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The Otago University Cycling Club, circa 1897. Image courtesy of Hocken Collections, S130245.

The Otago University Cycling Club, circa 1897. Image courtesy of Hocken Collections, S13-245.

It’s a big sporting week in Dunedin, with a Bledisloe Cup match here next Saturday, so it seems appropriate that this week’s blog post should be about sport. This wonderful photograph from the Hocken features one of the most popular sports of the late nineteenth century, cycling. The 1890s was the “golden age” of cycling. Improvements to bicycle design, such as the pneumatic tyre, rear wheel drive and diamond-shaped frame, made riding more efficient and comfortable, and bikes really took off as a means of transport and recreation.

The Otago University Cycling Club was formed in 1896 and was one of several local cycling clubs, among them the large Otago and Dunedin clubs, and the smaller Mimiro Ladies’ Club, High School Club and Railways Club. Several hundred riders took part in the combined ride for the official opening of the season in October 1897. This photograph was taken around that year, perhaps before the university club’s own handicap road race in July. Though there is a glaring absence of women here, another photograph of the club from around the same period does include two women, so they were not excluded from membership.

Herbert Black, a School of Mines student, won the 18-mile race from Outram to Mosgiel and back by way of Allanton with a time of 53 minutes. He is seated second from the right in the middle row of the photograph. Seated on Black’s right is medical student Thomas Will, who was club captain that year. The blurry figure seated on the far right is Edward Howlison. He does not seem to have been a university student or staff member, but was a very important figure in the Dunedin cycling community. Around 1895 he went into partnership with Frederick Cooke to manufacture and sell bicycles – the firm later expanded to sell motor vehicles and Cooke Howlison remains a major vehicle dealer in Dunedin to this day.

The second-place getter in the 1897 race, law student William Downie Stewart, is standing fifth from left, with another law student, Leslie Williams, on his left. Stewart later had a notable career as a lawyer and politician, serving in cabinet for many years. Another well-known politician appears in this photograph – the gentleman with cane and splendid moustache standing second from the right is parliamentarian James Allen (later Sir James). He was a life member of the University Council and later served as Chancellor; he was also a long-serving cabinet minister in the Reform Government and Minister of Defence during World War I. He was a vice-president of the cycling club, together with several members of the university staff; this was probably an honorary role, though Allen was a keen sportsman who had represented Otago in rugby. Another gentleman not dressed for cycling, standing next to Allen on the far right, is law lecturer William Milne.

The club’s first captain, seated on the ground at front left, was John McPhee. Like many early Otago students he was a school teacher who studied at university part-time – he completed three years of terms but does not seem to have ever graduated. Only two other people in the photograph have been identified. Just in front of the door, in bowler hat with head in profile, is Dr Macpherson, and the man standing fourth from the right is Mr Fogo. If you know anything about these two men, or if you can identify anybody else here, I’d love to hear from you!

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