Austen Authors May 27, 2019: Boating and fishing in the Regency

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the States. There have been parties and parades, a night race in Charlotte, North Carolina, and lots and lots of campers/tourists in my town.

Boats on Pymatuning Lake. Yes, my side mirror is held together with purple duct tape. 😉

Two of the biggest activities around here in the summer, especially amongst the out of towners who invade every weekend, are boating and fishing. I began to wonder if those activities were popular in the Regency. It turns out, they were!

Donna Hatch lists both fishing and boating in her list of what the upper class did during the summer. She lists crochet as something the ladies did, but I know from research I did for a previous Austen Authors post that crochet wasn’t really around much during the Regency. I guess that makes her statement about boating and fishing suspect, too, so when I discovered it, I looked for additional sources.

Rachel Knowles on her site, Regency History, states that in 1821 there was a boat race on the Serpentine during the coronation celebration when Prinny became king. Clearly, they could not race boats in 1821 unless they had been rowing them all along. Donna Hatch was correct about the boating, then.

Photo courtesy of via

In an article in the Spectator, a UK publication, it mentions Sense and Sensibility and that sailing was one of the entertainments planned. I immediately looked up the passage, because I had not remembered it, and there it was.

A party was formed this evening for going on the following day to see a very fine place about twelve miles from Barton, belonging to a brother-in-law of Colonel Brandon, without whose interest it could not be seen, as the proprietor, who was then abroad, had left strict orders on that head. The grounds were declared to be highly beautiful, and Sir John, who was particularly warm in their praise, might be allowed to be a tolerable judge, for he had formed parties to visit them, at least, twice every summer for the last ten years. They contained a noble piece of water; a sail on which was to form a great part of the morning’s amusement; cold provisions were to be taken, open carriages only to be employed, and everything conducted in the usual style of a complete party of pleasure.

Boating in the Regency – or sailing as Jane Austen termed it – was a little different than what goes on at the lake near me. What I usually see are pontoon boats, which would not be invented for well over 100 years after the Regency period ended. I do see some smallish fishing boats, but they all have motors. On rare occasions, I see a sailing vessel. Those are cool, with their tall masts and colorful sails.

In the Regency, a rowboat was probably the most common on an estate. I don’t know that a lake on one of those would be big enough to be able to use sails.

I do know, too, that Oxford and Cambridge had and still do have rowing clubs. That right there should have told me that boating was popular among the aristocracy.

As for fishing, I believe that has been something guys have done since the dawn of time. It’s safe to assume anyone living in a rural area fished. I’m not so sure about fishing in the Thames, though. As dirty as I assume it was, given the size of the city of London, I doubt fish could have survived. However, fishing was not a sport that only the wealthy took part in. Anyone could fish, and did.

I suspected that few women fished in the Regency era, and Sharon Lathan’s blog post from 2015 showed me that I was correct. I wonder if they also refused to touch the fish, as I do?


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