Student rowing at Manchester predates the University, with the first reference being a senior coxed-fours race in 1862 between Owens College and the “Laboratory” (possibly the then-new Physical Laboratory), over 1 mile was instituted on the river Irwell below Quay street. It is thought likely that the crews boated from the Nemesis Rowing Club Boat House at New Bailey Street – the beginning of a long association with the Nemesis which had been founded some 15 years earlier in 1847.
The race developed over succeeding years, with coxed-pairs and single-scull (3/4 mile) and junior coxed pairs (1 mile) added to become briefly a big social occasion in Owens College, with all classes cancelled and the Principle leading the entire staff and students, plus spouses, parents, siblings, and Manchester establishment to promenade the riverbank in Pomona gardens (then on the south bank of the Irwell in what eventually became the docks). Other athletic events were added in an early version of a “festival of sport”.
Sadly boats were hard to obtain; few college members rowed – and they were described as “abysmally embarrassing” – and most importantly the course was too short, with fouls (both inadvertent and deliberate) frequent. Above all, for such a “gracious and public College occasion”, the water stank.
Despite the “Jack Ward Cup” being instituted in 1870, once the accompanying athletics events moved elsewhere in 1871, the social occasion went with them, and the regatta promptly died a death.
However, even as the Pomona Gardens extravaganza collapsed, a race at Agecroft on 9 May 1874 was a portent of things to come. Manchester University was formed in 1880, but Owens College continued and in 1889 the Owens College Boat Club was founded. In 1894 the students renewed their links with Nemesis when they were invited to use the facilities and boats of the club (again boating from New Bailey Street) at special rates.
A number of students took up the offer, and by 1903 the Owens College Boat Club was being mentioned in the national “Rowing Almanack”. The Club continued after Owens College was absorbed by the University in 1904 and the “Manchester University Boat Club” (operating through Nemesis) was founded and affiliated to the Athletics Union on 25 October 1907.
The AU generously donated £5 towards a new boat, but sadly this largesse was inadequate and the first “MUBC” folded in 1909.