The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Brock T

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Brock, Thomas[edit]

“The Queen's Memorial” (Spy), September 25, 1905[edit]

Brock T Vanity Fair 1905-09-25.jpg

Mr. Thomas Brock is a bluff, businesslike Englishman who learnt his art in the land that now honours him as a sculptor. He is a man who loves his home, practises the simple life, works hard, dresses like a mere inartistic individual, and has a conscientious objection to posturing before the public.


He was born near Worcester in the year 1847. His father had some skill in decoration. He was educated at the Government School of Design in that City, and showing unusual ability was forwarded to London. His success in the greater city was evidence by his winning the silver and gold medals at the Royal Academy schools. Thereafter he became an assistant in Mr. J.H. Foley’s studio, and when that sculptor died young Brock completed the works that he had in hand, including the O’Connell monument which patriotic Dublin desired to erect. He became an Associate in 1883 and an Academician in 1891. Portrait statues of Sir Rowland Hill, Sir Richard Temple, Sir Erasmus Wilson, Lord Derby, and Lord Bowen, and the Westminster Memorial to Longfellow have been among his most noticeable achievements.


To crown his reputation came his selection as the sculptor of the Queen’s Memorial which will stand in front of Buckingham Palace. He is now at work upon it, and will be thus engaged for several years to come. At present, therefore, Mr. Brock is displaying agility upon ladders and platforms, varying his performance by studying the effect of his labours through the larger end of an opera glass.


Buckingham Palace and Victoria Monument - September 2006.jpg

He has no love for Society and is a most indifferent courtier. He pulled a good oar in the Kensington Rowing Club, and when Captain in the Artists’ had some reputation as a shot. He is a man of method and order, adding thereto an inartistic faculty for finance. You can criticise his work without making him an enemy for life. He admires Rodin, but despises the imitators of the great Frenchman. For an opinionated man he is tactful.


Thomas Brock (1847-1922) did not row in the Boat Race or at Henley Regatta or get legally entangled with R.C. Belt, in each of those respects unlike fellow sculptor and rower of Vanity Fair C.B. Lawes.


The 1872 London v. Atalanta Boat Race[edit]

Vanity Fair (June 15, 1872) carried this anonymous account of the “Anglo-American Boat-Race,” in which London R.C. beat Atalanta B.C. of New York from Mortlake to Putney -- the Boat Race course in reverse. Both crews used sliding seats.


Atlanta launching from Biffen Boatbuilders 'Anchor' Boathouse (now Auriol Kensington R.C.)

That the interest taken in the International Boat-race was very great amongst a certain set of the population of London no one could doubt who chanced to be in the neighbourhood of the Thames last Monday. Along every road leading to the scene of the coming struggle poured a motley crowd, with the usual accompaniments of nigger-singers, knock-’em-down men, fortune-tellers, &c., without whom the British public never go to see a race, whether on land or water. Arrived at Putney and on board one’s steamer, there was ample time to contemplate the black living mass that thronged both banks of the river. Every window and every roof from which a view could be got was fully occupied, the very branches of the trees being made into temporary grand-stands by the more active of the eager multitude. Time enough, too, to admire the gorgeous splendor of the steamer chartered by the Atalanta Boat Club, with its draper of crimson cloth and many flags, Guards’ band, and gaily-dressed ladies.


As time wore on many anxious inquiries were made and many contending rumours afloat -- some fearing that as a slight breeze was blowing the Americans would claim the power reserved to them in the preliminary agreement of declining to row on the day fixed if the water should be rough. However, all doubts as to whether the race would come off were set at rest a little before six, when both crews appeared, and were seen to go on board the umpire’s steamer with their oars. Information soon spread that the Americans had asked that the race might be rowed with the wind, and not against it, as would be the case if the previously-arranged course -- Putney to Mortlake -- was adhered to. This having been conceded, “Go a-head!” was the order, and the four privileged steamers started on their way to Mortlake. As we steamed along the same sight met our eyes on both banks -- every available position being crammed with expectant thousands; Hammersmith Bridge one mass of eager faces gazing on the river -- all wondering what the change of programme was. As we approached Mortlake we found the sides of the river swarming with steamers and boats of all sizes and shapes all having as they fondly hoped secured good places to see the finish. Very aggrieved they doubtless thought themselves when they heard the course was reversed. As it turned out, however, they saw the only interesting part of the race, which was virtually over in the first mile. “Here are our fellows!” from a bystander drew my attention then to the London four paddling away from shore to the starting-boat -- wonderfully fit and workmanlike they looked, and all over like going. Just then the flash of something scarlet on the umpire’s boat caused all heads to be turned in that direction. Very strange, indeed, to English eyes did the Atalanta four’s dress appear -- the scarlet body and bare and, by comparison, white arms, and scarlet handkerchief bound round the temples, at first rather causing one to expect a voice at one’s elbow shouting, “Names and colours of the riders, gentlemen!” They were soon, however, in their gig and proceeding towards their racing-boat, on reaching which they performed the rather hazardous acrobatic performance of getting into her from the gig as both boats floated down steam. However, having accomplished this without accident they soon were also at the starting-post. Now the anxious and long-expected moment had arrived, and the differences of opinion were to be decided. Was the American or the English system of rowing right? For so entirely different were the two styles that everyone felt it was more a trial of speed between styles of rowing than between two crews. The report of a pistol, a suppressed shout “They’re off!” a dig in the back from an eager man behind me, the collision of my field-glass and the nape of the neck of someone in front -- such was my personal experience of the start. The number of strokes per minute, the length, the catch, &c., has it not all been written by many ere this? Well, I dare say they are right. Perhaps I, too, might have indulged you with some figures, but beyond the exact angle of the brim of a hat a little in advance of me I cannot give any information -- for that hat would get in my line of sight no matter what I did.


Cheerful shouts soon were heard as London steadily drew ahead, increasing their lead every stroke, and rowing well within themselves, and all soon felt that barring accident the English crew must win. Alas! however, the race was not destined to be rowed through without some contretemps. Like the proverbial Derby dog, the river generally produces some creature to try and do harm. So on Monday appeared a horrid man in a horrid boat, who cleverly managed to get in the way of the American crew, thereby losing them some distance. That it in any way affected the result of the race no one could for a moment imagine. Loud and long were the shouts of contempt and vehement the torrents of abuse that fell on his devoted head from the steamers as they passed this lumber in his boat, and very sincere were the expressions of regret on all sides that this mishap should have happened to the Atalanta crew. Some hearty cheers for Gulston and his crew as they paddled back to their boat-house, and another cheer for their opponents as they came in, for the plucky way in which they persevered right through when it was evident that all chance of their winning the race was gone; and so ended the Anglo-American Boat-race.

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