The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Waddington WH

Waddington, William HenryEdit

“France at the Congress” (T.), September 28, 1878Edit

Not very long ago an Englishman settled himself in France with a view to trade. M. Waddington is one of the descendants of this emigrant. He was educated in England, has English notions and an English aspect, but he entirely declines to be considered English, and glories in the name of Frenchman. Born two-and-fifty years ago, he has devoted a great part of his life and abilities to the study of old coins and of ancient history, for the sake of which he made a voyage into Greece and Asia Minor. He has also taken a considerable part in politics, and when a National Assembly was hastily called together in 1871 in order to raise the ransom and get rid of the Germans, he was elected for the Aisne. He adopted himself into the Right Centre, gained much confidence from many men, and at length, partly by merit and partly by accident, became the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the French Republic. He is an excellent man of business and a steady politician, and being somewhat tiresome and professorial in his utterances, he is held to be one of the few statesmen who are to be trusted. He represented France at the Congress of Berlin.

William Henry Waddington (1826-94) went to school at Dr. Arnold’s Rugby, and then to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he rowed for Second Trinity in the Grand, Ladies’, Stewards’, and Visitors’ in 1849. Waddington also rowed No. 6 in the first of the two 1849 Boat Races, the only year in which the race occurred twice, in a Cambridge crew consisting entirely of Trinity men.

After university Waddington returned to France to become a naturalized citizen like his father, spending the 1850s as an archaeologist specializing in Asia Minor. In the 1860s he turned to politics and, after two unsuccessful attempts for the chamber of deputies, was elected in 1871, then to the senate in 1876, and became Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1877. His performance from that last position, at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, was rewarded with the appearance in Vanity Fair.

In 1879, newly-elected President Jules Grévy chose Waddington to become Premier, not for his success at Berlin but because the alternative, Léon Gambetta, posed too much a political threat. Waddington took the job but retained his Foreign Affairs post, focusing his efforts on Egypt and the Balkans. He was forced to resign in December 1879 when Jules Ferry, a member of his cabinet, created sufficient controversy by introducing measures drastically to reduce the influence of the Catholic church on education. Waddington was ambassador to Great Britain from 1883 to 1893, and died in Paris on January 13, 1894, a week after losing his Senate seat in the election.

As a Rugby alumnus, Cambridge rowing blue, and senior French official, Waddington played a significant albeit indirect role in launching the modern Olympic games, first held in Athens in 1896. He knew Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who became the first President of the modern Olympics and is generally viewed as the father of the movement. Through him, Waddington encouraged French crews to enter the 1891 Henley Regatta.[1] Waddington may also have caused de Coubertin’s visit to Rugby, feeding the notion of international exchange through sport. Thus one senses Waddington’s handiwork in the Baron’s maiden speech on point, at the November 25, 1892 meeting of the Athletic Sports Union at the Sorbonne: “Let us export oarsmen, runners, fencers; there is the free trade of the future -- and on the day when it shall take its place among the customs of Europe, the cause of peace will have received a new and powerful support.”[2]

The Thames ConservancyEdit

In the early days of the Boat Race, umpires did their duty from boats powered by watermen. With the advent of steamers, watermen were retired from service but river traffic multiplied, causing occasional interference. The Thames Conservancy, formed that year to address such problems as pollution, which by 1857 had made the metropolitan river “the largest navigable sewer in the world,” was given the further power in 1868 to clear the course for racing.[3] As with most regulation, this made the situation both better and worse: better, because the Conservancy prevented steamers from washing the crews as happened to A.L. Smith in 1859; worse, because it did not always act in complete harmony with the wishes of the university boat clubs. W.B. Woodgate laid out his views in Vanity Fair (April 2, 1870):

The Boat Race, 1870

Whatever may have been in previous years the good offices of the Thames Conservancy in securing a free course for University boat-races, their good deeds are now more than nullified by the officious dictation of which they have this year been guilty toward the Presidents of the two U.B.C.’s. Taking advantage of their autocracy upon the Thames, they have not only put a restriction upon the steamers that limits them to a lower number than has ever been known and sanctioned at any previous Oxford and Cambridge race, but they have gone the length of ordering steamers at the expense of the Universities, at the very time that they dictate who shall and who shall not be allowed on board the same.

Steamers can never be said to benefit the rowing of a University boat per se. An umpire could be carried in a twelve-oar, or in a small steam-launch, such as the Ariel, thus avoiding all possibility of draw and “suck” from the paddles of accompanying passenger steamers. But the Universities have never grudged to their own members, who have an interest in, and who supply the funds for, the race, the privilege of accompanying the crews at a respectful distance; nor have they debarred the public from a similar enjoyment within due limits. It is for them to say how many steamers they wish to follow the race; and, so long as these steamers are compatible with safety, the Conservancy have no moral right to deny them. In the Harvard race there were only two steamers, because Harvardians in England were few, and it might have been said that a preponderance of Oxonians in extra steamers was unfair, and inflicting a “suck” upon both boats, for the accommodation of the friends of one side only.

But, that race being past and gone, there is no reason why the limit of steamers should not be, as in former years, subject to the approval of the Universities. If they do not object, it can matter little to the Conservancy, unless the latter plead that steamboats are reckless, and may collide and cause a catastrophe. There is some slight ground for this argument, for, though last year all steamers but one behaved themselves, there was one evildoer, and that one the steamer which conveyed the magnates themselves of the Conservancy, and who, not content with jostling the umpire against Barnes Bridge, to the alarm of the umpire’s cargo, steamed ahead of him, and shut him out of all view of the finale of the race.

However, allowing that the Conservancy are autocratic to decide in the question of safety, and to assume that other steamers will very probably behave as badly as they themselves did last year, at least it would seem fair that if steamers are to incommode the race, they should do so for the benefit only of those concerned in the match, and not for mere outsiders, who have no part nor interest in it or its result. But though there are some forty captains of college boat-clubs, and some two dozen resident oarsmen who have been tried for the very race in question, and who may be said more than any others to represent the interests of the rest of the Universities, they are one and all summarily ejected from the steamers by the Conservancy, and their places assigned to the public -- i.e., to their representatives, the Press.

The race is strictly a private one; it is only the public who choose to make it one of public interest, and often to create a nuisance by the extent of their unsolicited zeal. But though none would be more willing than the Presidents to offer, as a piece of courtesy, a certain proportionate share of the accommodation at their disposal to the press, that is no reason why they should be compelled, without choice in the matter, to receive any audience which the Conservancy choose to thrust upon them, to the exclusion of their own friends and allies, who help to pay the piper, but are not suffered to call the tune.

Woodgate returned to the subject a week later (April 9, 1870), hoping to leverage widespread following of the Boat Race, with which he was never too comfortable, into a populist revolt against the Thames Conservancy:

The Universities are chartered and reputed “seats of learning,” yet during the current term their main association, in the eyes of the British public, has been simply that of muscular Christianity. The University intelligence which has found most favour in the eyes of the country cousins, parents, and guardians, has been not the councils of the “Hebdomadal,” or resolutions of Convocation, but training reports from the banks of the Cam or Isis; and for one enthusiastic and right-minded reader who can tell the names of the Senior Wrangler or Ireland Scholar of the term, there are hundreds with whom the names Goldie and Darbishire have been household words.

Like sheep to a gap, the British populace pours, in greater numbers year after year, to swelter on Hammersmith Bridge; to herd in masses on the tow path, regardless of the rising tide which threatens to infringe the rights of the Great Unwashed; or to pay ten shillings a-head for nose room and three minutes’ glimpse from a garret window at Chiswick or Barnes.

And what they go out into the desert for to see, the wisest of them can hardly tell. Personal interest they have none, unless they have bets upon the race; personal comfort, under the circumstances just described, the most sanguine would hardly hope to find; even the picnic, which is the redeeming point of a Derby-day saturnalia, cannot well exist between Putney and Mortlake, from sheer want of elbow-room. However, they come, and they go, and they seem to enjoy themselves; and trade of all sorts, of rail, of road, of haberdashers, carpenters, et hoc genus omne, undoubtedly reaps the benefit of a private sport that national eccentricity has usurped almost as a public property; and the lesson to be read, therefore, is that if the public wish to continue to reap this benefit, and enjoy this festival as heretofore, they must raise their vox populii to support the Universities in enjoying in their turns their due rights, and in resisting the dictatorial and impertinent encroachments of the Thames Conservancy.

Their conduct was fully dilated upon last week in our FAIR, and since it still remains in statu quo, or rather has now added the deed to previously announced will, there is no need to say more of them than that if they in their hypocrisy still profess goodwill towards University boat-racing, the University Boat Clubs may rightly pray to be saved from their friends.


  1. ^ H. Cleaver, A History of Rowing, p. 160.
  2. ^ Baron P. de Coubertin, Une Campagne de Vingt-et-Un-Ans, p. 90, quoted in B. Henry, An Approved History of the Olympic Games, p. 30.
  3. ^ H. Cleaver, p. 22; T. Cook, Rowing at Henley, p. 94; R. Burnell & G. Page, The Brilliants: A History of the Leander Club, p. 35. Credit for the sewer comparison goes to a Leander member, writing at a time when the club was still headquarted in London and had not established its base at Henley. Anon., The Oarsman’s Guide to the Thames and Other Rivers, p. 101.