I continue my series of Blogs relating some of the history of the Star Boating Club, Wellington established in 1866.
The Club is celebrating its 150th Anniversary, 2 – 4 September next, and invites members, former and current, their partners, families and friends of the Club to join in the fun. More details may be found here.
With the many commemorative events related to Wars where many Star members participated, it would be most proper to “Remember Them” on the occasion of our 150th Anniversary.
The New Zealand Wars, 1845 to 1872:
The only apparent Star connection with these Wars was the election of Major Charles Heaphy VC as an Honorary Member in 1872.
The South African War (or Second Anglo-Boer War) 1899 -1902
The New Zealanders who fought in the South African War were the first soldiers from this country to take part in an overseas conflict.
Between 1899 and 1902 New Zealand sent 10 contingents to South Africa. The men who enlisted came from a variety of backgrounds and from all over New Zealand. Many had prior experience in the Volunteer forces but others were ordinary citizens who were skilled riders and marksmen. The contingents were often made up of companies that had strong regional identities and many were supported by local fundraising.
In all 30 Star members served with the New Zealand Contingents in South Africa. Many were the Club’s senior oarsmen and included A. T. Bendall who was to win a Redcoat in 1905. No Star members died in combat but three were lost to enteric fever – Troopers Frederick Broome, John Moeller and Clement Wiggans.
The service of some those who were Star members can be followed from the Annual Reports of that time.
The Thirty-Fifth Annual Report dated 31 July 1901 records:
“The Committee in presenting the Thirty-fifth Annual Report desires to express their pleasure at the safe return of so many of the members of the Club who went to South Africa with the New Zealand Contingents; some of these being Lieutenants G. F. Johnston, P. W. Tait, J. L. Haselden and G. R. Miller; Sergeants E. Fitzgerald, T. H. Foster, and A. J. S. Thomson; Troopers A. McTavish, H. T. Richardson, A. Myers; and Bugler T. W. Brown. Amongst other members who left for the Front since last annual meeting are Lieutenant A. B. Rose; Lance-Corporals R. L. Evatt and W. D. McKellar; and Troopers P. R. Fordham, D. I. S. Barnes, E. F. Jupp and L. Armstrong.”
The 1902 Annual Report expresses the Committee’s pleasure in being able to report the safe return of most of the members of the Club who went to South Africa with the New Zealand Contingents. “Amongst those who left for the Front during the past year were Captain J. L. Haselden; Lieutenants W. Handyside, L. C Tennent, H. G. Lewis, L. G. O’Callaghan, P. W. Tait and T. H. Foster; Sergeant T. M. Page; Troopers S. T. Evatt, H. Smithers, A. T. Bendall and C. W. Palmer.”
The Thirty-Seventh Annual Report, presented at a meeting held at the Club-house 28 August 1903 contains the following:
“The Reading-room has also been furnished with a large frame containing photographs of thirty members who served in the South African War.”
“Russian Scare” 1885:
During the 19th century the Russian and British empires were involved in a number of conflicts, prompting many New Zealanders to view the Russians as potential aggressors. In the aftermath of the Crimean War of the 1850’s, unannounced visits to the South Pacific by Russian warships created alarm in New Zealand. A full-blown Russian scare in 1885 grew out of Anglo–Russian rivalry in Afghanistan and led to the building of major fortifications to protect New Zealand’s coastal cities.
As a consequence several home defence organisations were established and on 30 May 1898 Star formed among its members , the Star Submarine Mining Corps. Its main function was to train for coastal defence including the laying of mines offshore. The Corps severed its relations with the Club on 15 June 1900 when it became no longer possible to maintain its necessary strength by recruiting exclusively from the Club membership. The unit became the Wellington Sub-Mining Corps and marked its severance from the Club with a generous donation of £78/15/ towards the purchase of a billiard table.
First World War 1914 -18:
150 Star Members served overseas of whom 29 were never to return. Rowing activities were greatly restricted and from 1915 until the end of the War the Club did not compete in any regattas and held very few club races.
The first troops to leave New Zealand were members of the force that seized German Samoa. Led by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Logan, the 1400-strong Samoa Advance Party of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force landed at Apia on 29 August. There was no resistance from German officials or the general population. The Advance Party included 28 Star members.
In 1916 the Club reached its Jubilee year. The Annual Report for that year acknowledged the fact and stated that “some three years back the Committee then in office expressed their intention of organising some special effort, though its kind was not decided to celebrate this event, and had all gone well members would now be participating. The advent of the war, however, has been such to so seriously deplete the membership of the Club, and your Committee being of the opinion also that the time was inopportune, nothing has been done in recording such an important event in the Club’s history. It is however recommended to the incoming Committee that the year of the victorious ending of the war, of the Declaration of Peace, would be a fitting one in which to do things which have at present to be left undone, and trust that before long such an opportunity will occur to fittingly celebrate the Jubilee of the Club.”
The celebrations were eventually held in 1926 on the Club’s 60th Anniversary.
Of particular note is the closeness with which the Club followed the activities of its members serving overseas at the time. These are some excerpts from Club documents which illustrate this:
The 1916 Annual Report cites the total on the membership roll as 340, against 343 for the previous year and names members on Active Service, “in addition to those recorded in the last report”:
Allen, F. Bridge, C.E. Brewer, T. Bird, F.E. Carr, C. Coghlan, E.F. Devine, L. Day, E.C. Eilers, L.L.J. Freyberg, P. Fife, D.A.
Girdlestone, G.E. Harrington, W.C. Holmes, C.E. Holmes, W.A. Hacon, A.C. Hogg, W.F. Jacobson, F.H.S. Johnson, D.G. King, G.W.
Lawrence, C.H. Laing, J.D. Lawson, H. Mack, A. Moorehouse, F.S. MacLeod, J.A. McLean, D.J. O’Brien, – Pilcher, A.M. Pollon, N.E. Pye Smith, P.R.
Radcliffe, J.V. Shirtcliffe, W. Smith, A.G.
At this date the Club had a total of 103 members with the Expeditionary Force.
Killed in Action recorded in the 1916 Annual Report were: C.O. Carr, J.V. Radcliffe, R.A. Newton, J.S.H. Turner, W.R. Richardson, L. Bridge, N.A. Robisson and D.J. Whitcombe.
In that year the Club placed the Gymnasium and Club-Room at the disposal of the St. John Ambulance Brigade Overseas.
The Annual Report for the following year, 1917, reported that the following members had gone into camp:
Copeland, W. Cowles, S.G. Crawford, G.P. Dodwell, F.R. Duncan, R. Dudley, J.C.A. Higgins, W. Hogg, W. Kennedy, R. Moorhouse, F.S. McCall, M.G.C.
O’Meara, W.J. Robertson, D.L. Ward, R. Wardrop, C. Brown, F.W. Findlay, W.T. Thomson, A.M. Field, G.H.
Recorded as Killed in Action were: D.A. Fife, L.V.Hulbert, W.A. Holmes, P.Freyberg and F.A. Allen.
The Club on a number of occasions displayed pride in the fact that none of its members were declined for enlistment due to medical or physical issues. Great pride was taken in the fact that rowing maintained high levels of health and fitness.
No account of Star members’ involvement in the Great War should omit recognition of the service of Lieutenant General Bernard Cyril (Tiny) Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO & Three Bars (21 March 1889 – 4 July 1963) a British-born soldier and Victoria Cross recipient, who served as the 7th Governor-General of New Zealand from 1946 to 1952. Freyberg was a well performed swimming adjunct member. He had moved to New Zealand with his parents at the age of two and attended Wellington College from 1897 to 1904. A strong swimmer, he won the New Zealand 100-yards championship in 1906 and 1910.
In the Second World War Freyberg commanded the 2nd New Zealand Division through the North African and Italian Campaigns of the British Eighth Army.
The Sir Bernard Freyberg Cup is awarded to the winner in single sculls at the New Zealand Rowing Championship.
The following from Papers Past and the Evening Post, Volume XCVIII, Issue 60, 9 September 1919, Page 15 illustrates the mood of the Club in paying its respect for the fallen:
“It has been suggested that a suitable memorial be erected to the memory of those members who fell in the recent war. Several proposals have been put forward by present members. Mr Oswin was of the opinion that, as so many of those” gone ‘West” had been such ardent whalers” living for their Sunday trips, the dub should buy two new whalers, the same as the one recently disposed of, as a memorial to these men . Also he said conditions in the harbour were more suitable to whalers, which could be used when skiffs were out of the question. He thought that a year’s whaling would “make” any man, and fit him for sculling. ‘Whaler races could also be inaugurated and would certainly become extremely popular. Mr. Bri dge spoke in similar terms, upholding the previous speaker’s suggestion. Other speakers were in favour of this scheme. Further suggestions which have been put forward are that a suitable brass tablet memorial be placed in the clubhouse; that an obelisk he erected in the club-house grounds; that the invitation of the Anglican Cathedra] authorities be accepted to contribute towards the cost of the cathedral and so have there a permanent memorial and record. The associated sports bodies have been invited to make a combined offering, but each club is assured of a separate record; that a silver cup (wIth the names of those who have fallen engraved thereon) be competed for annually by club rowers, the race to be known as the “Memorial Fours”. This suggestIon found much favour among the members, and, in the opinion of many, is most suitable.
Mr. Bayfeild thought that sufficient funds could be raised to procure a cup and to erect a memorial tablet in the clubhouse, which latter scheme he considered eminently suitable.
Mr. Mitchell, in supporting the suggestion of a cup, thought that a roll of honour of the names of all those members who had fallen should be placed in a prominent position in the clubhouse.
Mr. Oswin moved that a silver cup, with the names of those fallen engraved on it, be competed for annually, the race to be known as “The Memorial Whaleboat Race,” and that the members of the club be specially invited to subscribe to the memorial, the form of which will be decided by the committee.
The motion was carried unanimously”.
On 17 October 1919 it was reported in the Evening Post “Local oarsmen are keenly anticipating the renewed activities in boating circles bound to follow the lifting of the restricting conditions imposed by the great war. Tomorrow afternoon the members of the Star Boating Club are holding their opening day of what is intended to make a successful season………. Of the six races to be held, the Returned Soldiers’ and Veterans’ competitions should prove enjoyable, as the pick of the older followers of the sport will be seen in action.”
An interesting fact: Star Club President at the time of World War 1, Hon H. D. Bell, KC, M.L.C. (later Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell. P.C., GCMG, KC) offered Taumaru his home in Lowry Bay to the government as a convalescent home for mostly rank and file New Zealand soldiers who had been wounded at Gallipoli and in other battles of World War 1 and was used as a hospital from 1916 to 1919. A smaller cottage on the estate was turned into a workshop for the use of patients.
The Bell’s three sons – Ernest, Cheviot and William served in the war, William being killed in Belgium in July 1917.
Second World War 1939 – 45:
17 Star Members lost their lives during this War.
Frank Scott, in his Centennial Booklet, “One Hundred Years of Rowing” records that the following decorations were awarded to members, 1 DSO, 6 DFCs plus 1 Bar, 1 MC, 1 MBE, 1 BEM and 5 Mentioned in Dispatches.
The Minute Books record the following Awards: (please note this is not a complete list): Squadron Leader Wilford Clouston, D.F.C.; Squadron Leader A. Mack, D.F.C.; Squadron Leader H.R. Hall, D.F.C., Major J.I. Thodey, D.S.O.; Major R.O. Pearse; Temp. Major K.J. Frazer M.C.; Captain Don Steele. O.B.E
The Club’s own hero of this War was undoubtedly George Campbell Cooke (1906-1941).
His Rowing record with Star as recorded in Frank Scott’s “One Hundred Years of Rowing” reads as follows:
1925-26-Wairau, Picton: Youth Fours (str}; Wairau, Picton: Maiden Pairs (str)
1926-27-Picton, Wellington: Junior Pairs (str); Christchurch: Youth Fours (str)
1927-28-Christchurch: Junior Pairs (bow); Maiden Double Sculls (str), Junior Double Sculls (str)
1928-29- Christchurch: Senior Pairs (str) Picton: New Zealand Championship Pairs (str); Christchurch, Wellington: Junior Double Sculls (bow),
1929-30-Christchurch : Senior Fours (str); Senior Pairs (str).
1930-31-Picton, Wellington: Senior Fours (2): Senior Pairs (str) ,
1931-32-Wellington: Senior Fours (str); Senior Pair’s (str),
1932-33-Picton, Wellington: Senior Pairs (str); Wanganui: New Zealand Championship Pairs (str)
1933-34-Picton. Wellington: Senior Pairs (str),
1934-35-Wellington: Senior Fours (str) ; Picton, Wellington: Senior Pairs (str); Auckland: New Zealand Championship Pairs (str)
1936-37-Wanganui: Open Eights (6),
1938 -39 Picton: Senior Fours (str}: Wellington: Senior Pairs (str).
George Cooke’s one International representation was as Stroke of the New Zealand Eight at the Olympic Games, Los Angeles, 1932, where the New Zealand boat was eliminated in the repêcharge by half a length by Great Britain, represented by the Cambridge crew. USA were the Gold Medallists.
George had trialled for the Olympics in the Coxless Pairs and Coxed Fours and was lucky to be selected to Stroke the Probables Eight. The legendary Clarrie Healey of Union, Wanganui was actually chosen but was not available when the race was due to start, Cooke being put into his seat as a consequence. Healey did however travel as the Rowing Coach.
George Campbell Cooke was killed in action during World War II at Servia, Greece. He was a Corporal in the New Zealand Army, and died of wounds during the Allied retreat in the Greek campaign of 1941.
The Maadi Cup which has strong and rich connections with Star and the 2nd World War is the prize for the New Zealand Secondary Schools Boys’ Under 18 Rowing Eights. More colloquially, it is the name given to the New Zealand Secondary Schools Rowing Regatta, at which the Maadi Cup is raced. The regatta is the largest school sports event in the Southern Hemisphere, with over 2100 rowers from 125 secondary schools participating in 2014.
Star connections with the founding of the Maadi Cup may be found here. Members involved were Bernard (Tiny) Freyberg in his capacity as commander of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, together with oarsmen, Athol R. Lawson, Jock I. Thodey, Marty Clay, A.A. Andrews, G.C. Cooke, A.L. (Dick) Burge (also Hon. Secretary NZEF Rowing Club), A.J.C. Coates, E.V. Dawson and C.F. Pert all of whom crewed in NZEF Eights on the River Nile, 1940 -1943.
The Impact of the Wars:
At the Club’s 79th annual meeting the President, Mr A. D. Bayfield, referred to the “adverse conditions under which the club had operated during the war years. He hoped that with the return of members from overseas the club would once again take up its position as one of the foremost rowing clubs in the country.” Sadly. this was to a high degree not achieved at club level and the sport nationally took on new perspectives.
This comment leads me to reflect on changes within the Club over the past 150 years. The 2 World Wars certainly had a dramatic affect on the Club’s existence. Each may be seen as having created defining moments in our history, which can be broken down to four distinct periods, each with its own clearly definable demographics and culture:
1. Founding in 1866 to end of the Great War,
2. 1919 through the Great Depression to the end of the Second World War,
3. 1945 – c 1970’s and
4. to present day.
1866 – 1918
The first period saw the development of a quintessential English Gentlemen’s club with Rowing as its core activity. Described variously as the “wealthiest club in the Colony” and sometimes as the “wealthiest sports club in the Southern Hemisphere” membership reached a peak of 394 in 1903, with 84 members in training at that time.
The Club was arguably at the forefront in the Colony in keeping pace with the advancement of rowing technology and plant.
Northern Hemisphere innovations were very quickly adopted by the Club. The move to sliding seats was an example of this. They were invented in USA and introduced into England in the Autumn of 1871 by a crew of Tyneside professionals. In 1872 the London Rowing Club used such seats in their June race against the Atlanta Club of New York, and in the Henley Regatta of that year all the other competing boats were fitted with the new invention. It was not too long before Star moved to keep up with the play. In 1879 the Committee was “granted power to have sliding seats placed in such boats as it may think suitable”.
The Club was also relatively quick in moving on from its original muster of whaleboats and introduce out-rigged boats to become more competitive. In 1872 members were asked to subscribe to the purchase of boats to represent the Club in the forthcoming Inter Colonial Regatta. As a result an out-rigged whaler was acquired from Salter of Melbourne,with a further 2 boats from this source in 1874. In 1875 a pair oared outrigger was sourced fro England, and a new racing Batswing Four oared gig to carry 11 and a half stone, from Melbourne, was added to the Boats List.
The greater majority of the new boats were sourced from Australia, built by Salter and Fuller of Melbourne or Donnally of Sydney. From around 1894 the major source of boats was the nationally renown racing boat builder, George Norton who was engaged as the Club Custodian first in 1894 and later in 1928, and who eventually operated from the Club’s shed on Waterloo Quay at Thorndon, which he purchased for £10. This shed had replaced another which had been constructed at “Kaiwara” in 1880 to be used for housing boats required by crews while training. The proceeds of this sale were used in reduction of debentures, reducing the liability under this heading to £230.
Another major advancement of this period was in regard to sculls and oars. The major supplier of the Club’s needs was the firm of Ayling and Norris of Putney, London. The heavy , square-loomed implements, the button being a wooden knob gave way gradually to lighter oars with a round-loomed blade. These had been substantially improved by Ayling’s invention of a button, which dispensed with long nails driven into the wood precisely where the strain was the greatest, and secondly by the general adaption of the girder principle to the shaft, thus securing a gain in lightness without the least diminution in strength. These oars were first used in America and some were used to good effect in England in 1897. Star were right up with the play and purchased first purchased oars from Ayling’s in the mid 1880’s.
Swivel rowlocks made their entry into the sport in England in 1876. In 1892 Star accepted an offer from George Norton to replace poppets used in new racing boats at that time with swivels.
It must be said that Star’s influence in the Rowing scene, such as its stand on amateurism, was not always appreciated by other clubs and some of their members and supporters. There appears to have been a certain level of jealousy at its ownership of the very latest in the construction of boats. It appears to have been quite common for these people to vent in the Editorial columns of the newspapers with accusations of “high handiness”, privilege and elitism and the like by Star, together with a number of its officials in public positions being the subject of this type of comment.
Facilities included Billiard and Reading Rooms, a lead floored bathroom with several showers, an “extra-large wash hand basin”, a bicycle shed and a telephone had been installed in the early 1890’s.
In 1889 a small gymnastic plant had been fitted up in a room previously occupied by yacht owners.
In 1892 permission was granted to members who formed the Tainui Canoe Club to build a small shed for their canoes on the Southern end of the Club’s leasehold.
The 1902 Annual Report stated that the Club was “in a thoroughly sound financial position, with a plant completely up-to-date, and a Club-house fitted with every convenience for the comfort and pleasure of its members”.
Other activities included a Debating Society established in 1909.
Sporting activities were not confined to Rowing. Swimming was strong before the 1st World War, it being recorded in 1903 that “A new departure was made by the Club in holding its Annual Swimming Sports at Lowry Bay, on 10th January. The meeting proved a great success, over 400 members and their friends journeying from town in the ferry steamer “Countess“.
In 1906 a “Football Club” was formed among members to compete in the Wellington Rugby Union’s Championships. It was reported then that the teams had met with a fair amount of success.
1911 featured a friendly Boxing contest with the Victoria College Boxing Club.
Billiard tournaments attracting large entries were held in Winter months.
On the social side the Annual Club Balls became regarded as “one of the chief of the Wellington Season”. This was as recorded in 1893 when ” it was held at Thomas’ Hall on the 13th July, and was a greater success than ever”.
1919 – 1945
In 1918 at the conclusion of the First World War in 1918, 52 new members were elected, nearly all of whom were under military age. This opened the second era for the Club which lasted through to the end of the 2nd World War and was greatly affected by the Great Depression which saw poverty and civil unrest. Membership numbers declined but it must be acknowledged that the Club did enjoy very high success on the water with the 1938/39 Season
Membership numbers had by 1922 declined from the lofty heights of 1903 to 302 of which 106 made up the Active category. In 1923, with a serious laxity in training, a membership campaign was initiated to restore the Club to its former strength. This initiative was backed in 1925 with acquisition of sufficient plant to accommodate 50 new members.
The effect of the Depression was severely felt in 1933 with 66 resignations not compensated and finances deemed to be “not satisfactory“.
However, despite all this adversity, perusal of past Annual Reports, at the time, revealed that the 1938-39 Season had been the third most successful in the Club’s regatta history. Special mention was made of the Welterweight Junior Four (H.V. Bevan (str), W.H.G. Hawker(3), R.P.Hill (2) and E.V. Dawson (bow)) with a meritorious seven wins and a second from eight starts in regattas, including the Nationals at Picton. The Junior Four comprising Loyd L. Hoskings (str), A.R. Lawson (3), P.F.Shirley (2) and G.C. Broad (bow) also recorded a Nationals Cup win at Picton.
1946 – 1970
The War allowed only one Club Race, the Fitzgerald Fours, to be rowed in 1943 and in 1945 the Billiard table was sold for £60 allowing limited finances to be better used.
Post war records show a continuation in the decline of membership numbers. The 1946 number was 199, 1948, 197 and down further to 181 in 1952. The downward trend seems to have bottomed out in 1954 with 167 members and notable for the fact that only 30 represented the Club at Status and local Regattas. 1955 saw a small increase by the way of the recruitment of 21 new members as against 7 the previous year.
The 1960’s happily did bring relief with substantial gains on the “scoreboard”. In 1963-64 Star won the Centennial Oar presented by our senior, the Canterbury Rowing Club, to celebrate its Centenary in 1961. The trophy was awarded to the Club gaining the most points at the national Championship Regatta. It had been won consistently by the Waikato Rowing Club from its base at Karapiro until Star’s win. Star again won the Centennial Oar in its own Centennial Year, 1966.
The 1960’s also heralded in the first of the Club’s Olympians since George Cooke in 1932. John Gibbons initially a member of the Victoria University Rowing Club, with which Star had close connections, had transferred over in 1963 and represented New Zealand in 1964 in Tokyo and again in 1968 in Mexico.
It is difficult to put a precise date to the opening of the next of our Rowing eras. This is the current era in which New Zealand has climbed to the top of the International scene with positive strategies for high performance and success in the new “brand marketing” scenario aligned with the new media. Associated with this has been the addition of Women and College students to the numbers of active oars people. The sport of Rowing must be seen in New Zealand as second only to the All Blacks in this commercial and highly competitive sports world.
Colleges now make up the dominant numbers in the Star shed but it is pleasing to see that numbers of active and Masters members nationally are on the increase through a demographic change fuelled by a desire for a healthy and physically active lifestyle. The reluctance of young people to commit to the energies and time required to take up the sport on leaving college is being replaced, to a degree, by Mums and Dads in their late 30’s and 40’s, together with middle-aged professional people and tradesmen in a move to meet levels of health and fitness and lifestyle wishes. Rowing, of course, is not unique in the continuing decline in membership of sports, recreation and social clubs. Star offers opportunities to follow a number of initiatives and membership categories to cater for people with recreational aspirations, and it is pleasing to be able to report that the Club’s Director of Rowing expects an increase in members this coming season wishing to use the Club’s splendid facilities and plant. There is no better exercise than rowing in all its forms for exercise and raising fitness levels. No other form of exercise uses 86% of the muscle mass as does rowing.
Star’s first involvement in College Rowing was in 1889 with an instruction to the Committee to “take into consideration the advisability of placing a clinker in-rigged four at the disposal of the Wellington College for the purpose of practising for the College Race at the February Regatta”. The records show that Wellington College was in the line-up for the Wellington Regatta on 23 February and later at an annual four-oared races with Wanganui Collegiate from 1907 to 1911.
Development of Rowing for school boys was until relatively recent times negatively affected by a common belief that it was particularly injurious to growing boys with racing linked to heart conditions. However with the nation’s love of sport, times have changed with a positive focus on sports by many Colleges . The Maadi Cup Annual Regatta with over 2,000 competitors illustrates that rowing has not been excluded from this change.
Current affiliated Colleges rowing out of the Star shed are: Queen Margaret College, Rongotai College, Scots College , Wellington College, Wellington East Girls College and Wellington Girls College.