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Monday 22 October 2018

Ultrarunning in the 1800s

by Phil Essam

One to be definitely extended upon!

Ultrarunning in the 1800’s


Phil Essam

As part of my interest in documenting the history of  Australian Ultramarathons I have been delving into the scant information available about the sport in the 1800’s.  A lot of the information has been placed at . There is a lot more information to e found and recorded about ultra running in the 1800’s, but hopefully this article will give you the reader a short idea what the era was like for ultra running and walking.

Ultrarunning and  Ultrawalking as such did not exist in it’s present form and name. The 1800’s referred  to anything athletic as “Pedestrianism” .  Pedestrianism was basically running and walking foot racing and was largely conducted in a carnival atmosphere. Betting was the order of the day and races were conducted from 60 yeards to 1000 miles.  Pedestrianism started in England before spreading to the colonies of America and Australia.

Much like football and cricket today, pedestrianism was a respite from the day to day drudgery of living  in the colonies and the uncertainty of their existence. It was entertainment in it’s purest form. Track cycling and boxing were also sports of the times as well.

There are six names that come up in the available information about the era. Those names are W Edwards, W Baker, Allen McKean, Clifford, JAssenheim and Daniel O Leary. They raced between distances of 12 hours and 1000 miles and the sport seemed to have venues between Melbourne, Sydney, Ballarat,  Bathurst and Adelaide. The venues at Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney were listed as being Exhibition Buildings. This suggests that the races were part of a bigger event including cycling, boxing and other activities.

From the available information one can see that small cash prizes were awarded at the events. These included the 30 pounds that Assenheim was awarded for beating Wright in a 12 hour event in 1882 and the 200 pounds that a Miss Philips was awarded for winning  a six day race in Sydney. This suggests that most of the pedestrians were semi – professional and were able to eke out a meagre existence from their achievements around the country.

Out of the information that I have been able to piece together there are two events that really attracted my attention. The first one was the achievement of W Edwards to walk 110 miles in 24hrs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1878. I only had the time and date for this achievement, but thanks to the MCG Trust I was able to find out extra information on that mark.

This is part of an article that was in the The Australasian, Saturday December 21, 1878, p.780.
“W. Edwards, the champion long-distance walker, yesterday evening commenced his arduous undertaking to walk 110 miles in 24 hours. The place selected for performing the feat is the Melbourne Cricket-ground, an oblong walk having been constructed in front of the grand stand, and slightly encroaching on the green. The walk is composed of ordinary planking nailed to joists laid on the ground. A canvas covering is stretched on poles overhead, to screen the pedestrian from the sun.

The rink was measured yesterday afternoon by Mr. J. S. Jenkins, town surveyor for Richmond, who certified that it was 117yds. 1ft. 0½in. round, so that it takes 15 laps to make a mile, and Edwards will have to walk round the ring 1650 times before he completes his task.

Shortly before the time for starting Edwards emerged from the tent in the centre of the rink in his walking dress, which is rather a peculiar one, the tights being of black satin, trimmed with delicate white lace. He is a well-made young man, 26 years of age, 5ft. 7½in. high, and weighs in his walking dress 9st. 8lb. He appears to be in the perfection of condition.

Exactly at 6 o'clock he started off with a light springy step, going over the ground at a good pace, and with great ease. He made the first miles in 1o minutes and 10 seconds, and on finding the time he was making he eased a little, and did the second mile in 11 minutes 7 seconds, and was keeping on at that pace. His rule is to walk about 30 miles, and then take a rest for about 20 minutes.”

This was the follow up article in the The Australasian, Saturday December 28, 1878, p.813.
Edwards ... successfully concluded his task on Saturday evening, having six minutes to spare ... Although a heavy shower or two fell after midnight on Friday, the pedestrian had splendid weather on Saturday, but the attendance was meagre in the extreme, not more than 300 persons being present, and most of these were members of the club.
Commencing at 6 p.m. on Friday, he walked the first mile in 10m. 10s.; but easing up a bit in the second, he took 11m. 7s., and kept on at a nice swinging gait. The first 10 miles were done in 1h. 51m., the second in 1h. 52m., the third in 2h., the fourth in 2h. 21m., the fifth in 1h. 59m., and the sixth in 1h. 52½m.
Edwards rested for six minutes at the end of 50 miles, and when 60 were completed he rested for a longer time, and took some light food and refreshment. At 21 minutes to 9 a.m. he had completed 70 miles, and he did the next 10 in 2h. 3m. He rested for about 15 minutes at that stage, and then re-commenced walking, and by 11 minutes to 4 p.m. had accomplished 100 miles. There was then over two hours in which to do the last 10 miles, and so he consented to stand for the purpose of being photographed. The remaining 10 miles were travelled at an average of about 12 minutes per mile, the last lap being finished at 5.54 p.m., or 6 minutes before the 24 hours had elapsed.

The second achievement in the archives that really sparked my imagination  was Allan McKean completing 1000 miles in 1000 hours in Melbourne in 1859. This was made more remarkable by the fact that it was the second time that he had completed this achievement in the same year. Here is an extract of the newspaper reporting of that achievement.

The Mudgee Newspaper, January 18, 1859
THE GREAT WALKING MATCH AGAINST TIME. – On Monday night the 3rd inst., at 20 minutes past 10 the pedestrian, Allan McKean, accomplished his herculean task of walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours. For the last few days this event has caused great excitement in the sporting world, although there appeared to be only one opinion, namely, that McKean was possessed of sufficient powers of endurance to complete his task. The Olympic Theatre, which has been the arena on which this match was performed, was last evening crammed to excess, there being, as near as it is possible to form an opinion, between 500 and 600 persons present, every available corner being taken possession of. Allan McKean, it will be remembered, accomplished the feat of walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours at Ballarat a few weeks only before he commenced his second attempt in Melbourne, on Tuesday, November 23, at a quarter to 8 o’clock a.m., and it was generally thought that he had not allowed himself sufficient rest, but the event has proved that he did not overrate his capabilities. The shortest time in which he has walked a mile has been 8 min. 40 secs., and the longest time 26 mins. and 44 secs., that being during the period at which he was suffering a very severe sore on the sole of the foot. He completed his thousandth mile in fifteen minutes thirty-nine seconds, and appeared to be as little fatigued as when he had accomplished one-half of his allotted distance. Upon the completion of the 27th round, he was most loudly cheered, and it was some time before sufficient silence could be obtained for the result to be made known. – Argus of Tuesday.

As you can see the reporting on both events tells us a lot about the 1800s and they provide a valuable insight into the sport of pedestrianism in Australia in the 1800’s. As part of my quest to document the history of the sport in this country I will be exploring the archives of the newspapers of the time to try and find out more information on the races that took place and the personalities that were involved in the sport. It would be nice to ascertain the family background of some of the names, wether they were born in Australia and where did they live in Australia. But that will probably take a few years yet.
Phil Essam

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