Captain Paul Boyton was an American showman and adventurer, known for his dangerous and original water stunts. Boyton helped establish the United States Life-Saving Service and became captain of the New Jersey Life Saving Service. Boyton’s life-saving expertise led him to the inventor Clark S. Merriman. Merriman had recently invented a life preserving suit, which was made from India rubber and was inflatable. Boyton took it upon himself to test the suit.
Captain Boyton first tested the suit when he was dropped over the side of a steamer into the Irish sea in the midst of a gale. Boyton then set his sights on crossing the English Channel with the aid of the suit.
On 10th April 1875, Boyton bravely stepped into the water at Dover with only a double-bladed paddle and headed out to sea. He was closely tailed by reporters in the steam tug Rambler.
In preparation for the crossing, Boyton had fitted a square canvas into the left boot of the suit. The canvas was supposed to act as a sail. Boyton also adopted the unusual diet of beaten eggs, a couple of cherry brandies and a cigar, believing this would successfully keep him going.
Unfortunately, his efforts were to no avail. The crossing was eventually abandoned when the weather worsened. The pilot of the French boat became concerned for Boyton’s safety and he threatened to surrender all charge of his boat if Boyton failed to come aboard. Eventually, Boyton agreed to quit, but only after making the reporters sign a declaration that the decision to quit was not his.
Although Boyton had not crossed the channel, he had been in the water for 15 hours and had covered 50 miles. The stunt had achieved its aim: Boyton had proved the seaworthiness of the life preserving suit.
Six weeks later, Boyton stepped into the water at Boulogne to attempt another crossing and successfully landed in Dover twenty-three and a half hours later at 2.30am at Fan Bay near South Foreland. The trip was a success: Boyton had an uneventful crossing aside from meeting a porpoise four miles off Dover. This was the first successful crossing of the Channel by any person, but Boyton had been helped by his life preserving suit. He could not say he was the first swimmer to cross the Channel unaided.
Ned Hanlan champion oarsman
Hanlan was born to Irish parents; one of two sons and two daughters. His mother was Mary Gibbs, his father, John, was first a fisherman and later a hotel keeper on the Toronto Islands. The Hanlan family originally lived at the east end of Toronto Island, but a severe storm in 1865 pushed their little house into the harbour. It washed ashore near the north end of Gibraltar Point, at the island’s west end. A few years later, Ned’s father built a small hotel there, and the area started becoming known as Hanlan’s Point, long before Ned became famous. Young Hanlan used to row several kilometres every day across the harbour to go to and from George Street public school, Toronto. He developed speed to bring freshly caught fish to sell at market before other fishermen arrived to compete.
It seemed only a matter of time before he would try competitive rowing, for regattas were held virtually on his doorstep. In 1871, when he was 16, Hanlan entered his first race, for three-man crews of “fishermen,” who were considered professionals because they were thought to have an occupational advantage over the amateur gentlemen. His boat was unsuccessful. But the amateur rules were changing: increasingly the receipt of money prizes, rather than ascriptive class status, was becoming the criterion of professionalism. Hanlan was accepted into amateur competition in 1873 and here he quickly shone. In his first singles race he won the championship of Toronto bay. Then, in 1874, wearing the blue shirt and red headband which became his trademark, he beat the redoubtable Thomas Loudon three times in succession – once for a side bet of $100, a sizeable risk for him – and won the prestigious Dufferin Medal. The following year he took the Ontario championship.
These victories and a growing calendar of rich stake races led a group of Torontonians in 1876 to form a syndicate club to back him as a professional. The club’s first decision was to purchase a sleek English-made shell and equip it with two recent innovations, a sliding seat and swivel oarlocks. Both helped the rower lengthen the stroke, and thereby the pull on the water. The sliding seat was particularly important. Before its introduction, rowers seeking greater reach had to move across the stationary seat on greased chamois pants, an awkward, often painful manoeuvre.
Hanlan quickly rewarded the confidence and technological astuteness of his investors. In September 1876 thousands watched the “Boy in Blue” capture the professional singles in the highly publicized Centennial Regatta in Philadelphia. Although many “laughed at his ambition,” according to a contemporary American newspaper, he beat most of North America’s best scullers on a three-mile (5 km) course with a turn in the record time of 21 minutes 9½ seconds, winning a purse of $800 for himself and a bounteous betting harvest for his supporters. Hanlan and his club next set their sights on national championships. These had to be won through the “challenge system,” which governed most 19th-century sports, rather than participate in an annual event called a championship, in which any qualified athlete could compete, reigning champions held their titles until they were defeated in a negotiated one-on-one challenge. Obtaining a challenge was often as difficult as the event itself. Fortunately, Hanlan’s growing celebrity and his solid backing made him financially attractive as an opponent and he was able to get the challenges he wanted without undue delays.
To win the Canadian championship (and stakes of $1,000) in 1877, he beat New Brunswicker Wallace Ross over five miles (8 km) with a turn before 25,000 spectators in Toronto bay. The following year he took the American title from Pittsburgh’s highly regarded Ephraim (Evan) Morris over a five-mile (8 km) course with a turn on the treacherous Allegheny River, an outcome that delighted his supporters, who had bet upwards of $300,000. See also American Sculling Championship. In 1879 he captured the English Sculling Championship, beating William Elliott (rower) by 11 lengths over a three-and-one-half-mile stretch of the Tyne.
With this triple crown the Hanlan Club disbanded, its mission accomplished. But the oarsman himself had one more goal, the World Championship, held by Australian Edward Trickett. On 15 Nov. 1880 he raced him on the Thames River’s historic Putney to Mortlake Championship Course of about four and a quarter miles. Some 100,000 spectators lined the banks. Harry Kelley piloted the Australian, and Bright performed the same office for Hanlan, but the race seemed to be over before they reached Hammersmith Bridge. The Canadian won in a time of 26 minutes-12 seconds and three lengths ahead, and thus he gained the World Title. The Stake was £400. In doing so he became Canada’s first world sporting champion in an individual or singles event. News of Hanlan’s success, spread by telegraph and newspaper, touched off a rare moment of communion among English-speaking Canadians. His victory also enriched “hundreds” of Ontarians “from Judges to peanut vendors” (Toronto Globe) who had backed him with cabled wagers.
Defending the Title
Hanlan was an active champion, accepting frequent challenges and racing often against the larger fields of non-title regattas. Defending his United States title against the latest American hope was particularly lucrative. In 1878 he had won an unprecedented $10,000 by defeating Charles Edward Courtney at Lachine, Que. Two years later Hanlan beat him again in Washington, D.C., winning $6,000. Although it was the champion’s prerogative to veto the site of any match, he never insisted on home advantage.
On the 14th of February 1881 he defended his World Title against another Australian, Elias C. Laycock, on the Thames on the Championship Course. This race also carried the Championship of England and the “Sportsman’s” (magazine) Challenge Cup. Hanlan won easily by about four lengths. His next defence was on 3 April 1882 against Englishman Robert W Boyd but this time the race was on the Tyne. The race was fairly close at the start but Hanlan was never troubled and won by seven lengths. His time was 21m.06s and he created a Tyne record for covering the first mile in 5m.45s.
Just a month or so later on the 1st of May he met Trickett again on the Thames. Trickett used a new boat weighing only twenty-nine pounds. The stake was £500 a side. However, the race was very one sided and Hanlan won so far ahead that he then turned around and rowed back to Trickett, turned around again and beat him a second time to the finish line. Hanlan was well known for these sorts of pranks which often humiliated his opponents.
The following year, (1883) after a bout with typhoid which had led to reports of his death, Hanlan turned back challenges in the United States from James Kennedy, an American, (on 30 May), and Wallace Ross of Canada, (on 18 July). There is some debate about these two races as they are not recorded in the list of Championship Races such as the one published in 1930 by the British Rowing Almanac nor in other publications. There is no doubt that the races took place. The Kennedy match was for $2500 a side and was rowed in Boston over three miles (5 km). Wallace Ross had beaten Hanlan in an earlier non-title match and thus claimed to be the unofficial World Champion. To try to make it official Ross challenged Hanlan and the match took place in New York. Hanlan won and made a record time in the process by taking fifty seconds off the previous best time for the four mile (6 km) course. These two matches were the only World Championship matches ever held in the USA other than one in 1932.
In 1884 Hanlan again beat Laycock, this time on the Nepean River, near Sydney in New South Wales. Again Hanlan was not seriously tested and kept his boat in front just enough to win in a time of 22m.45s. Strangely enough, of the twelve Championship races that Hanlan rowed none of them were raced in Canada. For further details of his Championship races see World Sculling Championship.
Hanlan’s genius was a superbly efficient stroke – he was the father of the modern technique. He took full advantage of the sliding seat, not only to obtain greater reach but to drive with the large muscles of the legs in a coordinated, fluid motion so that the power of his whole body was marshalled into every stroke. This movement was no easy task in a frail, tipsy shell. Novices were discouraged from employing the slider for many years, and many of his rivals who did use it pulled primarily with their arms. Hanlan, who was only 5 feet 8¾ inches tall, weighed a mere 150 pounds in most of his races, yet his powerful stroke enabled him to beat larger, stronger men. While he rarely rowed at more than 36 strokes per minute, compared with as many as 42 for his rivals, he usually led from the start, often toying with opponents. During his championship race against Morris he slowed down, and twice stopped altogether, to enable the American to make a race of it; he still won by three lengths. He competed with icy calm and, although the term had yet to be coined, was a master at “psyching out” opponents with timely taunts. He had no qualms about humiliating those he disliked. When racing the arrogant Trickett he chatted with spectators and blew them kisses, stopped and waited, faked a collapse, and rowed in zigzags while the Australian laboured in his wake. On one occasion Hanlan crossed the line so far in front that he leisurely rowed back to his opponent and then beat him to the finish line a second time.
Hanlan’s main occupation for many years continued to be rowing. He held his world title until 16 August 1884, when he was defeated by Australian Bill Beach on the Parramatta River near Sydney, Australia. Hanlan’s friends put the blame for the loss on a second bout with typhoid, the debilitating effects of almost eight months of foreign travel, and a near collision during the race with a chartered steamer, but the muscular blacksmith was an exceptional opponent. Unlike Hanlan’s other challengers, Beach had mastered the use of the sliding seat; he also outweighed the defending champion by 50 pounds. Hanlan stayed another seven months for a rematch. On 28 March 1885 Beach sculled against Ned Hanlan, again for a stake of £500 a side and the Title. A large crowd came to the by now usual course on the Parramatta River. This race was one of the better ones as for most of the distance there was little between them. The racing was close and exciting and approaching the finishing post both boats were almost bow to bow. Beach put in a final terrific effort and increased his advantage and won amidst wild excitement by the spectators.
Ned Hanlan was determined to beat Beach to regain the Title and issued another challenge. The race which took place on the 26 November 1887 was held on the Nepean River, near Sydney. Special trains ran from Sydney, Bathurst and Goulburn to take thousands of spectators to the course. The race was again close although Beach was always in the lead even though he was closely pressed by Hanlan. For the third time Beach defeated Hanlan for the World Championship. Beach then retired and Peter Kemp became the Tile Holder.
The next Hanlan Title race was scheduled for 5 May 1888 and was again raced on the Parramatta River against Peter Kemp (rower). This time the stake was £500 a side which was a huge sum of money in those days compared to ordinary wages. Great interest in the race was again taken by the public. The men got away to a clean start with Kemp taking a small lead early although Hanlan soon levelled. First one, then the other, had the advantage but neither gained much until at Putney a foul occurred and Hanlan took the advantage and shot out four lengths to the good. Kemp then made a most determined effort and was soon only half a length behind. Hanlan spurted again but Kemp kept up and was soon level. Hanlan then showed some signs of distress and slipped behind but then made another effort to overcome the leader. However Kemp sculled away and won by a length in a time of 21m.26s. Hanlan entered a protest over being fouled by Kemp but later withdrew it. The race was considered to be one of the finest ever rowed on that river.
Hanlan must have still fancied his chances and issued another yet another challenge against Kemp. This was accepted and the race was scheduled for 28 September 1888. It was unusual to have had this many Championship races over such a short time. Often a year or longer would pass between these races. Again the stake was £500 a side and was again raced on the Parramatta River. The result was an easy win by nine lengths to Kemp despite Hanlan claiming a foul. The referee disallowed the foul deciding that Hanlan was to blame. Kemp’s time was 20m.30s. This was Hanlan’s last World Title race of the twelve he competed in. Hanlan raced more times for the Title than anyone else and had won seven of them. Only Bill Beach had as many wins although over fewer races. The next Canadian to hold the world championship would be Jake Gaudaur Snr., in 1896.
Despite having lost his American title to John Teemer in 1885, Hanlan was far from finished. Although he chose opponents with increasing care, he raced with success and drew large crowds to his exhibitions for another decade. In 1891 he teamed up with fellow Torontonian (and new American champion) William Joseph O’Connor to win the American doubles championship, only to lose it the following year to Gaudaur and an American, George Hosmer. After O’Connor died in 1892, Hanlan raced with other partners but never again took a major doubles title. During his career he won more than 300 races, including exhibitions, and suffered fewer than a dozen defeats.
As befits a sporting hero Hanlan was affable, handsome, hard-working, and generally honest. (After a brief scrape with the law – he escaped arrest for bootlegging outside his father’s hotel in 1876 by rowing out to a cross-lake ferry, only to return in glory following his victory in Philadelphia – he managed to avoid the scandals which plagued his rivals.) When newspapers in the United States claimed him as an American because of his successes there, he stressed his Canadian identity. His confident victories against the best rowers from the United States and Britain seemed to confirm the wisdom of the attempt to build a new northern nation, and the vitality of its rising cities and towns. The Globe called him Canada’s best immigration agent.
Diminutive compared to his competition at the height of 5 feet 8.75 inches (1.75 m) and normal race weight of 150 pounds (68 kg) and familiar blue shirt, Hanlan was called “the Boy in Blue”.
He married on 19 December 1877 Margaret Gordon Sutherland of Pictou, Nova Scotia; they had two sons and six daughters. Following his career as an athlete, Hanlan became a hotelier like his father, and eventually became involved in municipal politics as an alderman of Toronto. He was the first head coach of the University of Toronto Rowing Club in 1897. In 1900, he decided to leave and coach the crew of Columbia University, New York for some years . Ned died of pneumonia at age 52. Ten thousand Torontonians thronged to pay their final respects at the church where his body lay in state. Hanlan was laid to rest at Toronto Necropolis.
In the autum of 1926, a 9-foot (2.7 m) bronze statue sculpted by Emanuel Hahn of a moustachioed, muscular, shirtless Hanlan, shown clad only in surprisingly revealing trunks, was unveiled on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition. This monument was relocated twice, once to the main entrance of the Marine Museum on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds then later to a site near the ferry dock at Hanlan’s Point in 2004. In 1980, a postage stamp was issued in his honour commemorating the centenary of his first world championship. In addition, the Ned Hanlan Steamboat is named after him. A road in Vaughan, Ontario, Hanlan Road, is named after him. Gaudaur Road, named after a fellow World Champion, runs off Hanlan Road. There is also a Hanlan Street in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia. It is near several other streets named after rowers. Ned Hanlan was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame.
In popular culture
Actor Nicolas Cage portrayed Hanlan in the 1986 film The Boy in Blue