The Day World Champion Ned Hanlan Rowed Through Chatham

His strokes were a thing of beauty travelling down the Thames River through Chatham to the cheers of adoring fans.

In the summer of 1880, Edward “Ned” Hanlan rowed through Chatham as part of the town’s Dominion Day Regatta.

The day marked the formal opening of the new Tecumseh Park in Chatham, with tens of thousands lining the river to catch a glimpse of Hanlan, who had won the Canadian championships in 1877, became the American champion in 1878, and won four consectutive World Championships from 1880-1884.

Banners were hung in the streets proclaiming “Hanlan’s Headquarters” “Welcome Hanlan” and “Our Boy, Hanlan, Champion Oarsman,” with Hanlan arriving that day from Toronto via train, and being put up at the Rankin House in Chatham.

As the Chatham Planet wrote, “Edward Hanlan, the renowned oarsman, was the man of the hour, and his appearance upon the water was the occasion for a rousing cheer from as many as recognized him, or knew why the cheers were given. As he moved up and down the stream, nearing the groups on the steamers, or upon the docks, he was heartily cheered, and his exhibitions of rowing skill were rapturously applauded.”

The crowd on the Fifth Street Bridge was described to be “as packed as bees upon an apple bough.”

Along with fans on shore, steamers from Detroit, Windsor, and Sarnia-Port Huron arrived overflowing with fans to watch the races, and catch a glimpse of Hanlan, one of the foremost athletes on the planet in the 1880s.

For Hanlan’s exhibition, he rowed against Chatham sculler Harry Ball. According to accounts, Ball did well, causing Hanlan to give an effort.

Only months after rowing in Chatham, in November of 1880, Hanlan would win his first World Sculling Championship on the River Thames, this time with 100,000 fans lining the banks in London, England. He would defend the title several times before eventually losing his title to Elias Laycock in 1884.

From River Thames to River Thames, Ned Hanlan was one of the World’s greatest rowers, and undoubtedly the greatest rower ever to travel through the city of Chatham.

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