ID: REG_1980_PGM_A41 / Hervey Benham

TitleThe First Regattas at West Mersea
by Hervey Benham

The First Advertisement

The first Mersea Regatta of which I have found record took place in 1838. It was started by 'a few gentlemen who have greatly interested themselves to promote the island in public opinion as a summer retreat' - evidence that this aspect of Mersea's attraction was not so neglected as is sometimes assumed between the times of the Romans and the Primrose buses.

This was before the era of yachting, and the occasion was based on the Smack Races. There were no Mersea entrants among the first class vessels, won by the Comet of Brightlingsea, with Louisa of Brightlingsea second. Other competitors were Industry of Tollesbury, Hawk of Brightlingsea and Agnes of Wivenhoe. Among the second class smacks, Pink of Wivenhoe won with Magnet of Mersea (E. W. Cook) second, and The Bee of Donyland (Rowhedge) third. True Blue of Mersea (W. Long) and Dart of St. Osyth also competed.

The only other races were rowing. One was a race between three coastguards' galleys from the Richmond (the local Revenue cutter) and the Stone Point and Bradwell stations. That well-known boat, the Viper,' entered and took part despite being disqualified from a prize because 'by the opinion of five naval officers' she was not a galley but 'what in London would be termed a Thames Cutter' (a description new to me).

There was also a duck hunt, won by the duck. The whole event was confined to the afternoon and ended with a grand banquet in 'the Colchester Victuallers' booth erected near the scene of the amusement.

An Amusing Little Postcript to the First Regatta

The following year, with a fine West-South-West breeze, the vessels 'were set in motion in front of that delightful summer retreat, Mersea Cottage, the gardens of which were thrown open'.

This time the smack race was confined to craft under 12 tons, seven vessels competing in a match lasting one and a half hours for a purse of ten guineas. Morning Star of Mersea was the winner, with Caroline, Mary and Gaius, all of Tollesbury, second, third and fourth.

The Advertisment of the Third Regatta

The four-oared rowing match took place off the beach and was followed by the duck hunt in which 'the spectators were disappointed, for unfortunately in tacking the punt ran foul of a small boat which led to a capture by the four-oared boat in pursuit after a chase of about two minutes'. If the reference to tacking is taken literally the hunted punt was under sail, but I suspect it was in fact being rowed.

In the punt race, with three punts rowed by boys, 'a lad named Mussett was declared the winner'. Other sports followed but are not specified.

The third Regatta in 1840 was spoiled by a calm. The smacks were again in two classes. In the first class the winner was Alert of Maldon, with George and Ann of Tollesbury second, Morning Star of Mersea (H. J. May) and Rover of Mersea (J. Bullock) third and fourth.

The second class was won by Victory of Tollesbury with Dart of St. Osyth second, Sarah of Wivenhoe third and Edward of Doneyland fourth.

As well as the race for four-oar galleys of the Revenue service there were races for one-oared boats (Abraham Hanley I, William Ketch 2, James Potter 3), two-oared boats (Henry Cutt 1, S. Ennew 2, James Mussett 3), and for Gentlemen, with Mr. H. J. May and Mr. R. Croydon defeating Mr. R. W. Forster and Mr. E. P. Bawtree. 'Duck Hunt winner (as usual) the duck,' says the report.

These extracts are from the files of the Essex Standard, as it was then called. A further search would reveal whether the sequence has been unbroken except by war up to the present day, and also when the description 'Town Regatta' came to be used - a surprising style in a place which still regards itself as a village, but adopted presumably to distinguish it from the Yacht Club Regatta. It would also be interesting to trace the start and growth of the yachting participation.

It is just possible that records exist of earlier events, for smacks were racing in the Blackwater half a century before this, in 1783, but the regattas mentioned seem to have been the first of a regular series, and mark the start of today's annual event.

This article first appeared in West Mersea Town Regatta Programme 1980, pages 41 to 47.

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AuthorHervey Benham
SourceMersea Museum