New Zealand’s rowers exploded on the world stage in the last few decades. At the Rio Olympics our rowers won 24 of the medals.
But early last century we also had rowing superstars whose names now are not as well remembered.
One was Richard (Dick) Arnst.
He was born on November 28, 1883 to Hermann and Catharina Arnst. The pair had met on the voyage from Germany to New Zealand and married in Christchurch. Richard was one of 13 children.
Initially Dick and his brothers, Hermann, Jack and Bill were cyclists, going on to be champions. Jack broke records and won many races. He was killed in action at Bapaume in 1918.
After a championship career in Australia, Dick took up sculling. He had no previous experience but after tutoring by experts, notably former World Champion George Towns, in Australia he began winning races.
He began issuing match races challenges but was not immediately taken seriously until Harry Pearce took him on for £100 a side. He won and immediately challenged World champion William Webb - also a New Zealander - for the professional single sculls world championship title.
It was a huge event and at the end Dick had won - in a sport he had only taken up a couple of years before.
For several years he held off challengers - including a rematch with Webb and one by Pearce, Australian champion, who he had beaten in his first challenge match.
One of his races - against English champion Ernest Barry - took place on the Zambezi River for a massive purse of £1000. Hippopotamuses were deterred from interfering with the race by a marksman. Dick won.
In 1911, while on a visit to Sydney, New South Wales, Dick was attacked and beaten. He was nursed by Amy Williams who he later married. They had one son.
But in 1912 he lost to Ernest Barry in England on the Thames. When Barry retired the title was up for grabs and Dick claimed it, defending it against Pat Hannan in 1921.
His final race for the title took place a year later against Darcy Hadfield who won.
After sculling other sports took Dick’s interest, particularly shooting and he won several championships.
He and a brother, Henry bought a farm in Timaru.
Dick died in on December 7, 1953. Arnst Place in Christchurch is named after him as is the Arnst River in the Nelson Lakes National Park.
Despite his prominence in several sports, Dick was not inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame until 1995.
He is buried in the Timaru Cemetery. (with thanks to Cathy Arnst for telling us about him).
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