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World Champs

It’s 11 June 1921. In Blenheim, New Zealand the anticipation mounts! Will Dick Arnst defend his world title against challenger Pat Hannan – a champion sculler for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF)?

The race was big news and had been widely reported in local papers. In response a huge crowd gathered on the banks of the Wairau River, near Blenheim to witness Hannan’s challenge. Arnst had first won the world championship in 1908, then he lost it to Ernest Barry in 1912 and retired from sculling in 1915. But he was back on the scene in 1920. The world title reverted to Arnst by forfeit in 1921 and Hannan was the first to challenge. The papers picked a close race. The excitement was building.

Sadly, though, views of much of the action in this film clip of the race have been obliterated by nitrate decomposition. However, a surprising twist at the end of the film is clear – and well worth the wait!

Year:11 June 1921

LocationWairau River, Blenheim

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World Champs

It’s 11 June 1921. In Blenheim, New Zealand the anticipation mounts! Will Dick Arnst defend his world title against challenger Pat Hannan – a champion sculler for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF)?

The race was big news and had been widely reported in local papers. In response a huge crowd gathered on the banks of the Wairau River, near Blenheim to witness Hannan’s challenge. Arnst had first won the world championship in 1908, then he lost it to Ernest Barry in 1912 and retired from sculling in 1915. But he was back on the scene in 1920. The world title reverted to Arnst by forfeit in 1921 and Hannan was the first to challenge. The papers picked a close race. The excitement was building.

Sadly, though, views of much of the action in this film clip of the race have been obliterated by nitrate decomposition. However, a surprising twist at the end of the film is clear – and well worth the wait!


Year: 11 June 1921

Length: 0:03:36

Production Company: Department of Agriculture

Credits: Camera: Sydney B. Taylor

Source: Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: F1156 World’s Sculling Championship


People: Dick Arnst, Pat Hannan, Ernest Barry

Location: Wairau River, Blenheim

Tags: 1921, WWI, World War One, Dick Arnst, Pat Hannan, Sculling, Rowing, Wairau River, Blenheim, Sculls race, Blenheim, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, NZEF, New Zealand, New Zealanders, world champion

Subject: Rowing, Wairau River, Blenheim, Sculls, New Zealand


The pride of Tai Tapu, at the foot of Canterbury’s Port Hills, Richard ‘Dick’ Arnst was from a well-known farming family. The family of six sons – Hammy, Will, Jack, Dick, Hewy and Fred – were famous for their success as cycling champions.

After only two years’ in sculling, Dick Arnst won the world championship in 1908. He held it until 1912, when he lost to English sculler Ernest Barry. In early 1912 Barry lost a challenge against Arnst on the Zambesi River (Arnst’s brother preceded the racers, armed with a rifle and ready to shoot any crocodiles that could disrupt the race!). Arnst won the 1921 race – becoming World Champion for a sixth time – but he lost the title to NZEF sculling champion, Darcy Hadfield, on the Whanganui River the following year.

Arnst’s involvement (or lack of) in World War One has been a mystery. A crack shot and world-champion athlete, it was curious that he didn’t appear on any list or file relating to service in the war. The riddle was finally solved, when we searched Papers Past online, we found this reference in The Feilding Star: “Dick Arnst, the ex-New Zealander, sometime world’s champion sculler, is now doing war work with the Sydney Harbour Patrol. He volunteered long since for active service, but was rejected” (The Fielding Star, 4 September 1917). It would be interesting to know on what grounds he was rejected.

The Fielding Star reported, just a year later, that: “Corporal Jack Arnst, killed in action, was widely known throughout Australasia as a champion cyclist and winner of innumerable road races. When he enlisted he was farming in North Canterbury. He leaves a widow. His brother is Dick Arnst, ex-champion sculler” (The Fielding Star, 17 September 1918).

Can you add any information about Hannan or Arnst? Please contact us if you can, we’d love to hear from you.