The Racing-boat on the Thames. 1859. From The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall, p. 186.

The most singular and the most peculiar of all the Thames boats, not excepting even the "punt," is the racing-boat. This boat is of various sizes, adapted either to a single rower, or to crews consisting of two, four, sometimes six, and frequently eight persons: the eight-oared boats being those which are employed in the more important races. The boats themselves vary in form, being sometimes sharp at both stem and stern, in which case they are denominated "wherries;" when they are built flat at the stern, they are termed "cutters." Wherries are now rarely built for more than two rowers: when there are more than two rowers, the boats are provided with accommodation for a steerer. In length these boats range from about twelve to nearly seventy feet, and they are always very narrow, being so constructed that they simply provide sitting room for their crews: the oars are sustained by "rullochs," or "row-locks," which project considerably from either side, and thus afford leverage for the rowers. As would be expected, these fairy -like boats are built with the utmost care, the materials being usually the finest pine-wood, with fittings of mahogany. They are so exceedingly light that a man may carry one of the smaller ones on his shoulder with ease: their weight is sometimes no more than thirty-five pounds: and their draught is very small, yet, when in progress, the boat is, fore and aft, on a level with the water where the rowers sit the gunwales have a slight elevation to prevent the flow of water, which sometimes passes over the other parts of the boat, that are accordingly protected by a covering of light oilskin. The rowers' seats and the "stretchers," or boards for their feet to rest against, alone occupy the open space allotted to them, which is, in fact, simply a kind of trough. The rate at which an eight-oar boat progresses, if well pulled, is not less than twelve miles an hour. It is evidently a delicate operation to embark in one of these gossamer vessels, and to occupy it is always attended with some degree of danger, in consequence of the equilibrium of the boat being maintained entirely by the even balance of the oars. And yet accidents are of rare occurrence, while the light craft are taught to yield to the most energetic exertions of their manly crews, who exemplify, in high perfection, the practical application of the truly English adage, of "A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together." It is a nervous thing even to look upon the voyager in one of these boats; for our own parts, we would as readily trust ourselves on the back of a wild horse on an Indian prairie: and we marvel much that the cool self-possession of the "boating-men" themselves should so generally preserve them from casualties. But at Oxford, and on other parts of the river, all the men and boys, and many of the women, learn to swim: there is always a charm in peril — danger is ever a pleasant excitement: and so it happens that these boats are in far more frequent request than such as cannot upset. [186-87]

Other rowing and racing boats on the Thames

Text and formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the University of Pittsburgh and the Internet Archive and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Hall, Samuel Carter, and A. M. Hall. The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue, and Co., 1859. Internet Archive version of a copy in the William and Mary Darlington Memorial Libray, the University of Pittsburgh. Web. 10 March 2012.

Last modified 11 April 2012