The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Chapman WH

Chapman, Wilfrid HubertEdit

“C.U.B.C.” (Spy), April 2, 1903Edit


Born on the 13th of December, 1879, he is known amongst his friends as “Teddy” for the sufficient reason that his brother’s name is Edward. At fourteen he went to Eton, and there learned to row so well that he won the Ladies’ Plate in ‘97 and ‘98 as bow of the Eton crew. He also ran so well that he won the School Mile, Steeplechase, and Half-Mile. Of course he was in “Pop,” and was popular at Eton, though on one occasion his tutor is said to have dissented from the general opinion when a misadventure, while testing a rope fire-escape one Sunday afternoon in May, landed him among the Fourth of June geraniums above his tutor’s porch. Trinity College, Cambridge, having been chosen to put the final polish on him, he determined that Oxford should not win a tenth successive Boat Race; so he was placed bow in the famous Cambridge crew of ‘99, and “Tabslogging” went out of fashion. Owing to the unfortunate arrangement which still fixes the Boat Race and the Sports within a few days of each other, he decided to confine his energies to the muddy Cam, preferring the tideway to Queen’s Club. Comparatively light and slightly built, he is an extraordinarily hard worker who never shirks his duties. He is quaint and original, not particular about dress, and a good friend, who is much liked by all who know him and by many who do not.

In February, 1900, Second Lieutenant W.H. Chapman, of the Yorks Militia, might have been seen at Southampton struggling to get his men on board a transport for South Africa. Still, he was not slow in gaining knowledge of the drill-book on active service; and the Boers showed their instinctive wiliness by keeping out of his reach. Nevertheless, Captain Chapman was invalided home with fever in March of 1901; so he coached the Third Trinity May Boat to the Head of the River, and again showed his powers when Third Trinity won the University Fours. Last year saw him on his old thwart in the winning Cambridge crew, and he made up at Henley for the previous year’s enforced idleness by helping to win the Grand Challenge and the Stewards’ Fours for Third Trinity.

He has a vivid imagination, but he is probably the best bow on the Thames.

Wilfrid Hubert Chapman (1879-1915), “though light, was probably the most dashing bow who ever rowed in that place,” according to the Boat Race Official Centenary History, “and it was always difficult to find a two who could hold him.”[1] Vanity Fair featured him on the eve of his third and final Boat Race, which went off as follows:

At the start Mr. F.I. Pitman, who was officiating as umpire for the first time, had some difficulty with the pistol, an antiquated affair which from time immemorial had been handed to the starter by old Tom Tims. The pistol stuck at half-cock, and refused to go off for several seconds. At the words “Are you ready?” Cambridge had squared their blades and the man in the stakeboat was unable to hold them against the drag of the tide. Oxford were held more firmly, and so it was that Cambridge got a flying start of about a third of a length which the umpire, who was too taken up with the pistol in his hands, failed to notice. This was most unfortunate, for the Oxford crew were dismayed at having been slipped, so easily it seemed, and rowed like a beaten crew from the first stroke. The Cambridge crew also were upset by the incident and never really got together until quite near the finish of the race. However, it made no difference to the result, for Oxford were quite outclassed. Cambridge gained steadily and were two and three-quarters lengths ahead at Hammersmith (7 min. 15 sec.), four and a half lengths ahead at Barnes (16 min. 16 sec.), and won without exerting themselves by six lengths in 19 min. 33 sec.[2]

Chapman went on to win the Stewards’ that year and the next with Third Trinity, and the 1904 Grand with Leander in his only race for that club.

When the 1914-18 war broke out, Chapman was working for the Bombay Company in Karachi. He asked for leave to enlist but was refused, so quit to rejoin the Sixth Yorkshire Regiment, commanded by his cousin. Both of them were among the first killed in the August 7, 1915 landing at Suvla Bay in the Dardanelles, an operation that eventually took 40,000 British and Anzac lives.[3] Captain Chapman was the only rower of Vanity Fair to fall in action during the 1914-18 war. W.F.D. Smith and R.C. Bourne also served at Suvla Bay but survived.

Henley 1901: Leander v. University of PennsylvaniaEdit

Cornell entered the Grand Challege Cup in 1895 and Yale in 1896, neither advancing to the finals. The University of Pennsylvania entry of 1901 held the most promise (or threat, depending on perspective) of the first foreign victory in the event. However, while Lieutenant Chapman was fighting Boers, Leander with Dudley-Ward and Etherington-Smith held off the Quakers, as Woodgate reported in Vanity Fair (July 11, 1901):

Leander Club v. University of Pennsylvania, final of the Grand, 1901

The Grand Challenge Cup, with its destination, is naturally the leading feature of Henley at any time, and never more so than this year, when the best American eight that has up to now invaded us were threatening an expatriation of the Cup. If they had succeeded it might have been said that our rowing coaches of the old country would have to go to school again, and to learn American doctrines. And yet, even if such a disaster had overtaken us, the deduction would still have been unsound in certain respects. There are four main desiderata for good quality in a crew: 1, strength; 2, style (of applying that strength); 3, unison; 4, condition. The last-named comes practically first in any race of more than three or four minutes’ duration. Also unison (No. 3) is of special importance; in light boats a crew not in unison tend to roll, and this, by lacing the spine of the oarsman out of the vertical, cripples the use of his trunk, and tells most against the capabilities of a crew that when steady on the keel use their bodies correctly. Again, on sliding seats, unison of drive of the legs is very important. So much so that, for illustration, if crew A have four men who slide quite correctly and four more who slide faultily, and crew B have eight men all sliding faultily, but with uniformity of fault, then the last-named (ceteris paribus as to strength and condition) may be expected go the faster. Still, this admission should not justify a coach of an irregularly sliding crew A in teaching his one or two best sliders to come down to the level of the inferior. He should rather strive, to the last hour, to raise all to the higher standard. To return to the comparison between Leander and Pennsylvania. Leander had the strength and the better general style. They used their bodies with orthodox swing, and fully employed the “gluteus maximus,” the strongest muscle in the human frame. They were short of practice, and by no means wound up in condition as compared to what is usually seen in Oxford and Cambridge crews at Putney. The Americans, while trusting mainly to slide, with a minimum of swing, and while finishing the stroke mainly with biceps and neglecting shoulder action to bring the oar home, worked in a perfect unison, far ahead in this respect of most British crews, while as to condition they were thoroughly fit, and had been in work for months. Leander were not manned until the Monday fortnight before the Regatta. They had only fourteen days actual rowing in the eight before the Regatta began: and even those fourteen days were intermittent, with a four and a pair dividing attention; while the Americans had no practice outside their eight to divert or to fatigue them. Leander raced themselves towards condition. Had they met Pennsylvania on the Wednesday before they had the benefit of trial-heat gallops against New College and Belgium they might have just failed -- for “wind” -- to get home! The draw was lucky for them in this respect. In the race on Friday the actual start was in favour of Leander, who got in their second and third strokes ahead of those of their opponents. Then both settled down; Leander at a more leisurely stroke than when they raced the Belgians on Thursday: Americans were, to the eye, rowing some four or five strokes more in the minute, and they stole gradually ahead until they had a lead of 10 ft, more or less, at the end of a minute and a-half. Du Vallon’s oar (Leander 2) was dipping opposite to the space between 3 and 5 of America. Then that status remained for another minute. Then came a Leander rush below Fawley Court which took Leander in front about as much as they had been behind. After that Leander steadied at a slower stroke, and held their lead, and added a foot or two by the bridge gate. Then Pennsylvania made their last effort, and for a quarter of a minute drew up a trifle. Just below the Leander Inclosure Leander forced the pace again, and went faster than ever. They were nearly clear at the Isthmian, had twenty feet daylight at the Grand Stand, and eased just before the flag fell, winning by an official length. It was “bellows to mend” with sundry of the least trained of Leander when the race was over. The Americans seemed less blown, and naturally so: they simply had been unable to go the pace of the last half of the race; but they must have the credit of giving the hottest race for the Cup of all American visitors. The Leander were a good average for Grand Challenge winners -- e.g., not equal to Leander of ‘93, and better than Leander of ‘98. Another week of training would have made much difference in them.

There is a strong feeling among Henley oarsmen that, the Grand having been rescued this year, the Regatta should now be closed against foreign entries; because (1), when such visitors come, they specially prepare for weeks, months, and even years, for their coup, selecting their one occasion; (2) they enter for their one race only, which gives of itself special advantage, where the British Clubs are entering and practising simultaneously for a plurality of cups; (3) if British crews, in order to meet these specialised visitors on more equal terms, were to confine themselves to one cup only, the sport would suffer by reduction of entries for other events; (4) a bogus glamour of so-called “International” competition is thrown upon the racing under the present circumstances; whereas, as seen above, British crews cannot put forth their best and undivided strength for any one cup without thereby spoiling the Regatta sport. If the “closing” should take place in future, then to show that it is not fear of visitors, in the abstract, which prompts the policy, I should be glad to see some International prizes founded for eights and fours to be rowed (say, about the 20th to the 30th of July) at Henley or Putney. Such prizes would, perhaps, not bring out English crews to renew Henley battles if there were no “visitors.” Accordingly, it might be understood that in the absence of any foreign challenges booked before a given time (say, the 1st of May) there would be no International Regatta for the year. It would be a nuisance, undoubtedly, for British crews to have to keep on training in event of challenges; but the nuisance would, all round, be less than the risk of letting the “Grand” be lost by some half scratch and overworked British crew, or the alternative of seeing all other Henley entries crippled in competition for the sake of meeting our visitors on more equal terms: e.g., Leander pair scratched on Thursday solely to keep Burnell and Payne from rowing a third race in one day, on the eve of a so-called International battle for the Grand, while the Americans were resting from their labours.

After months of controversy, including a proposal from W.H. Grenfell that the Henley Regatta exclude “foreigners and colonials,” the stewards decided at a special meeting in November 1901 that “it is inexpedient that any alteration in the Rules of the Regatta be at present made.”[4]


  1. ^ G.C. Drinkwater & T.R.B. Sanders, The University Boat Race: Official Centenary History, p. 106.
  2. ^ G.C. Drinkwater & T.R.B. Sanders, p. 113.
  3. ^ C.F. Aspinall-Oglander, Military Operations: Gallipoli, Vol. II, pp. 235-38; The Times, Aug. 14, 1915, p. 5f.
  4. ^ R. Burnell & G. Page, The Brilliants: A History of the Leander Club, p. 83.