“The earliest definite allusion to Balliol rowing is in 1823, when there was a “boat match between the Rowers of Balliol and Christ Church, which was won by the former, after a well-contested race.”Balliol was certainly one of the four colleges competing in an eight in the summer races of 1825. Two Balliol men rowed for Oxford in the first University Boat Race at Henley in 1829, in a boat lent by Balliol for the occasion.”

The Balliol College Archives have much material concerning the Boat Club from about 1840 onwards. The College Buttery has an extensive collection of sports photographs and trophies including many to do with the Boat Club. Although it is questioned whether an official boat club existed until the 1850s. 

The base of the Boat Club for the latter part of the 19th century and much of the 20th century was a grand barge, which was moored on the River Thames at the south side of Christ Church Meadow. The barge was bought from the Skinners’ Company in 1859. The present boathouse (semi-detached, with New College occupying the other half) was opened in May 1959. The barge was on view in 1996 at Henley, when it was up for auction.

The first recorded headship by Balliol College was in 1851, bumping Wadham College on the first day, and later they reclaimed headship in 1855 on the seventh night after bumping Brasenose College. The College has been Head of the River in the Summer Eights many times, notably a longish run in the 1950s and also regaining the Headship in 2008. Balliol’s previous last reign at the Head of the River was when they were head of Torpids for three consecutive years (1968–71).

At Henley Royal Regatta, Balliol has won the following events:

Ladies’ Challenge Plate – 1855, 1858, 1890, 1891
Visitors’ Challenge Cup – 1899, 1901
Silver Goblets – 1851, 1857, 1859
Diamond Challenge Sculls – 1902
At the 1975 British Rowing Championships, Balliol won the lightweight men’s quad sculls.


Famous Balliol oarsmen have included Lord Justice Chitty, Edmond Warre (Head Master of Eton), Frederick Septimus Kelly (composer, killed in France 1916: considered one of the greatest oarsmen of all time having won at least one event at Henley Royal Regatta each year from 1902–1906 and Olympic gold in 1908), Cardinal Heard, Dan Snow (three time ‘Blue’ and 2001 OUBC president), HM King Olav V of Norway and HM King Harald V of Norway (who was taught to row by fellow student Nick Bevan, later a rowing coach),  and many more.