‘Always Ready To Row Himself to Exhaustion’

The Grand Challenge Cup, 1868

Competitive rowing events on the Birrarung, or Yarra River, in Melbourne began in 1860.  The annual regatta was a feature of the social calendar by the time this Grand Challenge cup was presented to Melbourne Rowing Club in 1868. The event attracted crowds of picknickers to the banks of the upper river to cheer the boats on.

The regatta ran over the course of two days and the Grand Challenge was the last race. The Melbourne Club team were at the end of a three-year winning streak when they won this trophy.  On a sunny April day, with D A Williams as their stroke to set the rate and rhythm, they performed with distinction; providing the spectators lining the banks with ‘one of the best boating contests that ever took place in the colony.’

The cup they won was made by the Walsh Brothers, Frederick and Alfred, who ran a large jewellery business in Collins St, Melbourne. The business specialised in presentation pieces and charged 40 guineas for this trophy, which was decorated with bulrushes and lillies. Perhaps D A Williams, the stroke, and later captain of the Club, charged this cup and raised a toast to his teammates and their competitors?

Williams was a stalwart of the colonial rowing scene, who continued to work the oars until he was nearly fifty. Williams’ determination to win was frustrated in the years following 1868, when Melbourne lost to the Richmond and Melbourne University rowing clubs. But his commitment to the sport was never in dispute, as he chaired the club committee, umpired races ‘and was always ready to row himself to exhaustion.’