The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Crum WE

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Crum, Walter Erskine[edit | edit source]

“Crumbo” (Spy), March 19, 1896[edit | edit source]

Mr. Walter Eskine Crum, who is always called “Crumbo,” was born nearly two-and-twenty years ago: and he is now quite a fine specimen of young English manhood. Having learned to play cricket at Castlemount, Dover, he went to Mr. Durnford’s at Eton; where he took to the water so naturally that four years ago he was rowing for Eton at Henley. After this he was made Captain of the Boats; and, when he went up to New College in October, 1893, he got his Blue while yet a freshman. He has twice won the University Fours; and twice, with Pitman, has he beaten all other ‘Varsity Pairs. He has also helped to win the Grand and the Visitors’ at Henley; and next week he hopes, for the third time, to see eight Cambridge men toiling behind his boat from Hammersmith to Mortlake.

His chief peculiarities are a beautiful complexion, an almost girlish look, a very frequent blush (which is the outcome of much modesty), a temper that will bear much chaff, and a chin that in times of depression looks as though it would fall off and explode on the floor. Nevertheless, he is so generally liked that he gets their best work out of his men, and consequently he makes an excellent Dark Blue President. His rowing is so exceedingly graceful, easy, and effective, that he is probably one of the best No 7’s that ever sat in a boat; wherefore his uncle, Mr. J. C. Tinné -- that magnificent Dark Blue heavy-weight of the late sixties -- shows an amount of pride in the boy that is quite refreshing to witness. Beyond this he is a sportsman who can shoot high pheasants very well; while he has played football and taken a third class in Mathematical Moderations, and means to do something scientific in his Finals. He is a very well-built young fellow of much symmetry and proportion, except as to his arms; which are long. He is full of youth, and he delights in a bonfire. Nevertheless, he is a very good fellow, and a cheerful, staunch friend who displays much ignorance of our standard novelists.

He wears large boots.

Walter Eskine Crum (1874-1923) won four Boat Races (1894-97), as well as the Ladies’ (1893 for Eton), Visitors’ (1894 for New College), and Grand (1894 and 1897 for New College). To the Times “he ranked among the best No. 7’s Oxford has ever known; for grace and ease of style he was, indeed, the ideal oarsman.”[1] It is thus all the more amazing that he and C.M. Pitman, who together won the 1895 University Pairs, were unable to hold off Guy and Vivian Nickalls in that year’s Goblets, as Guy described:

In the afternoon, in the Pairs, “V.” and I met Crum and Pitman in the heat for the Goblets. Fifty yards above the top of the Island I steered into a pile, a fearful crack which split the boat. Luckily, we were rowing with swivels, and it didn’t take long to clear ourselves and get going again, but in the interlude, Pitman and Crum spurted and had taken several lengths off us. With a very leaky boat and a bent rowlock we started out to chase them. It looked hopeless, but by dint of great efforts and a high stroke, we caught them at the half-mile mark. We led at Fawley by half a length, getting slower and slower as the water rose over our heel traps. By superhuman efforts we had a length and a half at the mile, with the water over my insteps. The water continued to rise, and we were not clear of them when we passed over the line.[2]

Professionally, Crum spent his short life in India, where he became President of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Imperial Legislative Council, and was knighted in 1920. During the 1914-18 war he was a major in the Calcutta Light Horse. He died of heart failure in 1923 while in New York on business.

The 1896 Boat Race[edit | edit source]

W.B. Woodgate’s account for Vanity Fair (April 2, 1896):

A better race was never seen between two eights from Putney to Mortlake; also a better average of joint style and merit, in most adverse circumstances of weather, would be hard to find. The wind and water were enough to knock most crews out of form in half a mile; and yet, in these two crews, style was maintained to the end -- no going to pieces, no rowing short. In the last minute Cambridge were twice buried in spray from rollers which struck the after stroke side rowlocks, and which smothered the looms of the oars on that side to an extent to check recovery for the instant. Except for this, the losers, as well as winners, might have been paddling on parade from the start, so far as level action was concerned.

Rough water above Barnes bridge

The merits of strategy and generalship, which snatched the race out of the fire for Oxford, are self-apparent. The Metropolitan Course is, all round, a fair one -- on smooth water. That is, the trends and bends on one side are sooner or later practically counterpoised by similar concessions to the opposite station. Surrey side is voted modern times the best, generally speaking, under the “revised” rules of boat-racing which forbid taking of water save at peril. The reason for the choice is that the main advantage accrues in the first twelve to thirteen minutes of the race, and is enough, geometrically, to enable the crew on that side, if otherwise equal in pace with its rival, to obtain a clear length’s lead at Thorneycroft’s, and so cross clear, and enjoy the benefit of the bend to the right for the rest of the course: the rival, by hypothesis, being no better, and therefore unable to overtake and to claim evacuation of the stolen water. It was in 1870 that Oxford set fashion at defiance by choosing this side after winning the toss. It was only this that enabled them to make so good a fight as they did on that occasion. Since then the merits of the Surrey side have been more appreciated; and it has usually, though not always, been selected since that date. In a nor’-easter, off the Fulham shore, the old favourite side, Middlesex, remains the best. The Surrey station had extra advantage this year up to Chiswick, because of the beam wind which blew in Putney Reach, in which wind Oxford were to leeward. That Oxford should have been only their own length behind at Thorneycroft’s with all this handicap is evidence that up to that point they must have been virtually travelling the faster of the two. Accordingly, when at last the vantage of station became theirs, it was but a sequitur that they should begin to overhaul the leaders; and the only question was whether they had time to complete their task before the drop of the judge’s flag.

It is curious to note how the sporting Press plumped for Cambridge, and how they after the event attempted to make excuses for their miscalculation of relative merits. The critics pinned their faith on the short-distance spins of Cambridge against sundry scratch eights, in which great speed was shown. They overlooked the relative want of staying power shown by Cambridge when they last rowed a full course on the ebb. Also, by a sort of blind consent, Oxford’s stroke was voted and published as “short” compared to that of Cambridge. Yet, in the race, this so-called “shorter” stroke held its own from the outside station in the worst of the wind; doing some one and a-half (average of) strokes per minute fewer than the Cambridge men did during the first two-thirds of the course. This fact shows that eyesight was at fault when it measured the Oxford reach as the shorter of the two -- not that Cambridge were short: far from it. Why the Oxford stroke had more propelling power, stroke for stroke, than that of Cambridge seems to be this: Oxford had rather more grip of the “beginning”; Cambridge rather “felt” the water before they threw their full force on to the oar. On the other hand, Oxford had more of a “drive” at the instant of catching the water, and so got well hold of the boat before she began to slip away. If a light boat is not caught sharp at the beginning of the stroke, much of her resistance is distributed, thereby lessening the effect of the stroke. Slow burning powders are well enough for heavy missiles; for pellets a quick propulsion is needed.

Two more powerful crews have seldom, if ever, opposed each other. Differing from the sporting Press, I estimate these crews as being both of them faster than the average, and better over the course than last year’s winners. Some of the men were extra good; all were up to par, and worthy of being “Blues” -- and this cannot be said every year -- still less of the whole list of ordinary losing crews. Even winners often contain a man or two who only gets his seat because, though he is bad, other candidates are worse; and he is admittedly many degrees below the standard of his colleagues. Nothing of this sort can be said of any of the sixteen this season. It is hard lines that so good a stroke as Fernie, and so good a crew as that behind him, should be unable to score a win by reason of clashing with an extra good crew.

Jack Clasper, the builder, deserves commendation for his handiwork, both as to power of holding way after the stroke, and also for buoyancy in rough water. The manner in which both ships rode through the waters was admirable.

The accounts of the relative positions of the boats during the race, as shown on diagrams and in text, are conflicting, and in many cases, I think, erroneous. The greatest lead which Cambridge had was just when the boats straightened for Corney Reach, below Chiswick Eyot. There were 35 feet to 40 feet of daylight then. It is erroneous, not to say uncomplimentary to both strokes, to depict them, as some reports do, spurting suddenly in the middle of the course at from 30 a minute to 34 or more, and then dropping back again to slower stroke. That is not the way in which high-class strokes race. Nor were the two strokes guilty of such mistakes. Save at a pinch, to save a cross or to reach a winning-post a few lengths off, strokes do not suddenly quicken nor whimsically vary their rate. They try to settle down to the rate which does them and their men best justice, with regard to water, wind, and position in the course. If they quicken, they do so gradually, not to risk dislocation of swing. It reads graphically in a report to speak of violent “spurts” in the middle of a long course; but these spurts exist only in the imagination of the non-aquatic reporters.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ The Times, Oct. 12, 1923, p. 15f.
  2. ^ G. Nickalls, Life’s a Pudding, p. 118.