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Scotch’s shortest-lived building?

With the exception of a few very old Old Boys, anyone who has rowed at Scotch knows that the Fours’ Shed was the boatshed that preceded the Cardinal Pavilion (which itself was an expansion of the 1961 boatshed).

Anyone, however, who is old enough to remember 1 December 1934, or the 12 years before it, will know that there was an earlier boatshed, and that it may have the unfortunate distinction of being Scotch’s shortest-lived building of any substance.

With Scotch’s gradual move from East Melbourne to Hawthorn, starting in 1916 and being completed by the start of 1926, an entire campus was built over that time.

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Scotch had never had its own boatshed, and for years had used the Mercantile Rowing Club’s shed (and often its boats). From 1922 more boys were being directed to the Hawthorn campus as the main Senior School buildings were completed. That year, Scotch boys rowed at Hawthorn for the first time. The 1st VIII rowed two practice fours from the city to Hawthorn, but there was no shed for them. The boats were put on stretchers in the quadrangle and covered with tarpaulins, sitting there until the riverbank could be levelled and staging constructed.

In July 1922 the school architect, Henry Hardie Kemp (1859-1946), designed a boatshed for Scotch at Hawthorn. It was designed with twin bays totalling 68’ x 32’ (20.7m x 9.8m). The contract for its construction was signed with builder William Colley Kellaway (1868-1951) on 29 August 1922. It was of simple construction and excited no attention. Only passing references were made at year’s end to it having been completed, but with staging yet to be built, launching boats was difficult. In 1923 it was not being used by the 1st VIII, whose coach preferred the convenience of the Mercantile sheds, to which the 2nd and 3rd VIIIs moved in their last weeks of training.

Mercantile, in fact, continued to be the preferred base for Scotch’s rowing fleet, in part because there was then no riverbank track at Hawthorn for coaches to cycle along. The reliance on Mercantile proved costly, as on 17 April 1927, a fire destroyed the Mercantile boatshed and all Scotch boats housed in it: almost Scotch’s entire fleet.

Scotch’s own boatshed did not survive much longer. Although the connection with Mercantile continued, almost all of Scotch’s fleet was lost again on 1 December 1934. An enormous flood caused widespread damage across Melbourne. Floodwaters lapped the steps of Memorial Hall and boys rowed a boat from Kooyong to Scotch.

Scotch’s timber boatshed – like that of Xavier’s upstream – stood no chance. Film footage shows boys leaping from the roof of the boatshed seconds before it was torn apart and carried off down the foaming Yarra.

The boatshed was only 12 years old, and never seems to have captured Scotchies’ imaginations. It was not utilised as fully as it could have been. No photographs held by Scotch show the boatshed in any detail. It was at a then unloved end of the school that was typically missed by aerial photography. The architect’s plan on this page remains the best illustration of what was probably Scotch’s shortest-lived building.

Updated: 3 October 2016