Sunday, 28 October 2007

University Boat Race 1866

Hammersmith bridge boat racePreceded by a rather confusing section regarding Frederick's stay above a cutlery shop, the author describes his first sighting of the University Boat race. His solitary journey to Hammersmith, in the early hours, is as much rewarded with a memorable, if hairy, incident on the bridge as the considerable impression made upon the boy coming of age.

The Oxford Cambridge University boat race follows a course of 4 miles and 374 yards and on March 24th 1866 took the usual route from Putney to Mortlake upstream via Hammersmith. The race report was as follows:

For the third time running Oxford won the toss and, it was considered at the time, misguidedly chose Middlesex with a strong south-west wind and the potential trouble on the open side round the Surrey bend.

Once again steamers delayed the start until the tide was all-but at its peak. Cambridge stayed well out in the middle seeking any stream that remained, while Oxford sought shelter along the Fulham shore.

Although it was clear that Cambridge went into the lead initially, there was considerable divergence of opinion among the onlookers about whether the Light Blues were still ahead at Craven Steps and if so by how much.

It was not until opposite the Crabtree, when the crews converged when it was clear that Oxford had almost drawn level. However Cambridge moved ahead again and shot Hammersmith Bridge ahead.

Water conditions were now bad and the better watermanship of Oxford began to be effective, giving them a few feet lead as the passed the bottom of the Eyot and by Chiswick Steps the Dark Blues ahead. By the crossing they had clear water.

Shortly after this, any hope that Cambridge might have, was destroyed by their cox. A barge cut right across his course but he attempted to pass in front of it and only just avoided disaster by a dramatic turn right off the true course and by the time he was back on course, Oxford were almost 3 lengths ahead. (Charles Tottenham the Oxford cox in 1865, had ducked neatly under the stern and gained several feet.)

Oxford rowed on from there with no change in distance between the crews and their win was adjudged as 4 lengths in 23 minutes 35 seconds.


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