The Rowers of Vanity Fair/deHavilland RS

de Havilland, Reginald SaumarezEdit

“Havvy” (Spy), July 4, 1901Edit

When a boy at Eton he so successfully concealed his skill as an oar behind many eccentricities of style that he found no place in the Eton Eight; but at Oxford he suddenly developed, or else his hidden merits were quickly discovered by a perspicacious coach: for he twice rowed in the Dark Blue Eight before he was chosen President of the O.U.B.C. Then he went to Wellington for a schoolmaster: whence he migrated to Eton eleven years ago. At Eton he turns out good oars and employs his leisure moments in teaching the young idea to shoot. Since he began to coach the Eton Eight they have carried off the Ladies’ Plate at Henley for seven successive years; and although they were disgracefully beaten last year, he hopes this week to begin a new series of Etonian victories. He is a young man in the forties, who although he has been a pedagogue for fifteen years, is neither narrow-minded nor pedantic; but being one of the cheeriest and most unconventional of “beaks” he is quite popular with all good fellows, including both his contemporaries and the more difficult tribe of boys. He is a good all-round sportsman who can shoot and ride, while his military aspect is the envy of the other Officers of the Eton Volunteers. He is an admirable coach who has turned out many brilliant oars; there is no more welcomed or more nervous man at Henley; he is a bold and almost reckless tow-path horseman; and he is known to all Etonians, past and present, as “Havvy.”

Reginald Saumarez de Havilland (1861-1921) rowed with D.H. McLean at Eton, winning the Trial and Upper Eights in 1880. At Oxford he won the University Pairs for Corpus Christi and was in the Boat Race crews of 1882 and 1883, despite a lifelong affliction with asthma. “He was said to have had the roundest back and the strongest blade of all men of his day; his muscles were like iron, and were laid on his shoulders and back in great slabs, which caused the apparent roundness.”[1] He was president of the O.U.B.C. in 1884, succeeded by D.H. McLean.

After a stint at Wellington, de Havilland returned to Eton in 1889 as a House Master and, according to the Eton Boating Book, “was almost at once invited to coach the Trial Eights.”[2] He took over the Eight in 1893 from S.A. Donaldson, who found “[h]is method of dealing with the boys differ[ent] from the Warre tradition in the fact that he trains them as if they were men, and is not content with a marked beginning and a lively recovery, and the ‘swing, swing together’ of the Eton Boating Song.”[3] “Havvy” preserved Warre’s fixed-seat orthodoxy while increasing the slides to fifteen inches and layering on Muttlebury’s style for rowing on them.[4] “The principles of both [fixed and sliding seats] are the same,” he wrote in a 1913 pamphlet for Eton junior coaches. “The slide is merely an artifice for lengthening the stroke.”[5] Although de Havilland never himself competed at Henley, he coached Eton to eleven victories in the Ladies’ Plate over a twenty-six year career, including a seven-year run starting in 1893 with H.G. Gold at stroke. “Apart from his technical skill in shaping an oarsman and welding together the crew,” recalled The Times, “in which he carried on the torch of Edmond Warre, he had an unrivalled power of keeping them cheerful and dispelling the young oarsmen’s nervousness by his fatherly care of them during the trying ordeal of Henley Week. This must have won many races, besides laying the foundation of lifelong friendships.”[6] He retired in 1920 and died the following year of heart failure.

The 1884 TorpidsEdit

Nearly all Vanity Fair rowing coverage concerned the Boat Race or, in lesser proportion, Henley Regatta. Yet occasionally the odd article about the Oxford or Cambridge college races would slip in, such as this one (March 1, 1884) on the Torpids featuring a Corpus crew coached by de Havilland:

Oxford Eights week, c. 1900

The Torpids came to an end at Oxford on Wednesday, after the usual six days’ racing. The Corpus boat kept the headship with unexpected ease. They are a strong, rough lot of hard workers, and, “form” being more necessary in the Torpids -- rowed as they are in clinker boats against a rapid stream -- than in any other races, their strength told. University fell every night, and finished in the disgraceful position of nineteenth boat. Wadham won five places, making two bumps on the last day. But the event of the races was the success of the despised Jesus men. Ever since the memorable year when the Jesus coach was heard to scream in despair from the tow-path to his College eight, “You’re all rowing very bad but five: and five is rowing d____d bad,” the Welshmen have consistently remained at the “bottom of the river;” but at last their pluck is rewarded. They have risen three places, and amongst their victims is St. John’s; and they would have bumped University had the races lasted two days longer.


  1. ^ The Times, Dec. 5, 1921, p. 12e.
  2. ^ Eton Boating Book, p. ix; G.C. Drinkwater, “Rowing,” in Fifty Years of Sport: Oxford and Cambridge, p. 229.
  3. ^ S. Donaldson, quoted in Fifty Years of Sport: Eton, Harrow and Winchester, p. 21.
  4. ^ G.C. Drinkwater & T.R.B. Sanders, The University Boat Race: Official Centenary History, p. 167.
  5. ^ R.S. de Havilland, Elements of Rowing, p. 11.
  6. ^ The Times, Dec. 5, 1921, p. 12e.