Saturday, 2 May 2009
Geelong Regatta 1858 - 'Paddy from Cork'
It was a long time ago now, but the Geelong people still remember. It was the year before the yacht club was officially formed. That year a man arrived with his wife Charlotte and daughter Veronica to settle in Geelong. He'd heard that there was a gold rush in Ballarat and came to make money. Amazingly, he did make his money and moved with his family to Western Beach, which was then somewhat well off. Once there, he settled and began to build a business. He'd been a publisher in the old country and as that was what he knew, he started a publishers. He began with the Geelong Advertiser and Almanac. The railway to Melbourne had just been completed and he bought property too, advertising the clean sea air in Melbourne for those who wished to come to Geelong.
They did come too, from all over Australia and even further. Now it happened that the man, George Phillips was his name, had decided to marry his daughter to a wealthy man. He did not wish her to want for anything as he had done once, so as soon as she was 18, he began to look around for someone. Typically, she was not interested in being married to some 'whiskery old gentleman with nothing of any interest to say'. She was more romantic than her father.
The regatta had been a feature in Geelong since 1844, but in 1858, a group of gentlemen yachtsmen gathered together at the Geelong Athenaeum and during conversation, bet on the race. Lou Abrahams put up money for a special trophy and bet he would win it. But a young man sailed into Geelong in his own yacht and entered the race. He was smitten with George Phillips' daughter Veronica and hoped that by betting on himself to win the race he might make enough money to set himself up. When he was asked his name he answered that everyone called him Paddy and he had come from County Cork in Ireland. In Geelong everyone settled for calling him Paddy from Cork.
Now it happened that Veronica, or Ronnie as everyone called her, was pretty smitten with Paddy too. But while handsome, he was not rich and George was not about to let his daughter marry a penniless Irishman, however handsome he was. So when Paddy asked for Ronnie's hand from her father, George told him that the only thing that could persuade him was if Paddy won the race. The old man did not understand that to both lovers, this was even more romantic. Paddy asked her father then to promise before witnesses that if Paddy won the race Ronnie would be free to marry him.
"She'll be free to marry you, but she'll live on no money of mine if she does," George retorted crossly, for now it began to dawn on him that Paddy had an incentive to win.
Ronnie was furious to hear this and told her father that he could keep his money if he loved it more than her. She would marry Paddy when he'd won the race she declared. George too was furious with her and would not speak to her. Ronnie's mother Charlotte, was equally furious at the two of them. She told her husband that she knew full well how much he loved his daughter and only his obstinacy had kept him from saying it. She told her daughter that her father had always loved her more than any amount of money and that she ought not to break her father's heart so callously. Both kept quiet, but thought on what she had said.
In any case, the race very suddenly overwhelmed the town. To win the Lou Abrahams trophy the boats all had to start from Williamstown further up the coast. The race was a 34 nautical mile one from Williamstown to Geelong and so all the boats suddenly descended upon Williamstown and crowds of onlookers and gamblers gathered to watch. All along the coastline between Williamstown and Geelong, people waited for the boats to start.
Paddy from Cork went over his yacht until she was ready to go and bet his money on himself to win. His fine looking yacht, the Fair Kiss of Fand bobbed in the harbour, yet the other sailors while they admired her, did not believe for one moment that Paddy would win the race.
The starting cannon was fired on time and the boats took off. The Fair Kiss of Fand leapt forwards and plunged through the lacy foam of the sea. Aboard her, Paddy could be heard playing his flute now and then as he moved fluidly about the boat making sure her sails caught and kept the wind. Her sails bellied out and her prow dipped elegantly and rose to point at the clouds passing by. It was a good day for a race, the sun shone and the winds blew.
Paddy kept Fair Kiss of Fand moving, gliding across the waves until she seemed to skim upon their crests like a carefully thrown stone. Richer men's ships pushed and shoved through the waters at some speed. They had bigger sails to catch more winds, but they had more need of more winds too. Fair Kiss of Fand had less of her to move and her sails kept the winds they caught, turning and playing within the hollow of her sails. At first it had seemed that Paddy could not win the race, but as the boats rounded the curve of the coast, Fair Kiss of Fand sprang forwards and sped on across the tops of the waves, sea-lace at her bows falling away. At Geelong the crowds watched, tense and fraught with delicious terror. For hours nobody knew who was leading, then three tall ships came into view and the crowds cheered.
"Heart of the Waves! Harrison's boat, the Lucy! Bright Star of Mine!" a man with a telescope cried out.
George Philips smiled with satisfaction to hear that, but then the man gasped and called out,
"There's a little yacht nipping between 'em, don't know whose it is... wait, Fair Kiss... Fair Kiss of something!"
Ronnie leapt to the telescope and laughed aloud, "Fair Kiss of Fand, the boat of Paddy from Cork!" she declared!
George growled and his wife stuck her elbow sharply in his side and hissed him quiet. He did as he was told and watched, quietly urging on the Heart of the Waves, the boat of Rankin Brown the millionaire. Anything but that young upstart, he told himself.
Nearer they came and nearer, the Fair Kiss of Fand weaving in among the bigger yachts around her until she sighted the open sea and the harbour. Now Paddy stood upon the bow and saw the white kerchief of his love waving to him, waving him on and the boats about him seemed to charge forwards upon the Fair Kiss of Fand. He breathed deeply and began to sing to the Irish goddess Fand of the seas. Now the smaller yacht seemed to rear up on the wave and dipped but slightly before rising again. Her sails smacked loudly and new winds burst in upon the hollow of the sails and this time they meant no play, but shoved their shoulders into the sails and pushed the little yacht onwards. The seas seemed to darken with a deep flinty greyness, with purples and glassy greens within before the blue of these seas returned and now Fair Kiss of Fand leapt up and leaned forwards gliding onwards to the harbour where a ribbon loosely crossed its open mouth. Paddy took hold of the ribbon as it crossed over the bows of his yacht and raised it up. It came away and fluttered in his hands as the crowd cheered. He tied Fair Kiss of Fand to the moorings and strode up the quayside with the ribbon fluttering still from his fist. Then Ronnie was in his arms and he held her closely, kissing her.
George Philips was furious and strode home angrily determined to cut his daughter out of her inheritance. His wife followed in silence, but once within doors she burst upon him with fire and brimstone. He should above all want his own daughter's happiness in her marriage and not his own mere self satisfaction. He was an old fool to think that his own daughter's heart could be bought for millions when his own had been won by love... and much more besides. George was not a timid man, nor was he a coward and he loved his wife. He answered her that Paddy had no money and would she see their daughter live in poverty with such a man?
But they were interrupted by a knocking at the door. Charlotte Philips hissed at her husband who shut his mouth as she opened the door. There stood Paddy and Ronnie and George noticed the look of sheer joy on his daughter's face.
"Sir," Paddy began, "I didn't come to fight with you. I love your daughter and today you gave me an incentive to win this race. I bet that I would win, for I knew that you feared your daughter would marry a poor man. I have collected on my bets sir and find that I have A$96,000 to my name. I wanted to reassure you sir that I will do all I can to keep your daughter in comfort and in happiness and to ask you again if you will have me for your son-in-law."
Well it was handsomely asked and George glanced at his wife who was glaring at him. He could do nothing else but agree to the wedding. A very handsome wedding it was too. There was briefly some talk of moving to Milford on Sea, but they were happy there in Geelong, so there they stayed. They brought up a beautiful daughter called Jess and a handsome boy called Joe and were always very happy. Should George ever have cause to mention the Heart of the Waves, Charlotte would narrow her eyes at him and then kiss him tenderly.
"It was a close race love, but the best of men won it," she would tell him.
They gave Paddy a trophy too, the Lou Abraham Trophy and engraved it with the year and his name - Paddy from Cork even though Paddy soon became Paddy of Geelong. As so many did in those days.