ROWING ON THE CLYDE
It is only about forty years since boat-racing was begun on the upper reaches of the Clyde, the pioneers of the movement being the famous Blue Bell Crew, at that time the crack rowers on the river. These were succeeded by the Bannatynes, better known as the Jem Brown crew, who successfully carried off many of the chief prizes. The celebrated Reid brothers’ crew proved worthy successors, and during a couple of seasons were seldom defeated. The Campbells were the next oarsmen of note who attained more than local celebrity, and for several seasons they carried almost everything before them, while portraits of the brothers were exhibited in almost all the sporting houses in the city. The Milligans were also first-class rowers in their day, and the Browns, better known as the “Navvie's crew”, were for a number of years the terror of the Clyde. About thirty years ate several scratch crews were made up year by year, and as these included such pullers as John Carroll, the celebrated Manchester oarsman (who, at that time had a boat-hiring establishment on tie Clyde); “Bolts”, so called from his connection with an iron-foundry; James McFarlane; George Geddes, present keeper of the Humane Society house; Robert Glen; and last, not least, the late Banks McNeil, who for so many years took a prominent part in all aquatic sports on the Clyde, it is not matter for surprise that they won some of the highest prizes for which they contended. In one season they defeated the celebrated Duffy’s crew, of Dumbarton, at Lochlomond, and next year beat the famous McAllisters, who were the originators of the outrigger as applied to skiffs or other racing boats.
Robert McAllister, one of this famous crew, is now the principal boatbuilder in the West of Scotland for small rowing craft, and this year supplied the two new racing skiffs to the St Mungo Rowing Club. About that time a regatta took place on Kilbirnie Loch, at which some of the “crack” Glasgow oarsmen competed. The punt race in particular between Robert Campbell and George Geddes caused a great sensation. After a splendid race the champion was beaten by half a length. No other regatta has since taken place on the loch. The four-oared race, for the championship of Scotland was rowed on the Gareloch about that period. The scratch Glasgow fours were favourites, but the Perth crew easily carried of the honours, along with a handsome money prize. For several years afterwards there were no Glasgow crews of any note, though scratch fours occasionally made their mark on the Clyde. Duncan Cameron made a creditable appearance as a sculler, and also took a prominent part in pair and four oared races. Among the amateurs, the most prominent were Thomas Lindsay, who about 16 years ago, was considered to have the finest style of rowing on the rivers; and the brother Graham and the brothers Fletcher afterwards greatly distinguished themselves. The Grahams were powerful men, fought some determined struggles, and almost invariably won. The last time the brothers contested in an open race, they only defeated their opponents by half a length. The Grahams have never since entered a rowing boat, although the brothers are in request to act as umpires at most of the regattas on the Clyde and at the coast. Having thus briefly referred to rowing on the Clyde in its more palmy days, we shall proceed to give some details about more recent events.
During the past season much greater interest has been evinced in aquatic sports on the upper reaches of the river than at any time during the last six or seven years. After a lengthened period of great activity, during which Glasgow produced some oarsmen of more than local celebrity, a number of adverse circumstances arose which tended to damp the ardour of lovers of aquatics in Glasgow, The principal of these was in conjunction with the removal of the weir, and the consequent erection of an unsightly structure for the purpose of carrying water pipes across the Clyde, to supply the mills on the South Side from West Thorn New Water-works, instead of the former supply from the river.
The arches of this temporary structure were so narrow that first-class jolly boats or skills could not pass with safety, and it necessarily divided the old time-honoured regatta course, from the weir to Jenny’s Burn, in two, and all the races had to be turned at the Suspension Bridge. The removal of the weir itself was a slow process, and during the transition stage of its demolition little or no spirit was shown in aquatic circles, and the Glasgow crews, which were formerly so much dreaded at Dumbarton, Port Glasgow, Greenock and all the prominent regattas at the coast became demoralised. No English crews were tempted to visit our waters, and the regatta gradually fell off in interest.
The only exception to this general decadence has been the Printers’ Regatta, established some nine summers ago, which has year by year grown in reputation, and is now one of the most important fixtures of the season. The obstructions are now happily all removed, and at high tide there is a clear waterway from Broomielaw to Rutherglen Bridge. Owing, however, to a recent bye-law of the Clyde Trust the water-course is only available for training above the Albert Bridge, but during regattas the Trust will no doubt grant permission to start the long races from the Broomielaw. This would ensure a magnificent straight-away course of fully a mile, and tend to greatly foster the interest in aquatics.
The article continues with a detailed assessment of the progress made by the principal Glasgow rowing clubs in existence at that time, Clydesdale, Clyde and St Mungo. The original can be read online at this link, scroll to page 6 and enlarge.