The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Boscawen E

Boscawen, Evelyn (Viscount Falmouth) edit

“Never Bets” (Spy), September 1, 1877 edit


The Boscawens are a fine old Cornish family which has for centuries furnished to the State distinguished soldiers, sailors, and statesmen, and Lord Falmouth was born with the stuff in him to make him a credit to his ancestry, even had he been restricted to that commoner’s career to which he seemed born eight-and-fifty years ago. At Eton he was a noted “wet-bob” and won the “pulling sweeps,” and while at Christ Church he continued his rowing, and was chiefly instrumental in founding the Henley Regatta. He next read Law at the Middle Temple, married Lady Le Despencer, a maiden baroness in her own right, and turned his attention to his favourite pursuit of agriculture. In this he was very successful, and when, in 1852, he succeeded to the title, on the death of his cousin, he removed his breeding-stock to Tregothnan and still further increased his successes. His cattle and flocks became renowned throughout England, he has won prizes with them at almost every meeting in the country; and this very year his bull, “the only Jones,” swept the board at Bath as the best bull of any breed there.

Lord Falmouth is, however, even better known as a breeder and runner of racehorses, and in this also his energy and judgment have made him pre-eminent; while the fact that he has for nearly thirty years won races without losing a friend shows him to be possessed of some very rare qualities. When he first appeared on the Turf it was under the assumed name of “Mr. Valentine,” and as such he won the Thousand Guineas in 1862 with “Hurricane,” and the Oaks of the following year with “Queen Bertha,” an occasion on which he wagered and lost the only sixpence he has ever betted. Throwing off his alias, he now transferred his horses to Newmarket, to which he has ever since remained faithful. He won the Derby with “Kingcraft” in 1870, and again this year with “Silvio”; both these horses having, strangely enough, run third for the Two Thousand Guineas previous to the Derby, behind the horses whom they subsequently defeated. Many other victories than these he has achieved, but he eschews handicaps, avoids overworking his two-year-olds, and altogether declines to race on a Sunday, thereby depriving himself of all chance of winning any of the great French races.

Lord Falmouth is remarkable as being the one remaining representative of that original idea of horse-racing, which was to pit one man’s success against another’s in breeding horses; for all the racers which have carried his colours have been bred by himself. Moreover, he has kept his name as a gentleman should, but as few can upon the Turf, untarnished by so much as a whisper of suspicion; and he never bets.

With the qualities of patience, judgment, honesty, and perseverance which he has displayed in these pursuits, he might have made himself foremost and trusted as a leader of men in public affairs; and it is to be regretted that he has never taken an active part in politics, which cry aloud for men of his stamp. As a landlord, however, he has made himself to be loved and trusted, and it was and still is a wonder to the world why he was not, twenty years ago, made Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall.

Evelyn Boscawen (1819-89) rowed in the 1837 Eton eight that lost to Westminster. According to The Eton Boating Book, “It was the first time the Westminsters ever beat the Etonians. This was almost the last time the King [William IV] appeared in public, and the Eton boys believed that their defeat was the immediate cause of the King’s illness.”[1] At Oxford, Boscawen rowed No. 6 for the Oxford Etonians (with S.H. Northcote at No. 2) in the Grand Challenge Cup in 1839 and 1840. This apparently was the basis for Vanity Fair’s assertion of his being “chiefly instrumental in founding the Henley Regatta,” though in later years he was a steward as well.[2]

After Oxford, Boscawen became a non-practising barrister, a gentleman farmer, and a peer, who grossed more than £300,000 over his life from horse racing. From 1872 to 1883 he never won less than £10,000 per year, with £38,000 in 1878 the most ever won by a single owner. As for the sixpence: he bet his trainer’s wife that his mare Queen Bertha would not win the 1863 Oaks; on winning the race and losing the bet, then-Lord Falmouth made good by presenting the coin as a brooch set in diamonds. Besides the caricature featured here, Lord Falmouth also appeared in a group of turf and racing figures in Vanity Fair’s December 6, 1887 Winter Number, entitled “Tattersall’s, Newmarket.”

Gambling and Aquatic Nobbling edit

Like the turf, the Boat Race was a favorite for Victorian gambling. Vanity Fair (April 1, 1871):

Henley Regatta wagering poster, 1841

We have seen the last of the practice of the eights, and almost as soon as this number of the FAIR sees publicity we shall have seen also the race and its result. We never remember a greater excitement than on the present occasion, and never such an infusion of the gambling element as is now unfortunately introduced as a leading feature in the entertainment. City speculators plunge as greedily on light and dark blue as on cotton or indigo; and having never seen either crew in their lives, nor having even succeeded in feathering a scull, gravely tell you that it is a “real good thing” this way or that; that they know on the “very best authority” that A and B in the Oxford boat can’t stay, or C and D of the Cantabs are lamentably over-trained. As for the “ring,” they quote the odds as formally as prices for the Chester Cup and Derby, and only lament that there is no such luck as a possibility of “squaring” it -- judging charitably University probity by their own.

"Barely was the shell placed in the water, when, with a muffled report, a sudden geyser shot upward, drenching the boys. A ragged hole was torn in the bottom of the boat."

This gambling is a serious evil; without raising the abstract question of morality, it puts University men on thorns, lest unscrupulous speculators, finding that they cannot buy or square the crews, should attempt to “nobble” them as a last resource. We more than suspect that this sort of game has been planned, though futilely, before now. We remember how in ‘67, when Oxford were hot favourites, ugly rumours came to our ears from private sources as to whereabouts in the course a boat was provided to run into Oxford, should they be leading. Forewarned, the presidents were forearmed, and though at the expected place a suspicious-looking craft shot erratically into the track, both boats were wide off shore, Cambridge the nearer of the two, and mischief, if intended, was averted. This year Cambridge are public favourites, and the ring are “fielding” at the odds. If any attack is planned, it will be against the light blue, but we sincerely trust that the guard of police at the boat-houses, and in police boats during the race, will suffice to overawe any such villainy.

Forty years later, “Cambrioleur” told an apocryphal tale in Vanity Fair (March 27, 1912) of an inside job in one of the Cambridge college May races:

Centuries ago there was a misguided youth at St. Abbs Hall, the son of an American commission agent, who determined to turn an honest penny out of the boat -racing. Under the guidance of friends, who, I fear, judged his leg to be suitable for elongation, he opened a book on the Mays. As soon as the college was aware of this the entire eight, with their cox, came to him secretly by night, one at a time, and asked him what odds he would give against them staying head of the river. He started with cox at evens, but before he had got to bow he was giving three to one. They all invested half-a-crown against their boat. The thing seemed a dead cert. for him after that. When the rest of the college rolled up to back their boat he cheerfully gave them five to one. He booked nearly a hundred bets in sovereigns on those terms. Of course, the boat stayed head -- in fact, it did the course in record time, and the precocious layer found that he had to balance nine half-crowns against five hundred sovereigns.

References edit

  1. ^ L.S.R. Byrne ed., The Eton Boating Book, p. 30.
  2. ^ R. Burnell, Henley Royal Regatta: A Celebration of 150 Years, p. 97.