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The man who named the Tamar Yacht Club

The honour of naming the original Tamar Yacht Club in Launceston can almost certainly be laid at the feet of William Lushington Goodwin. Ship’s captain, journalist and newspaper owner, it was Goodwin who published the first story on the yacht club and who was on the organising committee of the first Launceston regatta.

Goodwin was an enthusiastic promoter of recreational boating and yachting and was involved in the early organisations associated with what was then quaintly described as ‘aquatic amusements’. Goodwin’s legacy is the Tamar Yacht Club’s claim to be the country’s oldest yacht club.

There is a sad lack of detail on the club’s first office holders and its first members in the Cornwall Chronicle, owned and edited by William Goodwin, which reported on its imminent formation on Saturday 2 September 1837:

“A Yacht Club is about to be formed, to be called, at present proposed, the Tamar Yacht Club. Eight boats are already entered. In the course of the following week the friends to aquatic amusement will meet for the purpose of making regulations, and for arranging other business connected with the affairs of the Club.

“A regatta will be attempted on the occasion of the Queen's Birthday [newly crowned Queen Victoria], when it is expected that his Excellency [the governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Sir John Franklin] will honour the occasion with his immediate patronage.”

William Goodwin was a frequent and vitriolic critic of the colonial government and business rivals. Patricia Ratcliff, in her book The Usefulness of John West, provides a succinct description of Goodwin’s editorial style:

“The personal opinions expressed weekly by William Goodwin in his Cornwall Chronicle on the administration of the Penal Colony, his constant adverse critical evaluations of local government and the performance of its officers, whilst doubtless reflecting some actual truth, were couched in a language calculated to maintain a heightened sense of indignation amongst the free or emancipated reading classes, some of whom were cited as victims.”

The announcement of the imminent formation of a Tamar yacht club and a planned regatta on the Tamar may well have been Goodwin’s attempt to ensure the Hobart authorities, and the newly arrived Governor, Sir John Franklin, did not ignore the people of Launceston in their planning of ‘regatta’ holidays.

There was much talk in Hobart in 1838 about the Tasmanian Anniversary Regatta planned for the Derwent River on 1 December to celebrate the anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of Van Diemen’s Land by the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman in 1642.

Goodwin used his newspaper to promote a regatta on the Tamar to be held before the ‘official’ regatta on the Derwent. It was organised very quickly and held on Saturday 24 November 1838 on Home Reach.

There were races for yachts and rowing boats and in his report on 1 December in the Cornwall Chronicle, Goodwin declared the event a great success:

“The aquatic entertainment, making allowance for the hurry in which it was got up last Saturday, went off very well. The inhabitants of Launceston have little opportunity to relieve their minds of the weight of business, and evinced very satisfactorily by their attendance on the occasion of the regatta, that they lack not the inclination to countenance any and all reasonable and manly amusements.”

On the same page as his glowing report, Goodwin poured scorn on the regatta on the Derwent to be held on that day and he was clearly delighted that the regatta on the Tamar had pre-empted the southern event.

The Hobart authorities and other newspapers seem to have ignored the Launceston regatta. The Cornwall Chronicle is the only paper to mention the Tamar Yacht Club in 1837 and the Launceston regatta of November 1838.

In 1839, William Goodwin and his fellow Tamar yachtsmen transferred their energies to the Tamar Regatta Association.

The modern Tamar Yacht Club was established on Tuesday 24 February 1880 at a meeting in the St John Street office of businessman Edward Gaunt. Those present were described as ardent yachtsmen and many had been involved with the Tamar Regatta Association, some like businessman John Myles Porter, for more than a decade.

The Examiner of the next day reported that the meeting was held to make arrangements for a series of proposed yacht races and this had resulted in the formation of a club. John Porter was elected chairman and it was proposed and duly carried by the meeting that the club be called the “Tamar Yacht Club”.

The Tamar Yacht Club: A History of Sailing in Launceston Tasmania From 1837 has been published by Christopher (Gus) Green OAM and printed in Launceston by Bokprint. It is available at Tamar Marine, the QVMAG Shop and Petrarchs.

This excerpt from the book was published in The Examiner on 9 December 2017. Image courtesy of Rowen Hill.

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