About the Club

The Origin of Trinity Boat Club

The origin of the First Trinity Boat Club is described in a letter by C. F. R. Baylay, published in the Field, January 28, 1882. An excerpt is here reproduced.


My attention having been drawn to a paper... in one of your contemporaries, I find it stated that what led to systematic rowing at Cambridge is not on record. I fear there are very few, if any, now surviving who took part in the first formation of boat clubs, and set races on the Cam....I will now as shortly as possible relate my experience. I went up to Cambridge in October, 1824. I soon found my way to the boat-houses, and I hired a canoe and sculled down to Baitsbite (no one ever stopped at Ditton). This was the usual distance, except when it was prolonged to Clayhithe. The resources of the "dockyards" were more considerable than the above writer supposes. There were two six-oars, and three or four four-oars, besides many other boats of smaller size. Before the end of the October Term, 1824, I joined a scratch crew and rowed to Ely and back, which, at that early date, was not considered an extraordinary feat. In the spring of 1824 four Trinity men, of whom I was one, used very frequently to hire a four-oar when we felt inclined for a row. Sometimes finding the boat we liked best engaged, we formed ourselves into a club, and hired a four-oar called the Shannon by the term. This was the first Cambridge Boat Club; We chose for our stroke a Westminster man of excellent form; but, unfortunately, sudden illness soon obliged him to quit Cambridge. So we took in another man, and I was elected stroke in his place. Rowing constantly together we easily beat any scratch crew we fell in with. This excited the emulation of some Johnians. They formed the next club, and brought up an eight-oar from Eton. What the writer says of its being cut into steps like the Great Harry, simply refers to a false overhanging stern, rising high at the after part, where the Flag staff was fixed; but this was only shipped on gala occasions, as, I presume, was the case at Eton. Otherwise the boat was like any other boat at that date. Snow was the stroke; the elder Selwyn, afterwards Margaret Professor, No. 7; and for a short time the Duke of Buccleuch, then an undergraduate at John's, was in the boat which was called the Lady Margaret. We managed to hold our own with her in the chance contests we had on the river, but we found that we could hardly expect to keep ahead of an eight-oar when the crew got to work better together. Our club therefore determined to increase its numbers, and to build an eight. King, of Oxford, had a good reputation as a boat builder; so we commissioned him to build an eight-oar for us. She, as was the custom then, was built entirely of oak, and was very crank, but fast under a crew well together. We called her the King Edward III, and I took my place in her as stroke. Other Trinity men then formed a Club, and brought up an Eton ten-oar, the Monarch; but she was a failure, so they commissioned Searle, of Westminster, to build them an eight, which they also called the Monarch - Blofeld, an Eton man, being stroke. Some Westminsters also built a four-oar at Cambridge, and the Caius men a six-oar in London. Having got so far, the next step was to form a Cambridge University Boat Club, to have set races, and lay down rules for them. I may here mention that I started a subscription for making good gravel paths across the common to the boathouses, and obtained the mayor's leave to execute the work - a great comfort to all who had to cross the common. The races established by the U.B.C. were carried on through every term. So long as our crew remained together - i.e. till the October Term, 1827, when some honour men ceased to row - we kept our place as head of the river. The Lady Margaret always pressed us dangerously during the first half of the distance; after that we went away from them. Once, indeed, she did succeed in bumping us, but that was owing to an accident to one of our rowlocks. The next day we recovered our place.

Such is the history of the earliest rowing at Cambridge, from the still vivid recollections of one who had a very large share in it, and who established the first boat club in the university. It will probably be interesting to Cantabs who are, or have been, boating men.

C. F. R. Bayley

Kirkby Rectory, Horncastle, January 1882

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