Grafton Rowing Club History: GRC History Page 2
The first public meeting of the Grafton Rowing Club was held in 1882 at the Freemason's Hotel. This hotel was owned by champion oarsman Michael Rush.
Michael Rush lived on the Clarence for a number of years and brought much public interest to the area because of his sculling, but also due to his enormous drive and energy and his great business skills.
Michael Rush was one of the three champion professional scullers (Michael Rush, Elias Laycock and Edward [Ned] Trickett) who showed their prowess in professional sculling during the 1870s, and proved to be as good as the world's best.
In 1868, Rush defeated Prosper Coulon for the championship of the Clarence. Coulon (described as a "Pocket Hercules"), came from Chatsworth, and was an experienced sculler who had raced successfully in Sydney. Rush and Coulon then formed a successful pair, beating all comers in a number of races. (Unfortunately, Coulon died of a fever in 1875).
Rush decided to try his skill in Sydney and in 1870 nominated to race against William Hickey for the New South Wales Championship, on the Parramatta course. Rush lost this race, but returned to race Hickey for the Australian Championship in 1873. Hickey had won the Championships in 1866 from Dick Green who was the first Australian Champion.
This time Rush was the victor, winning by six lengths and collecting a £200 a side stake (£400 total – a small fortune at the time).
In 1874, Rush challenged Ned Trickett for the New South Wales Championship. May 30 was the agreed date for the race. The sliding seat was a new innovation in sculling at the time, but Rush chose to use a fixed seat whilst Trickett used a sliding seat. This made the race totally one-sided and Trickett was, of course, the victor, before a crowd of 40,000.
In 1877 Rush again raced Ned Trickett on the Parramatta River in Sydney but this time for the World Championship which Trickett had won from Englishman Henry Sadler the previous year. Alan May reports in Sydney Rows (the history of Sydney Rowing Club) that it was "a race that was said to have excited more interest than any other event that has ever happened in the sporting world of Australia". Trickett won after training every day for a month. Commentators of the time said Rush had still not perfected the sliding seat technique.
These engravings indicate the newsworthiness and popularity of the sport of rowing at the time and also the celebrity of the top professional scullers.
Also of interest in these engravings are the images of steamers and rowing boats following the races.
Professional sculling races were extremely popular for spectators but also attracted gamblers who made large side bets on the outcome of major races.
Many people are also shown viewing the event from the bank and other vantage points in these engravings.
The following two wood engravings also
Rush practiced with the sliding seat and went into training. In 1881 he competed in a series of races against other leading scullers including Power, Laycock and Pearce, winning three out of four races as a lead up to further possible world championship races. He then, however, announced his retirement in the same year, at the age of thirty seven, although he was known to continue racing as a veteran as late as 1907.
Despite having never won a world title, Rush was still held in high esteem in the rowing and wider community as evidenced by his invitation to attend the Sydney Lord Mayor’s reception for leading professional scullers in 1903.
This type of event also indicates the recognition of professional sculling in the community.
Rush was a resident of the Maclean area from 1871 to 1881 (although he was listed in 1865 as a butcher at Ashby, across the river from Maclean, delivering meat up and down the river in a rowing boat [butcher boat]). He then lived in Grafton till 1893, where he was one of the driving forces behind the formation of Grafton Rowing Club. During this time, Rush held the lease on the Freemasons Hotel and purchased the Crown Stores in Prince Street from Mr Ireland. He is reported to have lived in great style with his wife and ten of their 14 children in a large home called “Clarence House” on the riverbank. He also ran racehorses and was a licenced auctioneer.
Rush moved to Sydney after leaving Grafton and owned, in succession, the York, Bellevue and Lyceum Hotels. He retired to Hurstville where he died at age 79 in 1927.