August 23, 1946

Story Of Epic Paris-Tyne Race On Kennebecasis River in 1871 Told In Old Newspaper Account

Seventy-fifth Anniversary of Great Sculling Contest Today; Will be Commemorated Tomorrow With Sports, at Renforth

Varied aquatic events, a women’s softball game, a dance and fireworks are included in the big program arranged by the Renforth Outing Association in co-operation with all of the residents of that community, for tomorrow afternoon and evening when Renforth will be the Mecca of observances marking the 75th anniversary of famous Paris-Tyne sculling race on the Kennebecasis River on Aug. 23, 1871.

Sports events, starting at 3.30 o’clock, include cutter and dinghy races between crews of Rodney Corps of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets; yacht races in which R.K.Y.C. craft will participate, swimming races and water sports, followed by a demonstration of life saving.

The women’s softball game will start at 7 o’clock, dancing at 9 o’clock and fireworks at 10 o’clock. Rodney Corps’ bugle and drum band will be in attendance and refreshments will be served on the grounds.

(Editor’s Note: The following account of the historic race on the Kennebecasis River between the Paris crew of Saint John and the Renforth crew of England, in which the Saint John oarsmen defended their world’s sculling championship, is taken from The Daily Telegraph of Aug. 24, 1871, the day after the great event. Today is the 75th anniversary of the race which ended in the death of James Renforth, stroke of the visiting Tyne crew.

As early as 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning, there was life and bustle in the streets of Saint John that indicated the coming event a six mile race between the Saint John and Tyne crews. Many had been up all night, making music on the streets, and others had arisen from bed to be among the first to reach the scene of action. At 4 o’clock a crowd had collected at the depot and the train left with a load of passengers. At half past another load of passengers left for the scene. By this time many vehicles were en route, filled with people.

At 5 o’clock the darkness had given place to a cold gray mist, and the train was literally packed, the people going over the sides of the cars in their haste. The road between the city and Riverside was dotted with teams, the drivers urging their steeds forward as if fearing to be late at the scene. Old men, boys, women, little children were all there. There was every kind of vehicle from a Solven to a barouche.

The scene at the Kennebecasis was a remarkable one. The railway from Torryburn Cove to a point a mile and a half distant, was covered with a mass of humanity. Along the beach a thin line straggled, and pickets were seen on the hillsides. Trees were made available as outlooks, many a carefree boy or ambitious man being perched up among the branches.

Small parties sat around lunch baskets and ate their breakfasts as though the air of the morning and their ride had given them appetites. Old women dealt out apples, and gingerbread from stands along the railroad fence. Carriages came rattling in, trains arrived with thousands, the regiments on the rail became brigades on the embankments, and these became whole corps d’armee on the entire river front. The grandstand and other erections were gay with bright colors of ladies’ raiment. Under the alders, their heads resting on mossy stones or pieces of wood, lay many a peaceful sleeper who drank in long draughts of "nature’s sweet restorer" in utmost placidity.

Little boys ventured out on the water on rafts constructed with much haste and little engineering skill. Row boats plied on the river, and sail boats passed to and fro. The fleet of woodboats at anchor kept up their sails, and yachts glided gracefully back and forth. The steamer Fawn had arrived from Fredericton at an early hour, and was anchored in the stream. Tug boats, steamers and woodboats constantly arrived and took up positions in the line, their decks covered with people. A long line of small boats were fastened to a boom stretched away from the judges’ boat. Bands on board the steamers played constantly.

People Became Anxious

As the hour of seven approached, the faces of the throng became anxious. All were eager to see the contest, and there was just enough breeze and ripple to render it uncertain. Mr. Jones, the referee, was seen wending his way along the beach with grave countenance. To all questions he answered as one not having authority.

A 7 o’clock the breeze died away, the sun shone out from the mist and blended the expectant mass of human beings, the dresses and banners, with the tints of the woods and fields, and photographed a picture on the brain of every beholder that will long remain undimmed. All who were present did not behold it, however. The cause that made such a scene possible absorbed the attention of the spectators, and in straining to catch a glimpse of those about to contest for the championship of the world, they overlooked all the loveliness and glory that the restlessness of humanity and the repose of nature combined to produce.

Weather-wise people looked at the fleeting mists, sniffed the air, shook their heads and said a breeze would soon come, and the anxious wishes were expressed for the start to be made before it should come.

What an uplifting of faces there was in that vast throng when the Tyne men paddled out from the shore! The hearts of all were stirred. There were no indifferent ones in that multitude. All were hoping, praying for the success of their favorites. The sleepers aroused themselves as quickly as though cannons had been fired near them. The boys climbed higher in the trees, and those who had been sitting, stood. When the boats were at last side by side how the people were excited! The maidens allowed the arms of their protectors to encircle them without regard to the publicity of the occasion, the timid forgot to guard his pocketbook, the pick-pocket forgot to steal, and the old ladies mounted their stands, regardless of the ginger-trodden underfoot.

Anxiety Changes to Gladness

When the pink shirts showed in advance, what a wave of sound arose from the excited throng, and echoed among the hills. When clear water was seen between the stern of the Saint John and the bow of the "Queen Victoria," while the rapid stroke of the Tynesiders showed they were doing their best, how the anxiety of the people changed to gladness, and the voices and hats went up for joy. How the wise and foreseeing individual, who has so fine a faculty for planning villainy for others, poked his neighbor in the ribs and said, "I told you so, a gum game, Halifax will tell the story, Renforth has sold out." How the man who had for weeks been depreciating the qualifications of the Saint John men and goading the Tynesiders, appealed to all to bear him witness that he had been sure of the Paris crew.

How the people flew at the victors as though they would tear their limb from limb, for fragments to keep as memorials of the day; and then there was a scramble for the cars, that people as eager to get away as they had been to come, and all under the impression that one train ought to take away what as many as seven trains had brought. After the brakemen had refused to admit more, and the cars were in motion, some clambered up the sides and found no rest for the soles of their feet.

The steamers and woodboats and yachts and canoes were soon in motion, and, as the breeze had freshened considerably, the scene was a lively one. People cheered everywhere and shouted themselves hoarse. Joy reigned supreme, except in a small circle gathered around a dying athlete. The others were ignorant of his fate, or their mirth would have been hushed.

Now a description of the race itself is in order, the 40 minutes struggle that opened so brilliantly and terminated so sadly.

Preparing For Contest

The night-mists still nestled among the trees and fields as both crews rose about 4.30 o’clock, and donning their ordinary clothes, started out on a brisk walk in the vicinity of their respective quarters, just as grey twilight was merging to day. They looked well, and the brightness of Renforth’s eye and his fine condition were remarked on by many who met the English quartet. Both crews breakfasted about the same hour and spent the time until a little after 6 in talking with their friends. Then they began to look to matters more immediately connected with the coming struggle.

James Stackhouse, umpire on part of the Saint John men, had remained at their quarters all night, and he, with Referee Hon. Thomas R. Jones, accompanied them to the shore and on board the official tug, and their boat, the Saint John, as rowed out by Robert McLaren their spare man, and James Belyea.

The tug was run up to position, outside the starting buoy, and the Saint John crew and their friends awaited the appearance of the Englishmen. At 7.03 o’clock the Renforth men were ferried to their floating stage, and when they were placed on it Bright, the spare man, paddled the "Queen Victoria" out to them. Renforth got in first, after putting his oar through the rowlock, and took his seat. Kelley took his seat next, followed by Chambers, Percy getting down to his place about the same time. They all had on white Guernseys, and Bright and Chambers wore blue caps. Renforth wore a brown American driving cap, and Kelley’s cap was an old one, originally blue, but somewhat faded.

They put off at 7:08 o’clock and at once paddled across to the starting points, taking up a position about 50 yards ahead of the official steamer. Many on shore who had not seen the Saint John crew’s boat or recognized the men on the tug, began to ask:

"Where is the Paris crew? Why are they not here?"

Are You Ready?

"Gentlemen," said Renforth to the Paris crew on the tug, "are you ready?"

"Yes," came promptly from the Saint John men as, at 7.16 the Saint John boat was put into the water, and the crew, wearing pink shirts and caps got in quickly. At this time the wind, which had been blowing very lightly, seemed to increase to about a three-knot breeze, but it died away again and the river was almost perfectly smooth at 7.28. The Englishmen had taken off their guernseys and caps, and as they sat upright in their boat they looked the personification of muscular development. The Saint John men bared their heads, but kept on their pink shirts. They sat square up and the countenance of each was firm, if not grim, in its expression.

Saint John won the toss and chose the outside, and the boats were backed up to their respective buoys.

"Now, give us the word," said Fulton, "and the sooner the better." He as well as the others of the Saint John quartet showed impatience to be away. Both boats, however, were slightly out of position, and they were ordered back. When they again ceased moving the Saint John boat still had an advantage of six inches.

"Back your boat a little, Fulton," said Jones. "Ready," came from Fulton and Renforth simultaneously, and the oar blades of the eight men sunk slowly into the water.

"GO," was pronounced very sharply at 7.34 and eight of the best oarsmen that ever manned a boat surged back, their craft springing away like arrows under their powerful stroke.

Fulton had struck at 44, and Renforth at 42, at the first, but Renforth settled down a little at the end of that distance, and had not gained on Saint John. Soon Renforth spurted, but Saint John had begun to draw ahead inch by inch.

A quarter of a mile up the course and Saint John was half a length ahead. Still on and clear water was shown between the stern of the Saint John and the bow of the English boat, and when half a mile had been covered, Fulton was sweeping off at 41 strokes to the minute, and Price was steering a beautifully straight course. The other boat was taking a rather sweeping course, keeping in toward shore, when Renforth spurted desperately, as if determined to close the widening gap.

Saint John Shows Mettle

It was of no avail, however, for the Saint John men were thoroughly on their mettle and the gap was widening, when Renforth turned his head and giving a look at his opponent’s boat, dropped his oar, threw up an arm and would have fallen overboard had he not been caught by Kelley, who supported him, while Percy and Chambers rowed the shell ashore.

Cries of "Fraud," "Shame," "Sold Out," "Where’s his pluck?" and similar expressions were heard on all sides, and amid the most intense excitement, the Saint John boat went on. The race from that time, and the whole race accomplished in 39 minutes and 3-5 seconds.

The scene at this stage of the proceedings, on the steamers and other craft, can hardly be described. Those on the judges’ boat share in the excitement of the throng. Oldham danced around the stand, exclaiming that his crew had to run ashore to escape a foul. A row nearly took place when John Bright withdrew money he was putting on the Tyne, and Mr. Jones was obliged to forbid any persons interfering in discussions between the umpire and himself.

Another scene was occasioned at the finish. The owners of some boats, seeming to think a clear course of no consequence since the race was decided, rowed and sailed across the course, creating a greatest excitement on the judges’ boat. The referee shouted till he was hoarse, and other interested parties stormed wildly.

Given Shower of Pebbles

The referee then ordered two men to enter a gig and row out to some boats and get them out of the way. Oldham, Tyne umpire, objected to the boat leaving a said the referee had no authority to send it off. Jones yielded the point, and the boats kept encroaching, and the men on the judges’ boat kept frantically yelling to them to keep off. One or two of the intruders came within a stone’s throw, and a shower of pebbles and lumps of coal made the clear the track.

The breeze that sprung up just before the start had considerably freshened, and the water was far from smooth. When within half a mile from the judges’ boat Fulton increased his stroke to 44 and came in amid the wildest cheering from the shore, embankments, tree tops, woodboats, steamers and small boats.

The official time as announced by Dr. Walker, and recorded by Dr. Allison, was 39 minutes and 3-5 seconds. The men were cool and fresh looking, not one of the exhibiting signs of fatigue, their breathing being as regular as before they started.

"What ailed Renforth? What did he break?" asked a dozen voices.

"He has broken his heart," answered Ross, "because he was beaten."

"How far did you lead them?" cried all in a breath, as they patted the backs of their men with more energy than gentleness.

"Let me dress first," said Fulton, "and then I’ll talk."

After the men got dressed they passed around their hats and took up a collection for the Tyne crew. On reaching the shore they were borne through the throng, slapped on the back, hugged and otherwise made to feel the joy inspired by their triumphs.

Renforth’s Death

When the Paris crew had drawn about two lengths in advance of the Renforth crew, Kelley relates that he said to Renforth, "Now, Jim for a dozen," meaning an extra spurt such as had served in good turn at and near the beginning of the race. Kelley, observing no visible response, spoke to him a second time in the same terms, only to hear his comrade say in a half smothered voice, "Harry, Harry." Meantime, Renforth’s body suddenly inclined forward, and immediately after he fell back into Kelley’s arms, asking to be rowed to the shore, and sinking into a swoon. The boar was speedily turned shoreward and rowed as quickly as circumstances would permit, to a point a few yards above the railway wharf.

The shouting thousands poured down over the railway embankment to the beach and met the men, some giving vent to the opinion the race had been sold, and very many expressed heartfelt sympathy for the Englishmen. Mr. Walton, of the Newcastle Chronicle, descended from the carriage in which he was keeping abreast of the race and hurried to the water’s edge. Renforth appeared to be dead as he was carried up and across the railway and placed in a carriage on the main road. Percy and another friend or two entered the coach and were driven with great haste to Torryburn, Renforth meantime lying in a state of insensibility. His appearance in the coach was appalling, his face, naked arm and shoulders presenting a deathlike pallor.

Taken to Hotel Room

Having arrived at the Claremont House a few minutes past 8 o’clock, he was carried to his room and placed upon a bed. A messenger was immediately dispatched for medical aid, and in less than fifteen minutes Dr. Johnston entered the room. What a few minutes before had been a perfect picture of human strength lay apparently almost lifeless and cold. The breathing was but slight, and his pulse seemed chilled in both heart and limb.

Scarcely had Dr. Johnston commenced an examination of the patient when Dr. McLaren arrived. By this time, however, he had so far revived as to be able to speak. He was known to have frequently suffered from epileptic fits, and being asked if it was one of these, he responded firmly in the negative. "I’ll tell you what it is" but his sentence was cut short by his sufferings.

He tossed himself about upon the bed, complaining chiefly of distress in the region of the chest and he showed signs of difficulty in breathing. Dr. McLaren ordered the rubbing of his spine and extremities and an increased supply of fresh air. A cerous, almost transparent liquid oozed from his mouth, and this as time went on became slightly tinged with blood. A little brandy and water so cleared his mouth, that again he spoke audibly. He assured the bystanders that he had not long to live, and soon after said, "Goodbye, Harry. Goodbye, my boys."

These, with a few interrupted utterances, which seemed to refer to the sad mishap and to his friends across the water, were his last words.

He once or twice subsequently gave token of his desire not to be disturbed by the rubbing of his cold feet, hands and limbs, but the difficulty in breathing so rapidly increased that his own assurances of his speedy end were but too painfully evident.

Crowd Gathers

Scarcely had the doctors reached the Claremont House before crowds of anxious persons clustered about the premises, eager to hear what was the matter. Dr. McLaren soon assured those about him that pulmonary apoplexy or congestion of the lungs was the cause of all the trouble. The doctor tried bleeding first in the right arm, but with only limited success in that quarter, very thick, inky drops slowly trickling from the punctured vein. Two similar experiments, but with more avail, were then tried in the left arm, but bleeding, warm flannels and fresh air were all in vain.

From about 8.30 o’clock he sank very rapidly and 15 minutes later the great oarsman breathed his last, if indeed it can be said he so much as breathed at all during the last six or eight minutes that other signs of lingering life were perceptible.

Bulletins of Renforth’s precarious condition given to the throngs outside the house during his last moments were received with mingled feelings of doubt and sadness; but the bustle about the place subsided into painful stillness when soon after, the appalling announcement of his death was made. Many thousands who but a few minutes before gave wild demonstrations of joy over the victory which then was sure to their old and trusted four, were now stricken as with a bolt from the blackest of clouds, and their next anxiety was for a last look at the angular features and stalwart form of the great Tyne champion.

A Sad Scene

The scene within doors was sad. The surviving four seemed to have suddenly parted with a very brother, while their demonstrations of grief were almost rivaled by the warmhearted Englishmen and not less sympathetic colonists by whom they were surrounded in that sad hour. The wife of yesterday whose loving lines had been brought to the champion by the last mail, in one short hour unknowingly became a widow; and the sturdy watermen who wept for their departed comrade, shed also a tear for the daughter of eight summers.

Some delay was experienced in securing the services of the coroner. At about 2.40 a.m. the following day, coroner Earle arrived, and the following jury was summoned and sworn: James Domville, foreman; James Trueman, George A. Wood, Alex. Robinson, Jr., John Murphy, John Melick and Timothy J. Cronin.

The body of the deceased was reviewed by the jury. A very generally expressed desire for a post mortem examination having been made known to the coroner, Dr. McLaren was directed to perform it. The inquest was accordingly adjourned to 10 o’clock in the morning. At the request of friends of the deceased, the post mortem was delayed a few hours until Dr. Wade of H.M.F., could be present on their behalf. The examination was ultimately made by Dr. McLaren, assisted by Dr. Wade, and in presence of Drs. Walker and Earle, Jr., some of the jury and a few others.

The result fully confirmed the opinion of Dr. McLaren, and that of Dr. Bayard and several other medical gentlemen, who during the day visited the remains of the deceased.

Citizens Express Regret

During the day a great number of citizens and others called on the remaining members of the English crew at Claremont House and expressed their regret at the sad incident that marred the otherwise auspicious circumstances of the occasion. Among these was Hon. Thomas R. Jones, who requested that the remains of the deceased be transferred to his residence in the city, there to await transportation to England. Later in the day they were visited by the Coulter (American) crew, and by the Paris crew and the committee.

The Paris crew presented them with $200, the sum collected after the race; and the committee offered to pay the expenses and relieve the English oarsmen of all the care and responsibility of preparing the remains for transportation to England for interment there.

Throughout the city, after the news of Renforth’s death was received, all the flags flying in the city and the harbor were to be seen at half mast; and even the ardor of the boys was so far restrained that not a single bonfire was visible in the evening.

Mr. Walton promptly telegraphed to England the sad news and received replies indicating that the knowledge of Renforth’s death produced a great sensation in England.

The press was fully represented on the ground during the race. The Newcastle (Eng.) Chronicle was ably represented by Mr. Walton, one of the most experienced writers and competent authorities on racing matter in all England; the New York Tribune, by Mr. Smalley, and the Boston Advertiser, Herald and Journal, the Montreal Gazette and Witness, Ottawa Free Press, Hamilton Spectator and Evening Times, Toronto Leader and Express, by gentlemen eminently qualified to perform the duties entrusted to them. Besides these journals, others obtained special reports through their Canadian correspondents resident in Saint John and the greater part of the race day was devoted by the Saint John Telegraph office to the transmission of press reports of the great race.

The Betting

The character of betting at the race course was brisk. The odds were generally two to one on the Renforth crew, although occasionally one heard of 150 to 74, and one instance of 100 to 60. It is known that a very large sum of money changed hands and among the victims of misplaced confidence was included a large number of Montreal gentlemen, especially parties connected with Lachine Boating Club.

There were 9,000 railway tickets sold at the Saint John office for the boat race. Taking into consideration the number who came by rail from the east, those on steamers and woodboats, and those who rode and walked to the scene, it is a fair estimate, to put the number of spectators of the race at 15,000. The spectators were taken to and from the course without the slightest accident.