Eton College Boat Club
HISTORY OF THE CLUB
Rowing seems to have become a recreation for Etonians in the final years of the eighteenth century. The Eton authorities considered it a dangerous activity, however, since the River Thames was used by commercial traffic (and was also the local sewer), so they did their best to discourage the boys. Eton nevertheless challenged Westminster to a race in 1818, but it was not until 1829 that the first race between the two schools actually took place. 2004 saw the 175th anniversary of the race.
Rowing was not formally recognised by the school authorities until 1840. Before this date, races and Processions of Boats had for some time been winkled at by the authorities; but the fiction of illegality was kept up by Keate, the then Head Master – so much so that it is recorded of him that on the Fourth of June, 1826, before calling Absence at 6 o’clock, he addressed the school thus: “Boys, it is an old custom to have you locked up later than usual this night, that you may enjoy your game of cricket rather later than usual, and that it may be a harder contested.” After this address he is said to have gone himself with his family to see the fireworks! This, however, may be doubted, as in 1831 he refused to go with William IV to see the Procession on the grounds that he was ignorant of its existence!
Having set the pace in 1818, Eton remains one of the most successful rowing schools winning the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley an impressive 13 times, three times more than the two most frequent school combined. Few other schools can match our record in competitive events, and a very large number of our boys have been selected for Great Britain Junior, Senior and Olympic teams, including Sir Matthew Pinsent, Ed Coode and Andrew Lindsay – gold medallists in Athens and Sydney.