William Wilson was a professional sculler from Walker, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Bell's Life reported:
A match in Mr. James Hall's open boats, for £50 a side, came off on the Tyne on Tuesday Afternoon from the Redheugh Bridge to Paradise Quay, a distance of about two miles between W. Ward of Hebburn and W. Wilson of Walker, but although for such a substantial stake, the affair excited but little interest. The real fact was that absolutely nothing was known about the men; they had never taken part in a match before and their performances had been limited to a few of the below-bridge unimportant handicaps. It was a genuine match, however, and both men underwent a careful preparation for it.
Ward, who is 33 years of age, 5 feet 6 1/2 inches high and scaled at 11 stone 4 lb, placed himself under Ralph Hepplewhite of Dunston, and the pair did their work from Mr. George Thompson's Inn, the Crooked Billet, while Wilson who is 30 years of age, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches and 10 stone 3 lb was located at Mr. John Stoddart's Tower Inn at Low Elswick, and had Robert Chambers as mentor.
The weather was bitterly cold, but bright and if the competitors had got away at a quarter to six, the time appointed for the start, they would have had a good beautifully smooth tide under them, but a lot of time was cut to waste, and ultimately the tide was on the fall before they set themselves. There was no lack of steamboat accommodation and no less than half a dozen craft attended but the aquatic excitement of the previous few days was just about worn out, and the company of spectators could not be considered large.
The Gateshead was the official steamer and carried Mr. Thomas Jones of the Newcastle Rowing Club, the gentleman who had been selected as referee, and the leading supporters on each side, but speculation was almost a dead letter and it was only when 3 to 1 and 7 to 2 on Ward was forthcoming, that there was any business at all transacted. The favourite won the toss and chose the inside berth, but it did not confer any great advantage upon him. Both competitors were evidently very nervous when they took up their stations and a long weary delay ensued before they came to an understanding.
Ward, however, shot away with a half length best of the start and as Wilson steered a shocking bad course, he maintained his advantage for the first 50 yards. The favourite however then settled down to a most peculiar stroke, all from the arms and quite destitute of swing and by the time the Shot Tower was reached he was a length and a half in front. Wilson worked a good deal more with his body than his opponent and although his style was altogether faulty, yet but for his shocking steerage, he might have done better than he was now doing. Pegging away as hard as he could with his terribly exhausting stroke, Ward held his lead until after passing the Low Elswick gangway, but Wilson then straightened and keeping the best on her even keel, he spurted up alongside of his opponent as they passed Waterstone's Gates. Ward struggled hard to shake off his opponent but they raced together for the next 100 yards, when entirely owing to his extremely bad style, the favourite went all to pieces. He certainly regularly put his oars into the water but his stroke was utterly devoid of power, and so rapidly did Wilson quit him, that at the foot of the Meadows he was three lengths in advance. The Walker man continued to row strongly to the finish, and widening the gap as he covered the remainder of the distance, he won very easily by 130 yards. The winners time was 15 minutes 56 seconds.
Bell's Life reported:
William Ward of Hebburn and William Wilson of Walker have signed articles to row on the Tyne in open boats from the High Level Bridge to Waterstone's Gates, a distance of one mile, on Monday 17th September 1877. Wilson staking £25 to £20. The first deposit of £5 a side is down with Mr. James Beldon of the Golden Tiger Inn, Newcastle and the second deposit of £7 10s. on the part of Wilson and £5 on the part of Ward falls due on Tuesday First.