Experts agree that the rowing matches on St.John's Harbour can actually be traced to 1816. The first documentation of boat races in St. John's is taken from a very small notice in The Royal Gazette newspaper dated 1816:
"We understand a rowing Match will take place on Monday next between two boats, upon which considerable Bets are depending. They are to start at half past One o'clock from along side the Prison Ship."
- The Royal Gazette, 6 August 1816Whether or not this is the first official notification of the Regatta starting is open for debate. Due to lack of official records, it cannot be confirmed.
Ties with Royalty
From the very beginning the Regatta had ties to Royalty. In 1818 the races were held to coincide with the 57th anniversary of King George III's official coronation date of September 22nd, 1760. Just a short time later, in 1820 the Regatta was probably cancelled due to the death of King George III. The tradition of cancelling the Regatta when a monarch dies continues to this day and further shows the ties to Royalty. During this era, a number of Royalty would die, including King George III in January of 1820, King George IV on June 26th, 1830, and King William IV on June 20th, 1837.
The Regatta Committee
In 1826 there is mention of the first ever organizing committee called The Amateurs of Boat Racing. Up to this point the Regatta was planned "on the fly" and had very few specific rules or regulations. In the media of the time, it is referred to as an annual event, giving credence to the assumption it was run for several years previous.
In the year 2002, the Royal St. John's Regatta Committee uncovered historical documentation that gave support to the notion an organized Regatta was first held in 1818. As such, the original date of formation, 1826, was overturned in favour of this new information, making the offical formation date 1818.
One of the major highlights during the early years of this era is the fact that the Regatta took place on both Quidi Vidi Lake and St.John's Harbour. The rowing races would take place on Quidi Vidi during one day and the next day would see the sailing races on the harbour. This sometimes would lead to a three day event if the weather did not co-operate.
Murder at the Regatta?
One of the oddest Regatta occurences was the death of William Fogarty during the 1843 Regatta. According to reports he had been quarreling with and struck the husband of Jane Flowers. She retaliated by throwing a stone striking him on the left side of his body, while another man - Patrick Cowman - delivered one or two blows to the body at the same time. Fogarty fell to the ground and died a short time later. The two were charged with manslaughter, but upon closer inspection by Drs. Kielley and McKen it as determined the cause of death was loss of blood to the brain due to "violent excitement", possibly from his enthusiasm of being at the Regatta. Jane Flowers and Patrick Cowman were cleared of all charges.
Events within the city have always had an impact on the running of the races. In 1846 the Regatta was cancelled due to a fire within the city in June, and a great windstorm on September 19th. The weather would obviously play a large factor in the running of any race, even today, and the tragedy of the fire would be repeated before the century came to a close.
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