A Semi -Regular Photo Blog about Life in Northern New South Wales, Australia.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Henry Searle - Australia's First World Champion

The Old Maclean Cemetery is famous for the resting place of Henry Ernest Searle, World Champion Rower from the late 1880's and infamous for the large colony of Fruit Bats which recently began roosting in it's leafy grounds, can you see them in the trees.
Henry was born in Grafton in 1866 and grew up in very poor situations. His family moved to Esk Island on the Lower Clarence River. Henry had to row his siblings to a couple of miles a day to school. He soon began to compete in local regattas and was simply outstanding.

Searle moved to Sydney and became world Champion in a famous match up with Peter Kemp on the Parramatta River which he won by 20 lengths. London called and in front of 100,000 people on the Thames he thrashed the Canadian champion William O'Connor.

Tragedy struck on what should've been a triumphant return to Australia with Henry contacting Typhoid Fever on the ship Austral and dying in Melbourne on December 10th 1889. The Colonies were plunged into hysteria with the death of the young champion and there were incredible displays of public grief. 170,000 turned out for his memorial service in Sydney. Virtually the entire population of the Lower Clarence turned up for his internment in Maclean.
There is a memorial to Henry at Henley in the Parramatta River, can you find it Jim, Julie or Ann?

What interests me most about Henry Searle is how he fits into Australian popular history: comes from poor background becomes world champion then dies tragically to the a massive outpouring of public grief, in future decades will come Boxer Les Darcy and thoroughbred horse Phar Lap.

This is a Taphophile Tragics Post. Click here for Julie's Meme on Cemeteries.
This is an Our World Tuesday Post. Click here for more Global Scenes.


  1. A sad story, but what a triumph. We never, ever have to be held back just because of where we started out from.

  2. Wonderful piece of Australian history Mark. Your blog is so informative.

  3. I know nothing of this story but was struck by the parallel to Les Darcy.

  4. Oh dear, I was feeling so excited about this man I'd not known anything about until now, and then this. So sad, to have it all over at 23 after such a life.

  5. A fascinating piece of history indeed, Mark! I agree, your blog is indeed so informative. Hope your new year is off to a great start!


  6. Interesting post. My OWT is up too.

    Happy New Year from New Zealand.

  7. what a lovely headstone... is it odd to say that I am known for strolling graveyards when on vacations?? dunno why i do it...

  8. He must have been very much loved and respected - what a tragic end to Henry Searle.
    A great piece of history Mark.

  9. Terrific history, Mark. You're not a history teacher without reason!

    I have sent you a woeful image of the memorial in the Parramatta River. Shall do better next time.

    Paddington has its own version of the sportsman dying early, in the form of Victor Trumper. He was a little older, but 38 is still short of doddering!

    How exciting is this, to learn so much from cemeteries from all over. I knew nothing about young Henry prior to your post. Great stuff.

    Once again, I am indebted to you for your contribution to Taphophile Tragics. It is an engrossing area of research, which I KNOW you are enjoying, no matter what your family throws at you!

  10. A sensitive post of a historical figure.

  11. What an interesting story with such a tragic end. It is nice to be able to read all these stories behind the graves with this theme blog.

  12. very interesting story. i love visiting cemeteries, especially the old ones. great post.

  13. I have a photo of Parra River monument but didn't know story behind it, thanks for explaining.
    It is on my Fotojo blog 13/11/11.

  14. Glad to find your blog Mark. Looking forward to finding out more about your part of the world.
    Champion Oarsman of the World - that is some epitaph.
    Thanks for pointing out the fruit bats, can I ask why they are infamous?

  15. Saving a bit of history. I love it.

  16. Have just discovered your blog. Interesting post. I look forward to more.

  17. Julie, Yes didn't think of Victor Trumper.
    Thanks so much Jo, love the shot of the memorial with a pelican on top. If anyone else wants to see the memorial in Sydney copy this into the browser, last image.
    Deb: The bats are infamous as they are right in the middle of town and have caused a lot of disagreements in Maclean, undoubtedly they are very numerous, noisy and smelly but many people are worried about the fact that they spread the deadly Hendra virus. Of course they have roosted in Maclean for Millenia and are protected. It is a difficult situation.

  18. The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.


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