Nelson's Yachting Cup


"A large assemblage of people covered Captain England's jetty and the neighbouring banks and a booth was erected opposite the jetty where the musicians enlivened the scene by playing some appropriate tunes. After the sailing boats came in everybody wended his way through the rain as best he might to get a look at the Vegetable and Flower Show."

Nelson RegattaNelson Regatta,  Nelson Provincial Museum, AC959 Click image to enlarge 

The Nelson Examiner of February 4 1843 report of the celebrations of Nelson's first ever Anniversary Day.

Regattas were part of the Anniversary Day celebrations for many years, and were initiated by James Cross, the Nelson pilot and later Harbour Master. His own story is typical of many of the settlers, and an indication of the sense of achievement on those early Anniversary Days.

Cross was one of the men who brought Captain Wakefield over from Astrolabe (on the Abel Tasman coast) and found the site for Nelson. He had sailed to New Zealand on the Whitby, but when his wife arrived to join him a few months later it was with the tragic news that their two young children had died on the voyage out - casualties of whooping cough along with 63 other youngsters on the disastrous voyage of the Lloyds.

By 1858 the annual regatta had grown to a two day event starting with a race for Māori canoes (waka). The Nelson Yacht Club, formed in 1857, purchased a cup as a trophy for the Waterman's race. The Waterman's cup was raced over two miles, between two-oared boats not exceeding 20 feet in length, for a prize of £10.

The Waterman CupThe Waterman Cup on display at Port Nelson  Click image to enlarge

The cup was made in London in 1843 and when it resurfaced again in 2002, the catalogue of the Wellington auction company Dunbar Sloane described it thus: "Victorian sterling silver Baluster Mug with cover, ornate bright cut foliate and cartouche decoration, the domed cover with merman finial with presentation inscription:

"Watermans Cup, won by Garry Owen Built by Wm Crowther and steered by WT Crowther at the Anniversary Regatta Nelson New Zealand March 19th 1858."

A Nelsonian spotted the cup in the catalogue and let the Nelson Yacht Club know. Commodore Kim Harris says they looked into reclaiming it under the Antiquities Act but found they would have to buy it at the auction. The Port Nelson Trust helped out with a cash grant and the cup came home. Ray Dyson Joinery built a case for it and it now resides in the Port Nelson Ltd foyer, though is it is owned by the Nelson Yacht Club. It is believed to be the oldest yachting trophy in New Zealand,or possibly even the oldest trophy for any sport.

William Crowther is listed in the Nelson Electoral Roll in 1853 as a Ship Carpenter, but an ad in the Examiner in 1857 calls for new yacht club members to register their interest at Mr Crowther's Haven Inn. At the 1858 regatta, William Crowther was running a booth at the regatta, selling 'ales, wines and cordials at moderate prices.'

The Examiner says of the Waterman's race: 'The prize was easily won by the Garry Owen, although we must say that she is not so fast a boat as we had expected to find her.'

Crowther employed two Māori to row the boat and defended her speed in a letter to the Examiner a few days later:

‘Suffice to say my men had their instruction, which in their eagerness they exceeded by coming in considerably further ahead than I wished for. shows good sense in a rower when he knows when he has won...'

This story was first published in  Nelson Limited Report October 2003 (updated 2022)

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