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World Sculling Championship (Professional)

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Title: World Sculling Championship (Professional)  
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Subject: Rowing (sport), Ned Hanlan, List of world championships, Harry Kelley (rower), Bobby Pearce (sculler), Richard Arnst, Wingfield Sculls, Single scull, Peter Kemp (rower), John McLean (rower)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

World Sculling Championship (Professional)

The World Sculling Championship (1863–1957), evolved from the Championship of the Thames for professional scullers.

Only the sport of boxing claims an older Championship of the World. It is notable that Jack Broughton, the "Father of Boxing", trained scullers for prize contests which had their roots in wager races which had taken place from the middle of the 18th century on the Thames.


The first race for the Professional Championship of the Thames took place between Westminster and Hammersmith, on the River Thames in London in September 1831, when John Williams of Waterloo Bridge challenged Charles Campbell of Westminster for the Sculling Championship of the Thames. This was just over a year after the first Wingfield Sculls race for the Amateur Championship of the Thames had been held.

The race was initially dominated by oarsmen from the Thames, but a fierce rivalry soon arose between Newcastle and London after the famous Tyne sculler, Robert Chambers became the first non-Londoner to secure the title in 1859.

In 1863 the race became for the Championship of the World. when it had its first non-British entrant, Australian Richard A W Green. Green lost to Chambers but changes were afoot and as an increasing number of professional scullers from Australia; the USA and Canada started to compete, Britain lost its dominance, failing to secure a win between 1876 and 1920. For details of the subsequent English Championship only see English Sculling Championship.

The first overseas sculler to claim the title, was Australian Edward Trickett, who won his first race in June 1876, Trickett held the title for the next two races (1877 and 1879), both of which were held on his home river, the Parramatta. Trickett eventually lost out to Canadian Ned Hanlan (the first sculler to use a boat with a sliding seat), in 1880 on the Championship Course on the Thames. This course was over a distance of a little over four miles but for other races on other courses there was no set distance. These other courses varied between three and five miles approximately.

Professional sculling saw a marked downturn with each of the world wars. Although a few races were held after the 2nd World War, they failed to arouse the interest of the public or attract the standard of competitor seen in the earlier years of the Championship, and as the amateur / professional split in rowing was slowly abolished, the race died out. The Title lapsed in 1958 when Evans Fischer retired undefeated.

The 1908 World Title race was commemorated in December 2008 when Olympic champion Olaf Tufte defeated three time World Champion Mahé Drysdale and wild card race winner Hamish Bond on New Zealand's Whanganui River to take home the $5000 cash prize. (source


A person wanting to become the champion would issue a formal challenge to the existing Champion for a match and would offer a certain sum of money. Sometimes a person would issue a newspaper challenge to the winner of another match and deposit a sum with the paper which would theoretically ‘bind’ the subsequent match. The stake was not a fixed amount but it had to be high enough to be worth the champion’s time and reputation and which would discourage frivolous challenges. Typically the stake would be £100 or £200 a side for a state or national championship and £500 or more each for the world title. Sometimes additional expenses were expected as well. Under the rules such as they were, the Champion would have three months to accept the challenge or else forfeit the match in favour of the challenger.

The challenger and Champion, or their agents, discussed the ‘terms’ and came to an agreement. Sometimes challenges failed at this stage as there was no agreement or the challenger was unable to raise the money. Once the challenge was accepted the ‘articles’ would be drawn up and signed by the contestants and witnessed. The articles would state where and when the match was to be held, who the umpire was to be, how much the stake per side was to be and when it was to be paid in, and who the literal stake-holder was to be, and a few other details. From time to time it was agreed that the loser would receive some money as expenses which at least prevented a total loss. The stake-holder was often the Editor of a newspaper. The race was then supposed to run within another six months.

Seldom did challengers or Champions have to put up their own money in these sorts of competitions. The normal arrangement was that wealthy backers would put up the money. The backers were usually syndicates of gambling men. The backers of the winner of the match got their money back, and collected any other bets placed, but the winning man personally got the money put up from the backers of the loser. Side-bets between the actual contestants themselves were not unknown. Contestants were also often rewarded by splitting the ‘gate.’ i.e. the profit from sales of boat tickets and souvenirs. The nature of sculling meant that not all spectators could be charged to see the race but a split of sixty-forty to the winner was common.


Professional scullers tended to attract more media attention than the crews, since their individuality gave the media and public a greater chance of recognition. "The Aquatic Oracle" published in London in 1852 lists hundreds and hundreds of professional races from 1835 to 1851 between watermen. While many were for small sums of money it gives an indication of the extent of the activity. Betting on races was widespread and in the late 19th century, sculling or wager racing was perhaps the greatest spectator sport in London at the time. Many tens of thousands of spectators attended each race. By the turn of the century prize money had become so great that some scullers made up to nearly £5,000 a year in prizes and side bets, and £2,000 for a race.

Betting was simplified by recourse to past performances and present form would be followed by hordes of spectators at training sessions.


The very earliest races were informal events between working watermen who raced in their everyday work boat or wherry. These rowing boats were used to carry passengers and goods from one part of the river to another. As racing became more formalised the work boats were superseded by specialist racing craft. Several technical developments assisted in this transformation from the job of waterman to the sport of rowing. These were;

(1) the development of light weight boats built solely for racing.

(2) the outrigger which placed the oar’s pivot point outside the boat allowing for more leverage.

(3) the swivelling rowlock, and

(4) the sliding seat which also allowed for more oar movement. These developments greatly increased the average speed of racing. Generally in contemporary reports these types of boats were referred to as “outriggers,” “best and best,” or “wager boats.”


A foul is the touching of any part of an opponent’s boat or sculls by any part of your own boat or sculls. In the early days of professional rowing, fouling an opponent was an accepted part of the game as a contestant would often deliberately foul to gain an advantage. As racing boats became lighter and frailer this practise became less and less accepted and was finally done away with as actual rowing skill was counted as more important than disabling the opposition. Later title or money matches outlawed fouling and generally the man doing the fouling lost the match. However, because contestants faced the opposite way to the way the boat travelled, accidental fouls sometimes occurred particularly as races were often held on rivers that had bends in them. No lanes were marked out as in modern courses and in a close race a foul could happen as both men tried to get around the bend as quickly as possible. It was not unknown for a contestant to engineer a foul against himself to thereby try to win the race. In most matches an umpire or referee would rule on these sorts of fouls as to whose fault it was, usually at the time, but sometimes only after the race had finished. From time to time he would decide that the foul was accidental with no advantage to either sculler, and would order the men to continue racing. Many races were decided on fouls rather than who was the better sculler and many men felt hard done by when the decision went against them. The umpire’s decision was final.


1831 Sep 9th Charles Campbell John Williams NTT Thames (Westminster to Hammersmith)
1838 Nov 1st Charles Campbell Robert Coombes 42mins Thames (Westminster to Putney)
1846 Aug 19th Robert Coombes Charles Campbell 26mins 15secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1847 Sep 19th Robert Coombes Robert Newell 23 mins 46 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1851 May 7 Robert Coombes Thomas J MacKinney 27 mins 30 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1852 May 24 Tom Cole Robert Coombes 25 mins 15 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1852 Oct 14th Tom Cole Robert Coombes 23 mins 35 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1854 Nov 20th James Messenger Tom Cole 24 mins 45 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1857 May 12 Harry Kelley (GBR) James Messenger 24 mins 30 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1859 Sep 20th Robert Chambers (GBR) Harry Kelley (GBR) 25 mins 25 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1860 Sep 18th Robert Chambers (GBR) Tom White (GBR) 23 mins 25 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1863 Apr 14th Robert Chambers (GBR) George W Everson (GBR) 25 mins 27 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1863 Jun 16th Robert Chambers (GBR) Richard A W Green (AUS) 25 mins 35 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1865 Aug 8th Harry Kelley (GBR) Robert Chambers (GBR) 23 mins 23 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1866 Jul 4th Harry Kelley (GBR) James Hammill (USA) 32 mins 45 secs Tyne
1866 Nov 22nd Robert Chambers (GBR) Joseph Sadler (GBR) 25 mins 4 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1868 May 6 Harry Kelley (GBR) Robert Chambers (GBR) 31mins 47 secs Tyne
1868 Nov 17th James Renforth (GBR) Harry Kelley (GBR) 23 mins 15secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1874 Apr 16th Joseph Sadler (GBR) Robert Bagnall (GBR) 24 mins 15 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1875 Nov 15th Joseph Sadler (GBR) Robert W Boyd (GBR) 28 mins 5 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1876 Jun 27th Edward Trickett (AUS) Joseph Sadler (GBR) 24 mins 35 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1877 Jun 30th Edward Trickett (AUS) Michael Rush (rower) (AUS) 23 mins 27secs Parramatta, Sydney
1879 Aug 29th Edward Trickett (AUS) Elias C. Laycock (AUS) 23 mins 29 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1880 Nov 15th Edward Hanlan (CAN) Edward Trickett(AUS) 26 mins 12 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1881 Feb 14th Edward Hanlan (CAN) Elias C. Laycock (AUS) 25 mins 49 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1882 Apr 3rd Edward Hanlan(CAN) Robert W Boyd (GBR) 21 mins 25 secs Tyne
1882 May 1 Edward Hanlan(CAN) Edward Trickett (AUS) 28 mins Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1883 May 30 Edward Hanlan(CAN) John A Kennedy (USA) 19 min 4 sec Point of Pines, Boston USA
1883 July 18 Edward Hanlan(CAN) Wallace Ross (CAN) 27 min 57.5 secs Odensberg, New York, USA
1884 May 22 Edward Hanlan(CAN) Elias C. Laycock (AUS) 22 mins 46 secs Nepean, Sydney
1884 Aug 16th Bill Beach (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 20 mins 28 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1885 Feb 28th Bill Beach (AUS) Thomas Clifford (AUS) 26 mins 1 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1885 Mar 28th Bill Beach (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 22 mins 51 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1885 Dec 18th Bill Beach (AUS) Neil Matterson (AUS) 24 mins 11 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1886 Sep 18th Bill Beach (AUS) Jake Gaudaur Snr. (CAN) 22 mins 29 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1886 Sep 25th Bill Beach (AUS) Wallace Ross (CAN) 23 min 5 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1887 Nov 26th Bill Beach (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 19 mins 25 sec Nepean, Sydney
1888 Feb 11th Peter Kemp (AUS) Thomas Clifford (AUS) 23 mins 27secs Parramatta, Sydney
1888 May 5 Peter Kemp (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 21 mins 36 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1888 Sep 28th Peter Kemp (AUS) Edward Hanlan(Can) 21 mins 25 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1888 Oct 27th Henry Ernest Searle (AUS) Peter Kemp (AUS) 22 mins 44 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1889 Sep 9th Henry Ernest Searle (AUS) William Joseph O'Connor (CAN) 22 mins 42 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1890 Apr 25th Peter Kemp (AUS) Neil Matterson (AUS) 21 mins 13 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1890 May 15 Peter Kemp (AUS) John McLean(AUS) 21 mins 45 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1890 Dec 15th John McLean (AUS) Peter Kemp (AUS) 22 mins 13 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1891 Apr 28th Jim Stanbury * (AUS) John McLean (AUS) 22 mins 15 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1891 Jul 7th Jim Stanbury * (AUS) John McLean (AUS) 18 mins 25 secs Parramatta, Sydney (short Course)
1892 May 2 Jim Stanbury * (AUS) Tom Sullivan (NZL) 17 mins 26 secs Parramatta, Sydney (short Course)
1896 Jul 13th Jim Stanbury * (AUS) Charles R. Harding (GBR) 21 mins 51 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1896 Sep 7th Jake Gaudaur Snr. (CAN) Jim Stanbury (AUS) 23 mins 1 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1898 Jly 4th Jake Gaudaur Snr. (CAN) Robert Johnston (CAN) 20 mins 25 sec Vancouver Harbour
1901 Sep 7th George Towns (AUS) Jake Gaudaur Snr. (CAN) 20 mins 30 sec Lake of the Woods, Ontario
1904 Jul 30th George Towns (AUS) Richard Tresidder (AUS) 21 mins 28 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1905 Jul 22nd Jim Stanbury * (AUS) George Towns (AUS) 19 mins 4 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1906 Jul 28th George Towns (AUS) Jim Stanbury (AUS) 19 mins 53 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1907 Mar 2nd George Towns (AUS) Edward Durnan (CAN) 22 mins 27 secs Nepean, Sydney
1907 Aug 3rd William Webb (NZL) Charles Towns (AUS) 20 mins 35 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1908 Feb 25th William Webb (NZL) Richard Tresidder (AUS) 20 mins 28 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1908 Dec 15th Richard Arnst (NZL) William Webb (NZL) 19 mins 51 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1909 Jun 21st Richard Arnst (NZL) William Webb (NZL) 18 mins 15 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1910 Apr 4th Richard Arnst (NZL) George Whelch (NZL) 21 mins 51 secs Akaroa Harbour, New Zealand
1910 Aug 18th Richard Arnst (NZL) Ernest Barry (GBR) 20 mins 14 secs Zambezi River, Northern Rhodesia
1911 Jul 29th Richard Arnst(NZL) Harry Pearce (AUS) 19 mins 46 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1912 Jul 29th Ernest Barry (GBR) Richard Arnst (NZL) 23 mins 8 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1912 Oct 14th Ernest Barry (GBR) Edward Durnan (CAN) 22 mins 31 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1913 Jul 21st Ernest Barry (GBR) Harry Pearce (AUS) 24 mins 9 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1914 Sep 7th Ernest Barry (GBR) Jim Paddon (AUS) 21 mins 28 sec Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1919 Oct 27th Alf Felton (AUS) Ernest Barry (GBR) 25 mins 40 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1920 Aug 31st Ernest Barry (GBR) Alf Felton (AUS) 24 mins 32 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1921 Jun 11th Richard Arnst (NZL) Pat Hannan (NZL) 22 mins 34 sec Wairau, New Zealand
1922 Jan 5th Darcy Hadfield (NZL) Richard Arnst (NZL) 19 mins 46 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1922 Apr 18th Jim Paddon (AUS) Darcy Hadfield (NZL) 19 mins 19 secs Wanganui, New Zealand
1923 Jul 21st Jim Paddon (AUS) Darcy Hadfield(NZL) 19 mins 46 secs Richmond
1924 Aug 12th Jim Paddon (AUS) Alf Felton (AUS) 17 mins 55 secs Brisbane
1924 Sep 20th Jim Paddon (AUS) Major Goodsell (AUS) 17 mins 7 secs Richmond
1925 Mar 21st Major Goodsell (AUS) Bill McDevitt (AUS) 22 mins 20 secs Clarence
1925 Jun 27th Major Goodsell (AUS) Pat Hannan (NZL) 21 mins 31 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1925 Nov 7th Major Goodsell (AUS) Jim Paddon (AUS) 22 mins 50 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1926 May 3 Major Goodsell (AUS) Tom Saul (AUS) 23 mins 11 sec Parramatta, Sydney
1927 Sep 5th Major Goodsell (AUS) Bert Barry (GBR) 24 mins 13 secs Burrand Inlet, Vancouver
1927 Dec 6th Bert Barry (GBR) Major Goodsell (AUS) 21 mins 40 secs Burrand Inlet, Vancouver
1930 May 31 Ted Phelps[1] (GBR) Bert Barry (GBR) 22 mins 45 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1930 Oct 11th Ted Phelps[1] (GBR) Bert Barry (GBR) 22 mins 48 secs Thames (Putney to Mortlake)
1932 Sep 5th Ted Phelps[1] (GBR) Major Goodsell (USA) 17 mins 2 secs Long Beach, California
1933 Sep 1st Henry "Bobby" Pearce (CAN) Ted Phelps[1] (GBR) 19 mins 26 secs Lake Ontario,
1934 Sep 5th Henry "Bobby" Pearce (CAN) W G Miller (USA) 19 mins 52 secs Toronto
1938 Sep 9th Henry "Bobby" Pearce (CAN) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20 mins 35 secs Tornoto
1948 Nov 20th Evans Paddon (AUS) Max Fisher (AUS) 17 mins 20 secs Parramatta, Sydney
1949 May 7 George Cook (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 15mins 09 secs Evans River
1950 April 22 Evans Paddon (AUS) George Cook (AUS) 21mins 58 secs Evans River
1952 April 5 Jim Saul (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20 min 33 secs Richmond River
1952 Sept 13th Evans Paddon (AUS) Jim Saul (AUS) 21 min 50 secs Richmond River
1953 June 13 Evans Fischer (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20 min 55 secs Richmond River
1954 Aug 7th Evans Fischer (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20min 57 secs Clarence River
1957 May 25 Evans Fischer (AUS) Evans Paddon (AUS) 20min 46 secs Clarence River


  1. Bill Beach, Henry Pearce, & Evans Fischer all retired undefeated.
  2. James Renforth died while Champion. Sadler later rowed for an open Title.
  3. Peter Kemp gained the Title twice other than by races; once by formal forfeit from Beach, once upon the death of H Searle.
  4. Richard Arnst gained the Title once other than by a race; on the forfeiture of E Barry.
  5. Charles Towns & Bill McDevitt both held the Title by the forfeiture of George Towns & Jim Paddon respectively. Neither successfully defended it.
  6. R Chambers & E Paddon either gained the Title once each by forfeit, or alternatively, one of their races was for an open Title after the retirement of the Holder.


Further reading

  • Whitehead, Ian, "The Sporting Tyne", 2002, ISBN 0-901273-42-2.
  • Collins, Tony, "Encyclopedia of traditional British rural Sports", 2005
  • Wigglesworth, Neil, "A Social History of English Rowing",
  • World rowing history - professional racing
  • * for details of Jim Stanbury
  • for details of Peter Kemp
  • for details of Jake A Gaudaur (snr)
  • for details of George Cook
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