Another rowing great at the College was George 'I climbed Everest 'cos it was there' Mallory, who rowed in the 1st Boat in all three of his years at Cambridge and was also Captain.
The picture below shows the May Boat of 1908 which was 'universally recognised as the fastest boat on the river' at the time.
However, it must also be stated that in former years, the rowing standard has also been inconsistent, with varying degrees of 'shabbiness' being well documented by past Boat Club Secretaries.
One of the earliest recorded instances of 'shabbiness' occurred during a race in 1842, when the MBC boat 'foolishly had their floor boards out', and so spoiled the run of the boat that they never took off Jesus but succumbed to a bump between the Stile and the Willows'. Exactly a decade later another bazaar incident occurred in November of 1852, for it is recorded that 'the Magdalene Boat, while proceeding down river, the rudder broke and the boat swerving, the bow went between the fore and hind legs of a horse which was standing in the river offloading goods from a barge'. Apparently, 'most fortunately little damage was done (to the boat that is!); however, 'bow and two were sent flying into 3 feet of water and the skin was taken off the horses belly! - Even the Graduate Novice have not collided with the equine species on the river: other boats, moving and stationary, yes, ducks and other various waterfowl, yes, but horses, never. (But there is always a chance?!)
We endeavour to move on half a century to a period when the Magdalene crew were most definitely 'not too shabby' and were variously described as 'undoubtedly the best on the river'. This was achieved under the supreme leadership of George Mallory who placed great stock in the coach acquired from Jesus College. His account of the activities during the Lent Term of 1907 is some of the most eloquent prose ever written:
'What great things are now expected of this Jesus method of rowing! The style of the captain, the style of the secretary, the style of stroke, all imaginable styles except that peculiar to Mr Rogers, all are to be blended in an homogeneous, ergocosmic device, the ingenious and possibly ingenuous Quintessence of a Facile, Indefatigable Compendulum. We are to have a Jesus coach. Goldsmith has said: 'God will provide. But alas, how fickle, how selfish the Theocracy'. A fortnight has passed, and still no god to coach us. And so perforce we must go to the Hall, and get some sturdy unintelligent to 'bid him forward, breast and back as either should be', and teach us to shove it along by sweat and swearings, with all the horror of the ancient Swinck Misspent. And yet when he is secured he makes us row not a whit differently from the elegant, divine way, the way we rowed at Henley. He is none of your cursing, blustering, hell-for -leather, body-swing-overdone-at-all-costs, stupendous-recovery fellows at all. He is shy and rosy-checked, modest as any maiden, and makes a considerable effort to be sensible when sober and obscene when drunk'.
He certainly did the trick because 'We become a very decent crew and go up three places'.
Mallory, ever the gentleman, further informs us, 'Selwyn who were behind us were such a boat that it would be unkind to tell the truth about them. ... on the second day we bumped Kings in 45 strokes"
Even though they was a minor panic just prior to the May bumps for 'On the evening before the races AP Edgecumbe entered a room in which several gentlemen were making money and somehow cut his head severely on a broken champagne glass. DH Thompson took his place'
It was also traditional at this time, to light a bonfire in the College grounds immediately after the Boat Club Supper. However, during the period 1906-8 they got somewhat out of hand. At the 1908 fire for instance, wooden panelling set aside specifically to repair the College Chapel was 'borrowed' for the Boat bonfire!
However, after the charismatic Mallory graduated, events seem to have taken a distinct downturn, as penned by G.L. Winterbotham, the Boat Club Secretary during Lent Term 1910. 'The members of the 1st Boat came up early 'on promise of good behaviour' (reprobates or what!) He then continues, 'the 1st Boat were a rum lot until just before the Races: what there was in the boat was plenty of leg-work and shove- what there was not was rhythm, time or style'! On the first night several members of the crew got tired and forgot that it was necessary to keep time'. Our only success seems to have been at the expense of others misfortunes, for on the second night 'Christ's ran into the bank at the start & our second boat having paddled past were able to claim a comfortable and not over-tiring bump'. The 1st Boat again started well & 'bumped Emmanuel in the Gut' - the Secretary obviously had a sense of humour too for he adds a footnote 'the Gut is often the downfall of the gutless!' On the 3rd day though, Christ's re-bumped Magdalene at Ditton, and Mr Winterbotham again adds his usual rhetorical comment thus, 'the less said about this the better'.
On the 4th day MBC fared no better, being bumped by LMBC. The crew were obviously anxious too, for 'the language of the Hall cox and I, in the Magdalene Boat must have given the spectators plenty to think about'. This state of affairs naturally gave cause for concern as 'the second boat is now bottom of the river, and only a miracle (or energetic freshmen) will save it from going off the river next year'.
Sadly in the Mays, the same year, there was little sign of improvement as 'the crew never really succeeded in mastery or getting control ... owing to a universal lack of watermanship'. Even the following year at the Lents of 1911, the standard was still well below par, as Secretary FA Doria Pamphili so eloquently illustrated: 'GL Winterbotham coached the 1st Boat with assiduous care and unfailing patience, trying to instil in the various members of the crew, some of the principles of the noble art of rowing which he possessed in non small degree, but the crew did not respond with adequate keenness to the mentor's exhortations and made very little progress. Fortunately abundance of beef made up for the lack of science and the boat certainly travelled fairly well'. This hypothesis was proven correct on the 2nd day for 'In the Reach they (Caius) spurted, but our men rose to the occasion and answered spurt for spurt and just managed to get home by less than a second'.
Even when the eloquent Mr FA D-P was elected Captain and coach in 1911, little improvement was apparent for at the Mays 1911 - 'Although more stylish than most Magdalene crews we displayed a most remarkable lack of watermanship, were inclined to bucket, miss the beginning, wash out & make little use of our legs. Any idea of rhythm, though frequently mentioned on the tow-path, was altogether banished from the boat. From the above evaluation of our short comings it will be easily deduced that a fast stroke was absolutely out of the question.'
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