Peter Kemp


Peter Kemp was born 15th November 1853 the son of Peter Kemp (a convict who arrived in 1832) & Sophia nee Huxley. As a boy growing up near the mouth of the Colo River, he taught himself to row on the Colo & Hawkesbury Rivers. His first race was against William Grono (from another well-known Hawkesbury family) The sport of sculling was flourishing throughout the world at this time, particularly in Australia. Australians were dominating the sport and pulling in huge crowds of spectators. Kemp became interested and participated in several small events including a race in 1873 with his brother Thomas. They beat William & Alexander Grono in a double sculls event, the times was 33 minutes over the four mile event. 

Considered a late starter, his first important race was against George Solomon on the Hawkesbury River, he was then aged 31 years old. In 1884 as a virtual unknown, he raced against the superior sculler, Neil Matterson. Kemp led for half the race the n became ill. Following some controversy he attracted the attention of champion Bill Beach and went to England with him as his protégé in 1886. He performed badly and was harshly criticised by the press both here and in England. On his return to Australia he started a training program, and actively exercised. In 1887 he once again met Matheson at a race on the Parramatta River which he won with little effort.

 At another event, Bill Beach reigning champion, beat Canadian sculler Hanlan at a race on the Nepean which Beach won. Kemp then challenged Beach however Beach decided to retire and under the rules of rowing, this made Kemp the World Sculling Champion. The sculling world was stunned and the press had a field day claiming the situation was rigged and Kemp was not worthy as the title holder. In 1888 a race was held at Parramatta between Kemp and his rival Hanlan. Huge crowds flocked the riverbanks and large bets were made. Kemp won the race and silenced his critics, he was then hailed as a brilliant oarsman. At his peak in 1888, Kemp's physical measurements were recorded in the newspaper. He was described as a strongly built, muscular man, with a wonderful freedom and dash in his stroke . His height was recorded as 5' 9½" , his chest was 40½" & biceps 14½". His rowing weight was 11 stone 4 pound.

 Hanlan challenged Kemp again several months later, however Kemp easily won the race. Following this race, Kemp was challenged by Henry Searle, an unknown sculler who was quickly being recognised as a champion. Searle beat Kemp to become the champion, however died in 1889 and under the rowing rules, Kemp reclaimed the title. After several more wins Kemp was finally beaten by John McLean in 1890. 

Peter Kemp was married in 1874 in Windsor to Henrietta Jones, the daughter of William Jones and Catherine Elkin. They had 9 children but sadly Henrietta died, following the birth of daughter Bertha in 1891. Kemp married a second time to Bertha Lawler in 1891 and there were two more children born. Peter Kemp passed away on the 1st December 1921 at Summer Hill and is buried at Rookwood.


Windsor & Richmond Gazette 7 June 1890


Daily Mirror 14 March 1959 p.5

Hawkesbury Pioneer Register Vol. 1 p. 108

Windsor & Richmond Gazette 7 June 1890 

Hawkesbury Gazette 1 July 1987 p. 35

Nepean Times  27 October 1888 p. 3

Australian Biographical Genealogical Register Vol. 1 p.141

PETER KEMP Windsor & Richmond Gazette 7 June 1890 p.1