Skiff Race for £200

Thought that headline might get your attention.  However the money is not on offer for a St Ayles regatta……it was the value of a race back in 1858 on the River Clyde between Dumbarton and Bowling, when Harry Clasper a champion rower from Newcastle took on Robert Campbell of Glasgow, “the champion of Scotland”.  In today’s prices, that amounts to £22,500 for a single race, mano a mano.


The excellent book on the history of rowing clubs in Inverclyde, “Old Clyde Pullers” by Tom Mackay reproduces a report published in the Port Glasgow and Kilmacolm advertiser as follows:

On Thursday morning, about 10 o’clock, the skiff race for £100 a-side betwixt Harry Clasper of Newcastle, and Robert Campbell of Glasgow, came off between Dumbarton and Bowling, the distance being about three miles.  The weather was favourable and many hundreds from steamers and small boats, as well as on the margin of the river, witnessed the contest, if contest it may be called, for it was really no race at all.  Clasper got the start, and tantalised his opponent with apparent good humour during the whole run, leaving the “champion of Scotland” at least 200 yards behind him at the goal.  The winning of the race was challenged by  Campbell’s backers, on the ground that Clasper had gone beyond the bounds of the course; but the referee has disposed of the quibble in favour of Casper.  The general opinion  seemed to be that the objection raised, after a defeat so ignominious, was simply shabby.  The company was more numerous than select, and an immense amount of the “ardent” was consumed.  Amongst the throng there were English as well as Scotch “fancy”, and on board the  Craignish Castle a very considerable amount of money changed hands, the backers of Clasper enjoying the desponding looks of the Scotch enthusiasts.  One bookmaker backed Clasper to the amount of £150.

Old Clyde pullers,  available to purchase from Royal West SABC,  is a fascinating insight into the History of rowing in Inverclyde.  On the short piece of shore between Greenock and Langbank there used to be 15 rowing clubs, and the book tells us a little about the history of each of them.  Currently only Royal West remain on this stretch of coast.

The name of Harry Clasper lives on, with Gateshead’s St Ayles skiff being named after him.  Wouldn’t it be great if skiff Harry Clasper could celebrate the namesake, by coming up to row the stretch between Dumbarton and Bowling during 2017?


  1. #1 by Ewan on 12 December 2016 - 5:48 pm

    The last paragraph sounds like an invitation to us West of Scotland types to get organising something!

  2. #2 by Robbie on 12 December 2016 - 6:52 pm

    watch this space!

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