August 9, 1877
The talk in St. John’s in the days approaching Regatta Day in 1877 was all about a crew of fisherman from Placentia daring to compete for supremacy on the historic waters of Quidi Vidi Lake.
In 1877, Mr. Edward Sinnot a businessman of Placentia, assembled a crew of six strapping fishermen, all over 6 feet tall. Phillip Morrissey, Daniel Morrissey, Patrick Morrissey, John Morrissey, Moses Morrissey, and James Whelan. Sinnott would act as coxswain.
On Saturday night, August 4th, the crew hoisted their boat on their shoulders and left Placentia to walk the 90 miles to St. John’s. The trail was a rough one through the woods, as there was no road. The press in St. John’s and the public anxiously awaited their arrival.
The St. John’s newspaper the Morning Chronicle reported on, August 7, 1877
“We have no doubt that their brother fishermen in St. John’s and the neighbouring outports will accord to them a hearty welcome, and in the friendly contest of Thursday (Regatta Day) next willingly concede to them all the immunities of honorable rivalry.”
Expectations on how the ‘Placentia Giants” would do was low. In a letter to the Editor of the Morning Chronicle on August 9th it was written:
“As they have had pluck to start I trust they will make a favorable show; but it is hard to expect men who have had no practice, and who are unaccustomed to the pond, to match men like you have here in St. John’s – well practiced and acquainted with the race course. I merely mention this to show that they will be contending against big odds. I do not mean to throw anything like disparagement on the men; they are good strapping fellows, no doubt, and deserve great credit for breaking the way for others to follow their plucky footsteps in the future.”
The great Race of Regatta day, August 9th, was the “Fisherman’s Race.” Seven boats entered, the competing crews came from Torbay, Outer Cove, Harbour Grace, Placentia, St. John’s and a British Warship that was in port.
The Morning Chronicle of August 11th describes the race:
“The Placentia crew in their own boat walked beautifully over the course and won the Prince of Wales first prize. The famous Outer Cove crew of last year were left far away behind, and proved that even their magnificent rowing could not retrieve the reputation of a boat whose natural propensity to push all before her seem insuperable.”
For rowing the quickest time of the day, the crew of the “Placentia” were awarded a bonus of $10. The victory was the cause of great excitement and Governor Musgrave asked to have the seven visitors brought to him so he could give each a gold sovereign.
With their moment of glory over, the victorious crew lifted their boat to their shoulders and walked home with it.
The Placentia crew quickly became known as as the ‘Seven Placentia Giants’.”
This tremendous feat was replicated in 1977 by the Placentia Lions who once again carried a boat to St. John’s and won the Championship. It marked the second straight year that the Lions Crew had won the Triple Crown of Rowing, meaning they had won the men’s senior Championship in all three fixed-seat rowing Regattas (Placentia, Harbour Grace and St. John’s.)
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at “The Rowing” Series which consists of 212 b&w photographs predominantly of the Royal St. John’s Regatta races and crews, The photographs include team portraits, races underway, presentation of awards and views of the people along the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake.
Recommended Museum: Special tours and visitation to the Royal Regatta Museum are available upon request. If you wish to make a special appointment to visit the Museum, please call the Boathouse at: (709) 576 – 8921. (Note: Research and writing for this Archival Movement was completed by John O’Mara.)
Recommended Web Site: The Royal St. John’s Regatta: http://regatta.nlpl.ca/php/home.php
Recommended tune (Listen): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNVQdwzMKpA