Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Riverine Diversion

One of the enduring public entertainments in Brisbane was the regatta which took place on the river that dominated the layout of the settlement as it does the city today.

Given the importance of river travel and transportation to the colony, there was no shortage of skilled competitors.

One such carnival was held in midsummer 1847 and was given a favourable report in the local press.


This Regatta took place on Saturday last, and turned out a very sporting affair. The aquatic amateurs and the inhabitants of Brisbane generally appeared to take great interest in the day's proceedings. The settlement never looked gayer, and the banks of the river were crowded with spectators.

Regatta on the Brisbane River with Steamer in the Background

The weather was exceedingly favourable for the boat races. The Experiment steamer moored in the middle of the stream, and gaily decorated with flags, served as the flag-ship on the occasion. On board this vessel a numerous party, including those who had the superintendence of the day's proceedings, assembled to witness the sports.

Music, too, was not wanting to animate the scene.[1]

The races were organised into various classes of human powered small craft, depending on the number of rowers. There was a whale-boat match featuring five man crews, and subsequent races featuring four and two man teams. The final event was the single rower skulls.

Each boat was given a jaunty name by the owners such as Dundee Lass, All Round My Hat, Lilly, Gulpin, Kipper, Rover, and Spring-heel'd Jack.

By all accounts it was a successful meet enjoyed by all, except for an officious constabulary. This resulted in the summons of a prominent businessman and publican Robert Dix, to appear before Bench to answer a charge of selling beer without a licence on regatta day.

ALLEGED BREACH OF THE LICENSING ACT, At the Police Office, on Thursday, Mr. Robert Dix, of the Sovereign Hotel, appeared before the Bench, to answer an information filed against him by the Chief Constable for selling ale, without having obtained the permission of the Magistrates, on board the Experiment steamer, on Saturday last, during the Regatta.[2]

The Sovereign Hotel, Elizabeth Street, Brisbane 1869

If the Chief Constable thought he had a watertight case, he was to be publicly ridiculed before a large gallery. He was given short shrift by the magistrate who intimated that he was a self interested killjoy, who dared to impugn the honour of a prominent resident of the town.

The office was very much crowded, and the greatest interest was taken in the proceedings. The Chief Constable having called his witnesses, and the evidence having been taken, the Bench decided that he had failed to prove his case, and dismissed it accordingly, to the infinite delight of all present, with the exception of the informer himself, who appeared quite chap-fallen[3] at the result of his impertinent and ill judged attempt to annoy a respectable man, with the view of putting money into his own pocket.[4]

Rowing Regatta on the Brisbane River

The Editor of The Moreton Bay Courier had the last word summing up the feelings of those who had a pleasant day at the regatta.

It is really too bad that people cannot be allowed to meet together for the purpose of harmless amusement, without their being afterwards sued for fines and penalties, at the instance of jacks[5] in office.

A more absurd charge of sly-grog selling, judging from the evidence produced in Court, we never before heard, and we hope that we shall not hear the like again.[6]

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 2 January 1847
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 2 January 1847
[3] Dejected, dispirited; crest-fallen. OED
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 2 January 1847
[5] Unknown or unspecified men. OED
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 2 January 1847

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