A Potted History

Written by Matt Wilson

Melbourne Rowing Club was founded in 1862 and is the second oldest club in Victoria. MUBC is the oldest. The committee of the time decided that the club would adopt the colours of the Thames Rowing Club in England (similar to those worn by the Melbourne Football Club) crimson and dark blue. Despite a very successful period in the 1860s and 1870s, the club declined in the latter part of the century and was approached by the Melbourne Amateur Athletics Club to become an amalgamated entity freeing the club from all its debts. As a result of the merger, MRC was more of a general fitness club in the early 1900s than it was a rowing club, partaking in activities such as boxing, wrestling, fencing and jujitsu with only limited social rowing. When the club finally decided to refocus on competitive rowing, World War I took all but 20 of 100 members to serve the country, depleting club numbers to a similar state to that prior to the turn of the century.

In 1922 a neighbour, the Civil Service Rowing Club , entered the picture. A rowing force and a former arch rival of MRC since its own inception in 1866, it too proposed to merge as it, unlike Melbourne, was "bursting out of its britches" with too many members and too many boats but nowhere to put them. On the other hand, Melbourne had plenty of room with only a handful of members.

Ironically the club today is in many respects the offspring of the Civil Service Rowing Club. Despite many controversies at the Merger table, MRC officials managed to secure the name, but CSRC were able to secure their club colours of Oxford and Cambridge blue which MRC row under today.

Whilst the Head of the Yarra is now one of the most prestigious eight oared boat races in Australia, Melbourne Rowing Club has a couple of historically significant records in relation to eights.

The first eight oared boat in Victoria (built by James Edwards), was launched on 23 October 1869 and the crew selected to take her out included three MRC members - H.A. Williams (stroke), W.M. Ore (5) and J.C. Tyler (Bow). They rowed up to South Yarra Railway bridge and back and as the "Australasian" put it "when safely housed on its return, the company present partook of copious libations in honour of the venture". Not dissimilar to that which occurs each year after the Head of the Yarra. Win or lose, some traditions must go on.

In 1878 the first interstate (inter colonial) eight oared championship which was rowed over a course of about 4 miles on the Lower Yarra and was won by Victoria, with members of MRC filling seven of the eight seats.

In 1875 the very first eight oared race in Australia was rowed at the Melbourne Regatta and was won by the Civil Service Rowing Club. The following year it was won by MRC, thus noting the rivalry between the two clubs which were to merge. Whilst there have been many other significant victories for the club over the years, perhaps one of the greatest honours in eight oared racing was seen in September 2000 at the Sydney Olympics where Jane Robinson, MRC member, stroked the Australian woman's eight - an achievement of which the club is very proud. It was her second Olympic Games, the first female from MRC to be given the honour and only our second member to do so, the other being Peter Edwards who represented Australia in the single scull at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Jane also went on to win gold medals in the 2001 World Championships, representing Australia in both the W8+ and the W4-.

Whilst the club is still growing since the rebuilding of our fourth new clubhouse in 1993, we are predominantly a Masters rowing force winning the Field Rickards Trophy since its inception. The Masters Women have been significant contributors to this, and it shows as they have won the Masters 8+ at the Head of the Yarra for the past five years.

MRC is actively extending it's successes in Masters rowing to the younger members of the club, providing inspiration, maturity and experience. In addition, the Masters are living testament to the traditions of the off-water workout, normally including generous servings of coffee, or more frequently a good wine and ample beer!