a club and boathouse. From 1907, the Association had sought to purchase river frontage and erect rooms in an attempt to establish a headquarters. However, the cost of the venture had proved to be too expensive. Towns's offer provided the Association with a landmark and the facility to house boats, provide shower and lavatory amenities and afford dining and sleeping accommodation for fifty persons. (78) The Association enjoyed these facilities until 1919 when it allowed the lease to lapse as Towns had expansion plans and the Association decided that the amateur rowing clubs were large enough and equipped sufficiently to provide a similar service.

Towns's association with amateur rowing continued throughout the first six decades of the twentieth century. Some of his achievements included the formation of the Gladesville [Youths] Rowing Club and the Henley Rowing Club, both amateur concerns, and in 1926 joining forces with the amateur establishment to revolutionise the professional sculling world championship and provide for an Australian board of control to administer the sport internationally. (79) What was significant about Towns's involvement with amateur rowing was that it contrasted to a readily accepted belief that professionalism was 'anathema to the proponents of the amateur ideal'.

Historians of sport in Australia have demonstrated the polarisation between amateur and professional sports. They have discussed amateur sport's condemnation of money in sport, professionalism, and the manual labour bar, elitism, athleticism and social and moral values. (80) New South Wales amateur rowing is paraded as a prime example of middle-class, exclusionary and respectable sport that ostracised professionalism, the manual labourer and any connection between sport and money. (81) Clearly, New South Wales amateur rowing was an elitist, class-based organisation whose administrators forbade professionalism within their sport. At a managerial level, however, the professional taint was less conspicuous. Whereas these administrators protected amateur sportsmen from professionalism, these same administrators felt that they were themselves above temptation. (82) Their long and intimate association with Towns provides an example that the amateur rowing administrators engaged in professional sculling matters and with professional sportsmen without the fear of any taint. They were far from the conservatives that they have been portrayed. These executives had defined their social positions and they had determined their sport's standing. Professionalism in their ranks would disrupt their authority, their status and the sport's social order if it were not policed ruthlessly. Their relationship with Towns, though, suggests a more pragmatic approach towards professionalism than considered previously and their, at times, practical approach enriched amateur rowing and included rowing generally as part of national symbolism.

Towns also played a definitive role in the administration of professional sculling. His input into the codification of the professional sculling world championship has been discussed previously. On the domestic scene, Towns was one of the founding executive members of the Kemp Professional Sculling Club, which was the first Sydney metropolitan professional sculling club established in 1911. (83) He was also a principal architect in the formation of the Parramatta River Professional Sculling Club in 1912 and piloted the club to become the strongest of the Sydney professional sculling clubs. (84) He also played a leading role in establishing the George's River Sculling Club based at Como in 1913, the Pioneer Ladies' Professional Sculling Club based at Leichhardt in the same year and the Double Bay Ladies' Rowing Club in 1915. In September 1913, Towns gathered a team of professional sculling delegates to form the New South Wales Sculling and Rowing League. The body's purpose was to control New South Wales professional sculling and it was the professional's version of the New South Wales Rowing Association. (85) Towns held various executive positions on the League's board and was instrumental in creating and affiliating the Hunter River Professional Sculling Club of Newcastle in 1915. What is interesting to note regarding the formation of the Newcastle club is that it was established during World War I, which was contrary to the contemporary protestant, middle-class ideology that demanded total involvement in the British Empire's cause by forgoing sporting concerns.

The patriots and sport

The muscular Christian ideology that had gained momentum in Australia from the 1870s, that athleticism and involvement in sport helped prepare individuals for higher duties and produced great expressions of manliness, began translating itself into a significant concrete form from 1914. Sportsmen were targeted as ideal war recruits because of their youth, fitness and the presumption that sport was an exceptional character builder and training ground for war service. The patriots deemed that every sportsman was a possible soldier and continued participation in sport was seen as a failure by athletes in their patriotic duty. (86)

The patriotic forces considered sport an ideal preparation for battle, but condemned sport's continuation during wartime. The patriots believed that the playing of games obligated sportsmen to their clubs and competitions and the extension of sport during the war was thought to encourage sportsmen to defer enlistment, placing the need of their clubs before the need of the nation. Sport's drawing power was seen also as a rival to that of the recruiters. The patriots believed that eligible men would continue to favour the spectacle rather than answer the nation's call. Overall, the playing of games for entertainment at a time when Britain demanded commitment was judged as unpatriotic and detrimental to enlistment. (87)

At a time when the patriotic movement attempted to close down all games and competition, the push by Towns to form a professional sculling club in Newcastle was a bold and contentious move. Being a native of the region, Newcastle's only world champion sculler and having a leading national and international profile as a sportsman and boat builder, may have helped persuade the local aquatic supporters that playing sport would not be detrimental to the war effort. Towns reinforced his presence in Newcastle by regularly attending local aquatic meetings. The foundation of the Hunter River Professional Sculling Club was a coup for the professionals because it was the first country body established by the New South Wales Sculling and Rowing League and it had capitalised on one of rowing's strongest centres, situated in a district that housed the state's second largest population. (88) The League's incursion gave it three country affiliates those being Newcastle and the Northern Rivers rowing clubs Coraki and Wardell, the latter clubs gaining affiliation in 1914. In comparison, the New South Wales Rowing Association, whose prohibitive amateur definition excluded country rowing clubs, finally reached a compromise and in 1938 affiliated the Lismore Rowing Club which was the first of the country clubs that gained incorporation. (89)

Presence, worth and masculinity

As far as defending his world championship, Towns defeated Richard Tresidder on the Parramatta River in July 1904 before an estimated crowd of ninety thousand. It was the first time that two Newcastle scullers had raced for the championship. (90) In July 1905, Towns faced his old antagonist James Stanbury. The relationship between the two had remained strained and Stanbury went to extraordinary lengths to prove his superiority over Towns. The former world champion had been nine years out of a scull, thirteen years since he had raced on the Parramatta and, at thirty-seven years of age, the rigors in reducing his weight from eighteen stone to a racing weight of twelve and a half stone left doubts that he would be competitive. (91)

Stanbury proved to be more than competitive when he claimed the championship convincingly in a Nielsen-built craft in front of a ninety thousand strong crowd. It was the first time that Stanbury had raced in the shorter outrigger and his win added weight to the speculation that Towns had not really been in Stanbury's class. (92) On the strength of this opinion, the betting public installed Stanbury as a six to four on favourite in their July 1906 re-match.

In front of a crowd estimated at ninety thousand, Stanbury led Towns comfortably and appeared set for another victory, but with three-quarters of a mile remaining broke down and Towns swept away to win by one hundred and fifty yards. Stanbury met with a hostile public demonstration. 'I got a real hot time from the crowd,' he admitted, 'and I don't think all the water in the Pacific would wash me clean in their sight.' (93) The public's ire was raised further when Stanbury's backers confessed that the ex-champion required morphine to combat an arthritic left arm and was also incapable of fast trials in the ten days leading up to the championship. (94)

There were insinuations that Stanbury had 'sold the race' and the sporting press defended Stanbury and the sport's credibility, while it embellished Towns's character and integrity to help diffuse the controversy. The Referee suggested that both men were at retirement age and for the sport's good they should make way for the younger men. It argued that if Stanbury continued on and regained the championship the inconsistency would damage the sport's standing, and if Towns won he would receive little credit for the win. (95) Although the race was controversial, the press reinforced the concept that Australian identity was forged by masculinity and athleticism. The Sydney Morning Herald suggested that:
 Those who insist that young Australia only showed once more his
 weakness rather than reserves of strength by growing so enthusiastic
 over a boat race forget that our skies prompt enthusiasm in such
 rivalry, and that the love of sport is in the blood. A legitimate
 outlet is only a guarantee of strength for the higher work when
 some great call upon our nationhood is made later on. (96)

The event virtually ended Stanbury's sculling career, while Towns successfully defended his title against the Canadian (John) Edward Durnan in March 1907 on the Nepean River. (97) He retired from world championship racing after this event, but defended his English championship unsuccessfully on the Thames in October 1908. His journey to England was centred on business and pleasure rather than seeking further rowing conquests and, although forty years of age, his conqueror rowed a course record time to defeat the Australian. (98)

His retirement from international professional sculling concluded the era of those scullers who had essentially learned their skills and had attained international success in the pre-federation era. He was the last of the pioneers who had helped provide Australia with a forum in which to gain a presence on the international stage. This presence had widespread consequences for Australian culture and society. The Australian domination of the sport produced a sense of worth for society and dissipated fears of racial degeneration and unsophistication. At the same time, the ascendancy over England, Canada and America provided a measure for social progress against the 'Home' land and other developing nations.


From the late nineteenth and into the early twentieth century in New South Wales, professional sculling was one of the few organised sports that enchanted the public. As an international pioneer, it helped dispel fears that Australians were racially degenerate and its patriotic and nationalistic symbolism appeared to provide meaning and significance for a society searching for representations, character and unity. The sport developed a structure from which it produced its muscular Christians, its Coming Men and Australia's ambassadors and offered the medium for society to vent patriotic and nationalistic feelings. These Coming Men were construed as the national types who brought Australia before the world. They created a sense of colonial unity, reassured most that the country produced worthy stock, and furthered the ideological links between athleticism and social Darwinism. They were household names and were feted throughout the course of their lives. The inspiration that they generated went beyond winning boat races.

In George Towns, the nation had an outstanding illustration of rising Australia. He provided a concrete example of the ideological expectations that had been symbolised expressions of cultural development and national destiny, and had helped animate the abstractions and ideological framework of national character, identity formation and imperial expansion. He helped mould and embellish the national type with racial, physical, psychological and moral attributes and provided fertile meaning for middle-class values, such as egalitarianism and meritocracy. While the nation's racism was merged in imperial loyalty, Towns provided Australia with a distinct identity that was recognised and reputed within the British Empire.

From the amateur/professional perspective, Towns provided a bridge for the two codes. His provision for leadership and organisation of professional sculling helped build a relationship with the amateur establishment and in particular in shaping sculling as a cohesive unit that would promote Australian rowing as a whole. Through Towns, the amateurs gained a generous association with the professionals and enhanced the amateur sport's national and international exposure and its social dimension. Such was the strength of their relationship that the amateur rowing establishment permitted Towns to chaperone an amateur sculler to England to compete for international honours. (99)

George Towns passed away in 1961. His contribution to Australian sculling superiority lent credence to the middle-class concepts of muscular Christianity and athleticism as a means of developing a respectable society and as ideological vehicles for nation building. He helped give concrete meaning to the perceptions of an Australian type, identity and character. He also embodied the middle-class, egalitarian concept that every man could improve his lot by hard work and dedication. (100) He enhanced perceptions of Australians as practical, innovative and individualist by radically challenging traditional boat building methods and the style of racing, both of which were adopted internationally and standardised by amateurs and professionals alike. Towns was the last of the pioneers who had helped to create professional sculling as an instrument towards nation building and the last of the Australian scullers who as international ambassadors inspired the confidence that, although Australians were from British stock, they were Australians first. As a main player in creating this confidence, Towns helped maintain professional sculling's high profile and integrity and gave credence to an Australian ethos characterised by type, identity and manliness.

Summer Hill, New South Wales


(1) Scott Bennett, 'Professional Sculling in New South Wales', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 71, October 1985, pp. 127-37; Daryl Adair, '"Two Dots in the Distance": Professional Sculling as a Mass Spectacle in New South Wales, 1876-1907', Sporting Traditions, vol. 9, November 1992, pp. 52-61; Max Solling, The Boatshed on Blackwattle Bay: Glebe Rowing Club 1879-1993, Sydney, 1993, pp. 29-34.

(2) Keith Dunstan, Sports, Melbourne, 1973, pp. 161-74; Scott Bennett, The Clarence Comet: the career of Henry Searle 1866-89, Sydney, 1973, pp. 10-15, 30-8; Adair, pp. 55-61; Richard White, Inventing Australia: images and identity 1688-1980, Sydney, 1981, pp. 70-2; Richard Waterhouse, Private Pleasures, Public Leisure: a history of Australian popular culture since 1788, Melbourne, 1995, p. 74.

(3) Richard Cashman, Paradise of Sport: the rise of organised sport in Australia, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 46, 188-9; Daryl Adair and Wray Vamplew, Sport in Australian History, Melbourne, 1997, p. 16.

(4) Australian Oarsman in The International Power Boat and Aquatic Monthly, 10 July 1940, p. 28.

(5) Gordon Trickett, Ned Trickett Champion Sculler of the World, Sydney, 2000, pp. 25-58; Cashman, p. 46.

(6) Australian Oarsman, 10 October 1942, pp. 13-14; Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1942, pp. 3-4.

(7) Murray Phillips, 'Diminishing Contrasts and Increasing Varieties: Globalisation Theory and "Reading" Amateurism in Australian Sport', in, Sporting Traditions, vol. 18, no. 1, November 2001, pp. 24-8; Wray Vamplew, Katharine Moore, John O'Hara, Richard Cashman and Ian Jobling (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Sport, Melbourne, 1992, pp. 11-14.

(8) Michael McKernan, The Australian People and the Great War, Melbourne, 1980, pp. 94-115; Vamplew, etal., pp. 11-14.

(9) David Brown, 'Muscular Christianity in the Antipodes: Some Observations on the Diffusion and Emergence of a Victorian Ideal in Australian Social Theory', Sporting Traditions, vol. 3, no. 2, May 1987, pp. 173- 8; Martin Crotty, Making the Australian Male: middle-class masculinity 1870-1920, Melbourne, 2001, pp. 42-3.

(10) David Brown, 'Criticisms Against the Value-Claim for Sport and the Physical Ideal in Late Nineteenth Century Australia', Sporting Traditions, vol. 4, no. 2, May 1988, pp. 151-2; Brown, 'Muscular Christianity ...', pp. 177-8; White, pp. 69-71.

(11) Crotty, pp. 221-3; K. Elford, 'Sport in Australian Society: A Perspective' in T. Jaques and G. Pavia (eds), Sport in Australia, Sydney, 1976, pp. 35-6.

(12) Vamplew, et al., p. 250; White, p. 69.

(13) Adair and Vamplew, p. 30; Douglas Booth and Colin Tatz, One-Eyed: a view of Australian sport, Sydney, 2000, pp. 50-1; John Stratton, 'Australia--This Sporting Life', in, Geoffrey Lawrence and David Rowe (eds), Power Play: the commercialisation of Australian sport, Sydney, 1986, pp. 97-8.

(14) David Brown, 'Muscular Christianity ...', pp. 173-8; Crotty, pp. 42-3.

(15) David Lane and Ian Jobling, 'For Honour and Trophies: Amateur Rowing in Australia 1888-1912', Sporting Traditions, vol. 4, November 1987, pp. 7-10, 12-13.

(16) Adair and Vamplew, pp. 36-9; Brian Stoddart, Saturday Afternoon Fever: sport in the Australian culture, Sydney, 1986, p. 119.

(17) Sydney Mail, 24 December 1892, p. 1110; Sydney Mail, 24 July 1897, p. 198; Lane and Jobling, p. 5; Soiling, pp. 62-4.

(18) Oarsman's Voice, vol. 1, no. 8, August 1953, pp. 6-8; Oarsman's Voice, vol. 1, no. 10, November 1953, pp. 4-6.

(19) Alan May, Sydney Rows: a centennial history of the Sydney Rowing Club, Sydney, 1970, pp. 1-3, 5.

(20) May, p. 2; Solling, pp. 4-13.

(21) Australian Oarsman, 10 June 1942, p. 4; Australian Oarsman, 10 July 1942, pp. 15-16.

(22) Interviews: Jim Latham (December 1998) and Reg Hyde (July 1999) stated that the light skiff and outrigger cost 1 [pounds sterling] per foot.

(23) Australian Oarsman, 10 July 1942, p. 15.

(24) Australian Oarsman, 10 June 1942, p. 4.

(25) Bennett, 'Professional Sculling ...', pp. 127-42; Adair, pp. 52-83; Australian Oarsman, 10 August 1941, p. 20; Australian Oarsman, 10 September 1942, pp. 18-19; Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1942, p. 3.

(26) Stoddart, pp. 19-20; Bennett, Clarence Comet, pp. 9-11; W. Mandle, 'Cricket And Australian Nationalism In The Nineteenth Century' in T. Jaques and G. Pavia, (eds), Sport In Australia, Sydney, 1976, pp. 46-66; Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), 27 January 1877, p. 3; White, pp. 77-85; Crotty, pp. 18-23, 55-62; Sydney Mail, 14 February 1885, p. 342; Daily Telegraph, 2 December 1887, p. 5.

(27) Edward Trickett quarryman; William Beach blacksmith; Peter Kemp dairy farmer; Henry Searle farmhand; James Stanbury farmhand; John McLean timber cutter; George Towns dairy farmer.

(28) Australian Oarsman, 10 July 1942, p. 15; May, p. 2; Daryl Adair, 'Rowing And Sculling, in Wray Vamplew and Brian Stoddart (eds), Sport In Australia: a social history, Melbourne, 1995, p. 178; Lane and Jobling, p. 7.

(29) Adair, 'Rowing And Sculling', p. 178; Soiling, pp. 11-13, 16-17.

(30) Sydney Mail, 12 April 1890, p. 830; Sydney Mail, 24 May 1890, p. 1165; SMH, 2 December 1887, p. 9; Lane and Jobling, p. 10; The International Power Boat And Aquatic Monthly, February 1935, p. 29.

(31) Bennett, Clarence Comet, p. 19; Australian Oarsman, 10 July 1941, p. 17; Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1942, p. 4.

(32) Australian Oarsman, 10 June 1942, p. 5; Australian Oarsman, 10 September 1942, p. 18; Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1940, p. 23.

(33) Australian Oarsman, 10 June 1942, p. 4; Australian Oarsman, 10 April 1941, p. 23; Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1940 p. 23.

(34) Edward Hanlan Champion Oarsman: with history and portrait, Melbourne, 1884, pp. 5-6; Trickett, pp. 44-6, 50.

(35) Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1940, p. 23; Trickett, p. 42.

(36) Australian Oarsman, 10 July 1942, p. 16.

(37) Australian Oarsman, 10 July 1942, p. 16.

(38) Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1940, p. 24; Australian Oarsman, 10 July 1942, p. 16.

(39) Australian Oarsman, 10 January 1942, p. 16; Sydney Mail, 30 April 1892; Referee, 11 March 1903, p. 6.

(40) S. Laumann, C. Wharton and P. King, Rowing, Toronto, Canada, 1994, pp. 123-4; Neil Wigglesworth, The Social History of English Rowing, London, 1992, pp. 65-79.

(41) Wigglesworth, pp. 83-8; Australian Oarsman, 10 September 1942, p. 19.

(42) Wigglesworth, pp. 117-22; Laumann, Wharton and King, pp. 123-4.

(43) SMH, 22 July 1905, p. 11.

(44) Australian Oarsman, 10 December 1942, p. 3; Australian Oarsman, 10 July 1942, p. 16.

(45) Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1940, p. 24.

(46) Sydney Mail, 5 September 1896, p. 513; Newcastle Herald And Miners' Advocate, 31 August 1896, p. 6.

(47) Sydney Mail, 12 September 1896, p. 566; Referee, 9 September 1896, p. 3.

(48) Referee, 27 January 1897, p. 3; Referee, 17 February 1897, p. 5.

(49) Referee, 24 March 1897, p. 5; Sydney Mail, 27 March 1897, p. 678.

(50) Sydney Mail, 27 February 1897, p. 465; Sydney Mail, 27 March 1897, p. 678.

(51) Newcastle Herald, 18 March 1897, p. 3.

(52) Newcastle Herald, 16 March 1897, p. 3; Referee, 17 March 1897, p. 8.

(53) Referee, 21 April 1897, p. 3; Australian Oarsman, 10 August 1942, p. 15.

(54) Referee, 31 March 1897, pp. 3, 8.

(55) Newcastle Herald, 24 March 1897, p. 3.

(56) Sydney Mail, 28 September 1901, p. 827; Referee, 12 November 1902, p. 4; Referee, 10 December 1902, p. 6.

(57) Sydney Mail, 13 May 1898, p. 1136.

(58) Australian Oarsman, 10 August 1942, p. 15.

(59) Sydney Mail, 29 September 1900, p. 775.

(60) Sydney Mail, 1 October 1897, p. 833.

(61) Australian Oarsman, 10 August 1942, pp. 15-16.

(62) Sydney Mail, 29 September 1900, p. 775.

(63) Australian Oarsman, 19 September 1941, p. 17.

(64) Sydney Mail, 7 September 1901, p. 635.

(65) Russel Ward, A Nation for a Continent: the history of Australia 1901-1975, Melbourne, 1977, pp. 20-40.

(66) White, pp. 114-15.

(67) Referee, 10 December 1902, p. 6.

(68) Sydney Mail, 21 September 1901, p. 763.

(69) Sydney Mail, 28 September 1901, p. 827; Sydney Mail, 4 January 1902, p. 58; Sydney Mail, 30 August 1905, p. 570.

(70) Sydney Mail, 4 January 1902, p. 58.

(71) Sydney Mail, 16 May 1906, p. 1317.

(72) Cashman, pp. 69-71.

(73) Sydney Mail, 7 June 1890, p. 1277; Sydney Mail, 30 August 1905, p. 570.

(74) SMH, 30 July 1906, p. 8.

(75) Australian Oarsman, 10 November 1940, p. 24.

(76) Star-Sun Sports, 28 November 1953, p. 1; Sydney Mail, 19 September 1906, p. 770.

(77) Referee, 9 July 1913, p. 11.

(78) Referee, 30 June 1909, p. 10.

(79) May, p. 72; Referee, 30 June 1926, p. 11; Referee, 15 June 1927, p. 16.

(80) Lane and Jobling, pp. 2-26; Cashman, pp. 54-71; Solling, pp. 9-13, 21-8, 51-9; Adair and Vamplew, pp. 15-16, 30, 37-40; May, passim.

(81) May, p. 17; Lane and Jobling, pp. 2-26; Town And Country Journal, 15 July 1903, p. 53; Sydney Mail, 24 July 1897, p. 198.

(82) Referee, 4 December 1912, p. 11.

(83) Town And Country Journal, 9 August 1911, p. 50.

(84) Referee, 2 October 1912, p. 11.

(85) Referee, 17 September 1913, p. 11.

(86) McKernan, pp. 94-115.

(87) McKernan, pp. 94-115.

(88) Referee, 12 May 1915, p. 11.

(89) May, p. 107.

(90) Referee, 3 August 1904, p. 1.

(91) Referee, 19 July 1905, p. 1.

(92) Referee, 1 August 1906, p. 1.

(93) Town And Country Journal, 1 August 1906, p. 8.

(94) SMH, 30 July 1906, p. 50.

(95) Referee, 1 August 1906, p. 9.

(96) SMH, 30 July 1906, p. 6.

(97) Sunday Times, 3 March 1907, p. 7.

(98) Australian Oarsman, 10 January 1942, p. 14.

(99) Referee, 8 June 1921, p. 15; Referee, 15 June 1921, p. 8.

(100) Towns, who weighed ten stone four pounds for his 1906 world championship victory, was the lightest man to win the professional sculling world championship.
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Author:Ripley, Stuart
Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Geographic Code:8AUNS
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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