Robert Watson Boyd

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The Tyne (and Tees) once had its professional sculling champion - Robert Watson Boyd of Gateshead - whose gravestone in a Middlesbrough cemetery is quite ornate. Though not of the same standard or as famous as his Tyneside counterparts his funeral was attended by thousands. He was based at the Shakespeare Hotel in Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough during his River Tees sculling days.

Boyd raced Thomas Hanlan for the championship of the world and there are commemorative glasses that were cast for the race. Glasses were made for another of Boyd’s races but they are rare.

Boyd featured in a race involving Alexander Hogarth who was immortalised in a Joe Wilson song “Champion of the Wear”.

24th March 1877
Bells Life reported:
Robert Watson Boyd competed in and won the Newcastle Sculling Challenge Cup, for £400, and the Championship of England beating J. Higgins of the Thames over the Putney to Mortlake course. In the south, the cognoscenti were in favour of Higgins to a man and the affair was looked upon as a foregone conclusion to such an extent that the betting was almost paralysed. The same opinion appeared to prevail in the north, a report having been freely circulated that Boyd was suffering from boils, and was otherwise amiss. It appears however that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with him, and he came to the post as fit as ever he was in his life, better perhaps. As soon as ever, he was seen heading down to the starting post, a change came over the spirit of the betting, and at the moment the men were lying at the stern of the skiffs moored at the Star and Garter, 11 to 10 was all that was forthcoming on the Shadwell man. It would be quite superfluous to go into the details of the race, the history of which is so well known. At the start, the worst I have ever seen in my life, Higgins lost quite four lengths, and his work being too low, when they met the rough water he was quite unable to row, and fell hopelessly behind. Boyd, who went through the waves in gallant style, obtained an easy victory and his patrons were jubilant. They had at last found the veritable champion ! Such an unsatisfactory race of course, did not meet with the approval of the friends of Higgins and it was not very long before a fresh encounter was entered upon.

Quite an ovation awaited Boyd when he returned to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and he was forthwith dubbed by public acclaim, as far as the north was concerned, to be the fastest sculler the Tyne had ever produced since the lamented Jas. Renforth.

April 1877
Bell's Life reported:
On Tuesday evening, a very interesting ceremony took place at Newcastle. Boyd was entertained at a dinner by a number of his friends and admirers at the Grey Horse Inn, Gateshead, and presented with the £200 ho won in his match against Higgins, and also a gold watch value £50. At this meeting, the backers of Boyd expressed their willingness to to back their man against anyone in the world for £5,000 a side and in the event of a match being made, they would lay £5,000 to £4,000 on the result. After-dinner garrulity, however, seldom comes to anything, but very soon after this it was decided that Higgins should have the satisfaction he desired, and another match was made to row on the Thames.

8th October 1877
J. Higgins beat R.W. Boyd for the Championship of England over the Putney to Mortlake course

14th January 1878
J. Higgins beat R.W. Boyd for the Championship of England over the Tyne Championship course by way of a foul.

6th February 1880
Bell's Life reported:
A match was made on Friday evening in which an "unknown" sculler was to give John Hawdon of Delaval four lengths start in a race between Scotswood Suspension Bridge and the Redheugh Bridge, about half a mile short of the usual Tyne course, on the following Saturday morning. The sculler to give the start turned out to be Robert Watson Boyd of Middlesbrough, then matched to row Elliott on the following Monday , the result of which is well-known. In addition to the stake money there was a level bet of £100 and the affair has caused considerable excitement in betting circles on Tyneside during the week. The race took place last Saturday morning and it seemed certainly an odd sort of thing to make a journey to witness a race at a time when the gaslights were in full blaze in the different workshops, and at Scotswood it was found that no arrangements had been made for the start. Mr. Oldham, the referee and starter, set to work to remedy this omission, but it took fully three-quarters of an hour to get the boats moored and things in order for the despatch. Neither of the competitors appeared to be in much of a hurry to get afloat, and it was a few minutes to eighth when Boyd launched the Beehive from Greensitt's. Hawdon followed in the James Percy, the boat he used when defeated by Hanlan. The Delaval sculler won the toss for choice of sides and selected the southern station. At the time a strong breeze blew form the west and the river was in a very lumpy state. As might have been expected from the brilliant form shown by Boyd on Monday, betting was completely paralyzed and the backers of the Middlesbrough man had to lay 4 to 1 on him. There was little anxiety to support Hawdon and the investments were very trifling in amount. Mr. Oldham took the men in charge at eight o'clock and ordered them to their stakeboats. Boyd then went over to the cutter in attendance upon him and when he stripped he showed in even finer condition than he did on Monday. He rowed at 11st 1lb or 3lb less than he did when he raced Elliott. While waiting about, Hawdon had shipped a lot of water and he had to return to shore to have his boat emptied; he then peeled and looked very hard and muscular; his weight being a shade over 11 st. He had no cutter in attendance but James Percy took up a position to pilot him from the Referee's boat. Just as the men got fairly settled at the stakeboats, there was a sudden squall of wind which affected Hawdon the most, and where he was the water was decidedly rough to start upon. Boyd's position was much more sheltered and he had the better rowing for the first 20 yards, which enabled him to get his boat fairly on to her legs at the commencement.

The competitors were despatched by pistol signal to an exceedingly good start. Boyd broke away with a magnificent swing of thirty to the minute, and Hawdon commenced with a light clip of 36. Boyd however, was going much the faster, and showing decidedly superior form, he closed up the gap between the boats with marvellous rapidity. Hawdon never rowed better in his life and although he worked as hard as it was possible for any man to do, yet he could not prevent Boyd from catching him, and it will scarcely be believed but the Middlesbrough man was level within 200 yards. Boyd still continuing his powerful 33 to the minute, instantly began to creep ahead and at the post at the foot of Scotswood haughs, he had drawn clear. He still further increased his lead to three lengths at Delaval jetty. Hawdon was clearly outmatched and the further they went, the further he dropped astern and at the mile point six lengths separated them. Although the Middlesbrough man then dropped down to an exercise paddle, his lead at the head of the Meadows was ten lengths. The race admits of no further description as Boyd was content with his ten lengths lead and won by that distance with the most ridiculous ease.

To those who have [persistently maintained that Hawdon was a first-class man, this race was a complete staggerer. Indeed, Boyd had his man completely safe almost the moment they started, and he certainly beat the Delaval man much more easily than did Hanlan when Hawdon was by no means up to the mark. The rowing of the week went far to show even should Boyd be pitted against the mighty Canadian, the old country will turn out a formidable candidate. Some difficulty, however, will be experienced to induce Boyd to leave his business for the time necessary for another preparation and for some months at least, there seems but little prospect of a meeting between the two best scullers in the world.

13th August 1881
Bell's Life reported: The Chinnery Prizes - although he has not had so many opportunities to get fit as those he will probably meet in the Senior Chinnery Prize on the Thames, John Hawdon of Delaval is well forward in condition. and is rowing in such good form that unless he gets chopped by a flyer in his first heat, he will take some doing. Hawdon has succeeded in obtaining a week's holiday from his employers to row in this competition, but we understand he will be and absentee from the Sportsman's Cup contest, as he cannot be spared from his work. R.W. Boyd of Middlesbrough has undergone one of the real old-fashioned preparations for both engagements and E. McGregor, as of old, has brought him into grand trim. In order to finish his work on the Thames, Boyd and his trainer intended to leave Middlesbrough on Thursday morning for the White Hart, Barnes, where quarters have been secured for them.