SKIFF MATCH FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF SCOTLAND AND £150
This match, which came off yesterday on Lochlomond, has excited more interest amongst the lovers of aquatics than, perhaps, any former event of a similar kind. Glasgow has for a number of years past taken the lead in the exhilarating and healthful exercise of boating; and apart altogether from anxiety to obtain a notoriety as first-class pullers or successful competitors for money prizes, competitions of a character similar to a the one we are about to notice have enervated the youth, we may say, of the city to perfect themselves not only in the propelling of boats but in that invaluable accomplishment, swimming. This latter art, it will be admitted by all, is an accomplishment of which everyone should be in possession, and the fact that racing boats have been brought to that degree of proficiency for swiftness, if not of peril, in waters other than the Clyde (or similar rivers) stimulates the pullers to perfect themselves In, the useful art of swimming. Thus far, we think, the enjoyment of aquatics on the Clyde has been beneficial.
We now come to the match to which reference has been made. The men - William Brown, John Carroll, and Robert Campbell, are more or less known to fame by the lovers of aquatics. Brown, one of the celebrated "Nancy" crew, who were so eminently successful in the Clyde in years gone by, beat McNeill in two different skiff matches. However pretty, and however much admired the pulling of McNeill was, he failed while competing with his more powerful opponent. The next competitor in course is Carroll, one of the champion of the world four-oared crew, the race for which took place in England several years ago. Carroll is a puller of no mean ability, but, unfortunately for himself, after gaining “golden opinions” in this quarter (for he originally hailed from Manchester) he did not keep up the perfect condition necessary for a competitor in aquatics, and was beaten during the present year by young Clasper of Newcastle, and Campbell of Glasgow. Campbell was one of the celebrated Duffy's crew, which were very successful. After being several years in McNeill's establishment, he entered the lists against Carroll, whom, as we have remarked, he vanquished.
Brown was trained by Robert Chambers, of Newcastle; Carroll, by Harry Clasper of Newcastle; and Campbell by John McKinney, of Richmond. Betting: Even on Brown against the field; even on Carroll; and 6 to 4 against Campbell. The result of the race had the effect of causing several hundred pounds to change hands - the “knowing ones” betting heavy in favour of Brown.
A special steamer was hired for the occasion, on board of were the Umpires, Messrs. Clasper, Chalmers, and McNeill, and the Referee, Captain Brown of the Queen Victoria Lochlomond Steamer, and a large concourse of gentlemen interested in the contest.
All the preliminaries having been arranged, and after two false starts, the boats went off in beautiful style, Brown and Carroll, who were on either side of Campbell, taking a slight lead. On nearing Inch Murran, Campbell improved his speed, and got ahead of his opponents, the boats continuing bow for bow for a short distance. As they reached the Island, Campbell put on a most beautiful and determined “spirit” and despite the efforts of his opponents, he shot ahead, and was a length in front, in less time than we take to note the fact. He continued to improve his distance, and although Brown, who was second, and Carroll, made energetic attempts to regain their lost ground, their efforts were unsuccessful. Carroll, in rounding the above point, pulled somewhat out of his course, and lost way; but by this time it was evident to all that the race was decided. The men continued to pull with spirit, but Campbell gradually widened his distance between Brown, as did the latter between Carroll, and when the winning-post was reached, Campbell was at least 150 yards ahead of Brown, the same distance being between the latter and Carroll. The race was pulled in 23 minutes and 40 seconds. Thus ended a contest in favour of a Scotchman over opponents of the sister countries, which, as we have already said, has excited more interest in aquatic circles in this quarter than any event of a similar kind. Campbell belongs to Alexandria, a village situated little more than a mile from the scene of the contest, and the enthusiasm manifested in the district was general. The winning boat was built in the boat-building establishment of Mr J. B. McNeill, Glasgow.
Six months later, the prize money had risen to £200, and this is how Bell's Life reported this famous piece of action in its edition of 25 July 1858:
THE GREAT SKIFF RACE BETWEEN HARRY CLASPER AND ROBERT CAMPBELL FOR £200 AND THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF SCOTLAND
This great event in the aquatic world came off on Thursday last, under the most favourable auspices. The attendance of spectators was very large, for the interest taken in the match arose from various causes. The Championship of Scotland being the stake at issue, the national spirit was called into play, and a feeling of anxiety prevailed lest, perhaps, the best sculler that Scotland had ever produced should have to succumb to the science of a stranger. With that feeling of anxiety, however, was mingled a feeling of confidence and, although Clasper had a slight call in the betting wherever layers were to be found, there were takers also. It was thought - and there was good reason for the thought - that, great as was the fame of the aquatic hero of Newcastle, the youth, strength, and scientific acquirements of the present champion of Scotland should enable him to pull through with even more formidable antagonist; but the result proved that those who held these expectations had been very much in error.
Before describing the race itself, we will give a brief description of the previous performances of the men, and on the old principle, seniores priores, we will commence with Harry Clasper. Clasper was born in the year 1810, so that he is at present 48 years of age, and his name has been known in aquatic circles for a period of 23years. He has rowed upon almost every river between the Thames and the Clyde, where aquatic entertainments are in anyway encouraged, and has contested, with varied success, against the ablest rowers of the South, both as a sculler and also in the celebrated four-oar, manned by the brothers known in the world as the "Clasper Crew." It was Clasper who first introduced the principle of out-riggers to boats intended for racing purposes, and the old fashioned wager wherry is a thing now almost unknown.
Robert Campbell is some 15 years younger than his veteran antagonist, and his career, though short, has been a brilliant one. He is now in his 34th year, and his rowing weight is 10st. 10lb. His first public appearance in the aquatic world was in 1857, on the Clyde, when he defeated John Carrol easily, the stakes being £10 a side. In the same year at the Glasgow Regatta, he defeated John Carrol and Wm. Taylor, of Newcastle; and last autumn he rowed for the championship of Scotland against John Carrol and Wm. Brown. The match took place on Loch Lomond, the stakes being £50 a side, and was won easily and in good style by Campbell. On that occasion, Brown was trained by Harry Clasper, and Campbell by John Mackinney, of London. In February 1858, W. Brown again contended for £50 a side, from Dumbarton to Howling, and Campbell again was successful, Brown being then trained by Clasper, and Campbell by Mackinney. From that match arose another between the two trainers. Clasper and Mackinney themselves, which was to have come off on the same course, but it came to no-thing, Mackinney being compelled by illness, it was alleged, to pay forfeit.
The rising fame of Campbell having attracted the attention of Clasper, the veteran challenged him to row a race for £100 a side and the championship of Scotland, and hence the match which we this day have to record Campbell, who has been for the last three weeks at Loch Lomond, taking his breathings under the superintendence of George Drewitt of Chelsea, rowed in boat built by Mr J. B. McNeil, her length being 33 feet and weight about 29lb. not including the weight of the rowlocks. Clasper arrived in Glasgow on Wednesday week, having, as we understand, not gone through any lengthened course of training, and many of his friends expressed some anxiety lest his four-oared race with the Taylors would have interfered in some respect with his sculling. He rowed in a boat of his own construction which is said by his friends to be one of the best he ever built. The dimensions are-length 33 feet, breadth 10 inches, height of steer-post 2 inches, and weight 33lb.
In consequence of the necessity of catching the tide at the ebb, the start was fixed at ten o'clock, and the weather being very fine for some time before that hour, the river presented a very animated appearance. The Petrel and Emperor, and three other steamers had brought down a considerable number of spectators from Glasgow; and a crowd of small boats of all descriptions, their oars glittering in the sunlight, were seen skimming over the surface of the Clyde. As the hour for the start drew nigh, speculation was at its height; the friends of Campbell, probably in consequence of a rumour that the veteran could not stay the distance, adventuring their money more freely on their favourite. As the men came slowly to the post their condition and form were closely scanned. The condition in which Clasper appeared at the starting point reflects great credit on his trainer; and Campbell, too, looked well and confident.
At about a quarter-past ten an admirable start was effected, both men darting off with lightning velocity, but in a few strokes the nose of Clasper's boat began to show in front, and the veteran shortly after drove his boat clear, and continued to increase his lead until they had pulled about 400 yards, where the Craignish Castle, though hailed by the umpires and referee and ordered to back her engines, continued most reprehensibly to follow so close in the wake of Clasper's skiff that the surge from the paddle-wheels extended to him and for a time retarded his progress. At this period Campbell came up, and for a second or two the skiffs were close together. When Clasper got into smoother water he again shot ahead and regained his former position, improving his lead at every stroke, and rowing well within himself, came in a victor by about 200 yards, thus adding another to his many victories. He pulled on the north and Campbell on the south side of the course. The winning post was a boat bearing the Union Jack, placed about half a mile below Bowling Pier - a distance from the starting point of about four miles. All around, it was a swarm of small boats, numbering, we should suppose, nearly 200, filled with people, who sent up a most enthusiastic burst of cheering, which was also swelled by those on board the steamboats, as Clasper came triumphantly past the winning post, with Campbell, as nearly as we could calculate, between 200 and 300 yards behind. Thus was decided what, by a numerous class, will be reckoned an event of national importance. After the race the rowers were taken on board, and the steamers with their freights returned to Glasgow. The stakes shall be forwarded to Clasper on Tuesday next.
As a final footnote, the Campbell family had quite a sporting tradition: Robert's younger brother, Colquhoun was also a successful oarsman in the late 1860s; and one of Robert's sons was John Campbell, who played football for South Western and was capped once by Scotland in 1880. Another important character who appears in these stories is James Banks McNeil, Glasgow boatbuilder and hirer, who founded the Glasgow Regatta.