The annual Head of the River has always been a highlight of the Wesley College sporting calendar and one of the many traditions associated with rowing, alongside the annual Boat Race Dinner, an event going back more than 100 years that draws together current and former rowers to share stories and celebrate the virtues of this great sport.

Wesley College has a long and distinguished history in Associated Public Schools Rowing, with many rowers competing nationally and internationally, including at the Olympics.

The 1901 Wesley Rowing Crew
The 1901 Wesley Rowing Crew

The first boat race between Victorian schools was conducted between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School in 1868. Wesley College first competed at the Head of the River in 1871, and the first coach was the Headmaster of the day, Professor Martin Howy Irving. Wesley won the race for the first time in 1874 but had a long wait for a second victory in 1896. The Head of the River was rowed in four-oared boats from 1868 to 1900. In 1901 Charles Donald was appointed as, arguably, Wesley’s first professional coach.

Charlie was an innovative coach, as his 10 wins in 12 between 1902 and 1913  indicate. Wesley dominated on the Yarra, with 12 wins from 15 starts; Scotch in 1907 and 08 was the only other victor during this unequalled period of rowing supremacy.

The golden age of Wesley rowing really came to an end in 1913, although Charlie saw two further wins, in 1915 and 1933,  and continued to coach Wesley crews until 1940.

Charlie’s extraordinary achievement earned him the sobriquet, ‘Prince of Coaches.’