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HAMM, ALBERT, fisherman and oarsman; b. 1860 in Sambro, N.S.; d. there 22 June 1891.
By the time Albert Hamm began his professional rowing career in the late 19th century, Canadian oarsmen, such as Edward Hanlan*, Samuel Hutton, and William Joseph O’Connor, were among the best in the world. Halifax was a hotbed of professional rowing, both Halifax Harbour and the Bedford Basin being the sites for many contests. Because rowing was an integral part of life for many people in the area, especially those who made a living as harbour pilots or fishermen, a number of them rose to levels of international prominence in this sport. It was anticipated that Hamm would carry on in the traditions of such local heroes as George Brown and Warren Smith. A fisherman like his father and a native of the same village as Smith, Hamm, later described as being “as pretty and fast an oarsman as ever rowed on Bedford Basin,” seemed likely to have a promising career ahead of him.
Hamm’s first professional race was on 1 Aug. 1880 in the single sculls championship for Halifax Harbour, an annual event established in the 1850s by Dr Charles Cogswell. He was pitted against Smith and John Mann in the contest, which proved an inauspicious start to his rowing career. Although Smith attempted to coach him along, he appeared nervous and had difficulty in steering a straight course, a problem which would recur in later single sculls races. Hamm swamped his boat and had to withdraw. However, the Sambro sculler challenged Mann, who had won the race, to a match the following month and succeeded in defeating him.
In the spring of 1881 William Spelman of Boston became Hamm’s manager, and Hamm began to compete under the auspices of the Halifax Rowing Association. That year he won the harbour championship, a feat he was to repeat a number of times. Another member of the association, Peter Conley, became Hamm’s double sculls partner. The two men were well matched in height and weight and proved to be a successful combination, winning the double sculls event in the Toronto Citizens’ Regatta of 1881 over Jacob Gill Gaudaur* and Australian Edward Trickett. Although Hamm finished ahead of Gaudaur in his singles heat in this regatta, he eventually placed fourth in the single itself.
After the Halifax Rowing Association disbanded, both Hamm and Conley went to the United States to train. Hamm spent the winter of 1883–84 in New Bedford, Mass. He competed in regattas and challenge races in the United States and Canada and also rowed in England. In the course of an 11-year career, he earned a place among the best of the professional scullers. He finished in the top three in a number of races and won match races against James Ten Eyck, of Peekskill, N.Y., in 1884 and English champion George Bubear in 1887. On 3 Aug. 1889 Hamm and the American singles champion, John Teemer, defeated Gaudaur and John McKay for the double sculls championship of America. In fours competition the following summer Hamm combined with Gaudaur, McKay, and Ten Eyck to top Hanlan, Teemer, George Hosmer, and H. Wise in a hard-won contest at Duluth, Minn.; the way in which rowers switched partners throughout their careers is evident in the fact that four years earlier Hamm had teamed with Hanlan, Teemer, and Ten Eyck to defeat a renowned English crew on the Thames.
Despite a degree of success at the international level, Hamm was unable to live up to the early expectations that he would be as outstanding a rower as George Brown. Thomas Spelman, brother of Hamm’s trainer and a prominent member of the Halifax Rowing Association, went so far as to suggest that Hamm was “chicken-hearted” when it came to racing for money and that he “could never do as good in a match as when he was practising.” According to Spelman, he raced better when in pairs or fours than when alone.
In October 1890 Hamm was a member of a four-man Halifax crew that accepted a challenge from a Saint John crew and lost. This, according to the Halifax Morning Herald, was his final race. Hamm, who had helped both Teemer and Gaudaur prepare for specific races, was hired as a trainer for the 1891 season by the Lurline Boat Club in Minneapolis, Minn. However, a worsening case of consumption forced him to surrender the post and return to Sambro where he died of “hemmorhage of the lungs” in June of 1891. Describing him as “modest, unassuming, intelligent, temperate in his habits,” the Acadian Recorder noted that his death would be the source of “much regret . . . among admirers of professional rowing everywhere.”
Acadian Recorder, 24 June 1891. Globe, 22 June, 2, 10, 12 Sept. 1881. Morning Herald (Halifax), 9 Aug., 23 Sept. 1880; 18 April 1889; 23, 26–27 June 1891. W. R. Rivers, “The rise and fall of amateur rowing on the North West Arm” (m.sc. thesis, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1975). H. H. Roxborough, One hundred – not out: the story of Canadian sport (Toronto, 1966), 53–67.