- Created by: Maclean’s Magazine, byline: Fergus Cronin
- Date: 1953-06-01
- Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
- Notes: 1880’s – “The Boy in Blue”
THE FORGOTTEN IDOL OF THE EIGHTIES
By FERGUS CRONIN
MACLEANS MAGAZINE, JUNE 1, 1953
Ned Hanlan, a chunky Toronto Islander, rose above shady promoters and fixers to bring Canada its first world Title in the days when baseball was a pup CANADIAN in Paris in 1917 was to a friendly Frenchman. “I was in Canada his way to his first big victory; in several of his suspected; and even shortly before his death in 1908 a local storm blew up about whether he should be appointed Toronto’s harbor master. hockey and baseball are today. And for betting, it can only be compared to horse racing. Ten and twenty thousand people would turn out to Lake St. Louis, the Welland Canal, Kempenfeldt Bay or the St. John River to watch the giants of those days fight it out with sculls. And Ha f those giants, measured only five feet, eight and three quarter inches and weighed about one hundred and fifty pounds. Known throughout the world as Ned, he became champion sculler of Canada at twenty-two, at twenty-four and at twenty-five, champion of the world. We over him, scarves bearing his picture were the rage, snuffboxes, ties, shirts and belts were sold with Ned’s name or picture on them. The second son of John Hanlan, a Kingston boatbuilder who became the first leaseholder on Toronto Island, Ned was born on July 12, 1855. His first attempt with outriggers was made in a novel craft he designed and built himself: a two sharpened at both ends and equipped Amateur championship of Toronto Bay and won. for the next eleven years, until he hit the downgrade at twenty-nine, he took part in about three The sliding seat had made its appearance in racing shells in 1871, allowing the oarsmen to get a longer sweep-in effect, lengthening the arms and the stroke. Hanlan became known as “the father – it in a single-seat shell and mastered its use. – In 1874 Hanlan met and beat Thomas Loudon in a race for the championship of Burlington Bay, as Hamilton Bay was them called. (Loudon was the great-uncle of Thomas R. Loudon. professor at the University of Toronto, who was the Canadian in Paris in 1917, mentioned above.) was launched when two lengths. The same season he won the governor general’s medal for a two-mile race at Toronto, and championship of Ontario, his oniy opponent being William McKen. The big regatta on the horizon at that time was to be held in Philadelphia in May 1876, to celebrate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. McKen had been planning to compete, but decided it looked so good as a money proposition that he teamed up with Hanlan, Ned doing the training and McKen placing bets in the poolrooms at night. Hanlan almost failed to get away from Toronto. He had sold some liquor on the island without a Or hìS arre ? permit and a warrant for his arrest was issued tw days before he was due to leave. Friends he about it, and that night he was hidden in a friend’s house e following day police cornered him in the Toronto Rowing managed to lude them, hopped into a skiff an ? ter a just leaving for Lewiston, N.Y. Police spotted him skimming away, but his reputation as an oarsman discouraged pursuit. In the first heat of the centennial race Hanlan. d in the second he defeated the next best oars . By this time the gamblers had lost so heavily they were looking for Hanlan. McKen and Hanlan together and McKen would leave Hanlan in bed at nights while he made the rounds of the taverns, so many mistook McKen for Hanlan. g im and he was taken back to Toronto on a stretcher, suffering from violent poisoning. Hanlan not only won the single sculls at Philadelphia, beating the best oarsmen of America and a couple from England, but he did it in a record time. the bright-eyed, pink-cheeked, curly-haired little fellow tops in the sport He rowed in a blue shirt, and thereafter he always “the Boy in Blue.” – Hanlan’s triumphant return to Toronto was in direct contrast to his ignominious departure. A huge crowd gathered at the dockside to meet his steamer. Ned ized and seated atop the larg est hook-and-ladder wagon Toronto owned, and Hail to the champion sculler! Toronto’s manly son, Who across the line, and on the Tyne Hath famous victories won… For the next eight years the world was Hanlan’s oyster. A host of supporters sprang up to form the Hanlan Club, putting up an initial twenty dollars apiece to pay Hanlan’s expenses and bet on his races. The charter membership included the U. S. consul, Col. Albert Shaw. Ned t yet the official Canadian champion. Alex Brayley, who had been favored for the Philadelphia race, returned Continued on Years after his crowd. was presentation to Canada and was beaten for the Canadian title by Wallace Ross, of Saint John. Ross then challenged Hanlan to mile event, the usual championship distance in those days. Ross was an eight-to-one favorite when the race took place on Toronto Bay, but HanA return lan won e Rothesay, N.B., the Kennebecasis River, the following has described in detail in many rowing annals. Both men, amid the wildest enthusiasm, struck the water simultaneously . . . At the half-mile mark Ross was pulling a fiery stroke of thirty seven and Hanlan a great sweep thirty-two per minute, with Hanlan a length ahead. With no increase of effort, at the mile mark Hanlan had doubled his lead. as a stroke that must have been wrenching him apart, Hanlan, after seeing that Ross was safe, went over the course… To the Canadian crown Hanlan soon I peak, Hanlan (top, left) could still draw a He’s grasping his son Gordon, who n was killed in 1917. of a silver service at City Hall. his next significant race was in Oct. 1878, at Lachine, Que. It was the first of what was to become the famous Courtney-Hanlan series. These races by cracker-barrel oarsmen. Hanlan’s honesty but, at least to the his name was later cleared. The first race against Charles E. Courtney, of Union Springs, N.Y., U. S., real. Hanlan won by a mere one and a Windsor Hotel after the race. A lot of money had been won and the following October at Chautauqua Lake, N.Y. Interest in the race became feverish. A grandstand for fifty thousand spectators was erected. An observation train half at afloat promised to follow the race never took place. The morning of the day it was scheduled, Courtney’s shell was found sawn in haif. In a book published in 1923 (Courtney and Cornell Rowing, by C.U.P. Young) it was suggested that Hanlan “whose convivial habits were well known” had imbib before the race. His backers became alarmed and tried in vain to have draw, but again Courtney refused and “before the morrow dawned those whose bribe had been spurned were avenged.” H. J. P. Good, sport writer for two Toronto papers and an origi ernber of the Hanla of six thousand dollars, the first to go †n Hanlan the third to the best man. In each instance the loser was to receive two thousand out of the purse. “The arrangement,” said Good, “was made entirely without the eonsent or knowledge of Hanlan, who, I am willing “Hanlan was then told of the arrangement,” said Good, “and his reply was that if he were not allowed to win if he could he couldn’t be hauled from the boathouse with a logging chain. Of course the Courtney party got on to the result of his trial row over the course which had been staked the boat was 39 The referee ordered Hanlan over the course on the day of th which he did, with two or three pauses, in 33:56, a time which stands to this day as the fastest for five miles with a turn. The purse was to have been given by the owner of a brewery, but he refused to pay on a “row-over.” So the pair met again on the Potomae at Washington in May 1880. In that race Courtney was so far behind at the halfway mark that he dropped out. In a tribute to Hanlan years later, James C. Rice, onetime coach of Columbia University, said: “I know personally that Hanlan was offered thirty thousand dollars to quit in a tempt to bribe him.” By 1879 Hanlan had beaten so he went to England. In May he beat John Hawdon for the champion and the followin ed William Elliott, also on . Trains brought speetators by the thousands. The crush of boats on the river made navigation almost impossible. less bet freely in small sums on their champion whom they believed invincible. Lawyer Kerr rhymed: The champions take their stations, Promptly each takes his place In the sight of all the nations Of the Anglo-Saxon race. “Now, three to one,” roared Elliott, “That I lead all the way!” And his stalwart arm and lusty form Might feebler foe dismay. But it was Hanlan’s craft Toronto that led all the way. He won by ten boat lengths and broke the record for the course by fifty-five seconds. Then from the river’s crowded banks, From roof-top, bridge and pier, Thrice thirty thousand lusty throats Sent up a mighty cheer; And many a British city Caught up the wild acclaim, And the western world from Sea to #Sea Resounded with his fame. Another civic reception was arranged home. will give an entertainment at 8 o’clock sharp. An will be presented by the Mayor about 9 o’clock, to which the Champion will Champion will appear with his boat, in full racing costume. Tickets will be sold at 50 cents no reserved seats The scene of the arrival was painted in oils by William Armstrong, and hangs still in the Toronto home of one of Hanlan’s daughters, Mrs. C. H. S. Michie. Dated July 15, 1879, it shows five old sidewheelers crowded to the ounded of little boats. On the leading steamer a tiny figure stands on a platform high in the was how the Boy in was still but one feather from the chunky sculler’s Triekett, the first Australian to have Interest in the outcome It was scheduled for it at wrote a ian newspaper from Newcastle: This meeting between Trickett and Hanlan will be the even in the rowing annais of the year—if not of the century . . . Triekett’s friends spoke of Han lan as a small man – but I reminded them of the r k made by the ferryman near Pittsburgh, that “the more clothes he takes o the bigger he gets,” and suggested that when he measured speed with their six-foot-sixer, the little m might look the larger of the two. The odds changed from two-to-one on Trickett to two-to-one on Hanlan as an estimated forty-two thousand masterful spurt. The erowds eheered and the nervy Ned drew near the bank rowing with alternate oars. Twice more Hanlan paused, once his hotel, the Bull’s Head, its fellow Hanlan had established himself as later made considerable money performing on the water. One of his best tricks was rowing with only one scull straight across the Thames and back again. d to Toronto via New played the aquatic solo.” In Toronto he was accorded another reception by mayor and citizens. The following year, 1881; he rowed on the Thames again, this time against Elias C. Laycock, of Australia, for the Sportsman Challenge Cup, and won it winning it for ail time. It is one of the most impressive cups in sporting history, standing about three feet high. It is still in the p – f Mrs. Michia A Great and Unique Skill Those were great days for the rowing game. The first official race between Y and Harvard was held in 1852, although Oxford and Cambridge had been racing on the Thames since 1829. Fortunes colorfully named Lakes Winnepesaukee, Minnetonka, Quinsagamond and Creve Coeur, the konk River, Lake Couchiching and wnyan Lake. Ned Hanlan rowed and won in them all. In 1880 there were at least a score of regattas were held at least once and sometimes twice a year. Cities like Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal sponsored annual regattas. Youngsters asked their parents for gigs, wherries, dinghies or common rowboats is time, rowing was largely a matter of strength; Hanlan add and was at once the master of the me. When he beat Elliott on the Tyne it was seriously suggested that he must have had a propelling machine in his boat. With air-bags and machinery, The miners stoutly held, Or by some secret influence His skiff must be propelled, For never such a sculler Of form so lithe and fine Or such modest mien, had yet been seen On the Thames or the Tyne. Some claim Hanlan was the first real champion of the world—of any v London that there was world-wid representation. Trickett challenged Hanlan in 1892 and they met on May 1 on the Thames with stakes of five hundred pounds. Hanlan won by ne a minute and a half and, after passing the turning sta e spun around an – back of tw – Trickett’s last appearance in a firstass match, and who can blame him? Standing on Lake Ontario, this $17,000 statue honors the first world champion Canada ever had. The next challenger was a dour Australian, William Beach, a blacksmith from the village of Dapto, New South r In ra ve gone because, as world champion, he could dictate the locale of the race. But he had not yet been to the southern hemisphere and the adventure appealed to his restless spirit. was written on this side of the world of his defeat by Beach. One report said gram commented, ue to unfavorable climatic politics. Hanlan’s Hotel, which he had displayed a huge collection of his trophies and souvenirs. In 1898 he was elected a Toronto alderman, was re-elected once but defeated for a third term. had married Margaret Gordon Sutherland, of Toronto, formerly of Brantford, Ont., in 1877 and they had His wife ? – ur dau rs still living: Mrs. Michie, -Margaret and Aileen Hanlan, of Toronto; and Mrs. Alfred Hafner, of Portland, Me. When Hanlan died on Jan. 4, 1908, at fifty-two, papers in every part of Canada carried editorials about him. ever moved faster than Hanlan was given a civic funeral, and probably ten thousand people filed past his bier. A death mask was taken. Years later “The last outings Ned had with shortly before his th when, on the odd Sunday morning, he’d pile on three or four old sweaters and the ’s “gig’ a walrus, then, dripping and refreshed, resume. The Boy in Blue never really grew up.” Ned Hanlan flashed across the pages of the world’s newspapers of seventy five years ago, but mementos will kee his name alive for many years yet. A six-by-ten-foot painting of him hangs a sculler in the world. It National Exhibition, looking over the waters where Ned first learned to row. In 1936 the late Dr. A. R. Carman, Star. wrote of Hanlan that “no citizen of Canada was so well known throughout the English speaking world. And Lawyer Kerr put it in verse: While Ottawa, from storied cliff, Uplifts her crown of towers; While modest merit still shall charm a of ours; So long in distant story, As time rolls on apace, Shall it be told by young and old How Hanlan won the race.