The Evening Chronicle, September 26, 1953

15,000 More Watched Tyne Crew Race Than Saw Scepter Show Its Paces

Then tragedy put an end to tussle

The crowd of 10,000 which saw the first of this year’s challenge races for the America’s Cup was small compared with the 25,000 spectators who watched the great boat race between Saint John and Tyne crews, on the Kennebecasis River, New Brunswick, Canada, on August 23, 1871.

By no means all of them could have seen the start of the drama which marred the great international event and ended when James Renforth, of Gates- head, stroke of the Tyne boat, suddenly dropped his oar and fell over in the boat apparently in a fit.

The boat was turned inshore and he was taken back to his quarters in a coach. Less than half an hour after landing he died.

As a memorial the nearby village - previously called The Chalet - was renamed Renforth in 1910.

This week Mr. Fred E. Garrett, president of the Rotary Club, Saint John, New Brunswick, and chairman of Renforth Local Improvement Commission, who was born in Tynemouth, recalled for members of Newcastle West Rotary Club some memories of the race and the growth of the town.


The great interest in the race arose from the fact that it was a return match between the crews which the previous year had rowed at Lachine, near Montreal, when the Saint John crew - who had carried off the prize at the great Paris regatta of 1867 - were decisively beaten by an English crew from the Tyne.

They did not rest easy after their defeat until they had arrange with their conquerors for a second contest.

They had lost the Lachine race, they believed, by the roughness of the water, but others held that their defeat was cause by over-confidence and too little training.

It was stipulated that the race should be rowed on August 23, between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., if the water was perfectly smooth.

"If the water in the opinion of the umpires, or, in the case of disagreement by the decision of the referee, is not smooth, it was agreed, the referee shall be empowered to postpone the race to the same hours on the following day, and so on, from day to day, until the state of the water is favourable."


The Saint John crew was to row without a coxswain and Renforth had the option of rowing with or without one.

The race was to be for ₤500 a side and the championship, and the Saint John crew bound themselves to pay Renforth’s men ₤200 in consideration of the expense of the journey across the Atlantic.

The morning of the race was beautiful and, according to a report in an English weekly journal of the time, "probably 25,000 spectators were present.

"The water was smooth as glass. The choice of position fell to the lot of the Tyne crew, who took the inside course.

"At the ‘Go’ from the referee both boats flew away, the Saint John leading slightly.

"The Tyne crew then made a spurt and the Saint John crew fell behind. But the steady stroke of the Saint John men told and gradually they drew ahead, keeping the lead, although the distance was every now and then shortened by the mighty spurts of the Tyne crew.


"When three quarters of a mile was reached the Saint John let three lengths when suddenly Renforth dropped his oar and fell over in the boat, apparently in a fit."

Renforth at the time was a man in the prime of life. He was born at Gateshead in 1842 and from early youth had shown a fondness for sports and a fund of strength, energy and determination which won for him the distinction of being aquatic champion of England.

Before 1866 he was unknown as an oarsman, and it was said that he discovered his immense powers with the oar when conveying back and forth the workmen engaged in removing the old Tyne Bridge.

His first appearance in a match was in 1867, when he won easily, and from then until his death his career as an oarsman was marked by a constant succession of triumphs.

His sudden death, it was said, was due to apoplexy brought on by over exertion and excitement.

Even in death James Renforth could draw the crowds for when his body was brought home it was estimated that 150,000 people lined the route of the funeral procession to Gateshead East Cemetery, where an elaborate memorial stone marks his grave.