Last Thursday when race goers attended the annual running of the Grafton Cup, the Searle family were at the graveside of Henry Earnest Searle toasting his 150th birthday at Maclean Cemetery.
Searle who was born in Grafton in 1866 and moved to the Lower River when aged 2 became known as The Clarence River Comet and later referred to as the Phar Lap of Australian rowing.
Searle was a renowned rowing identity on the Clarence River and the North Coast and later the rowing circuit in Sydney where he travelled to England in 1889 to take on the world’s best and won.
It was on his return trip from these world titles Searle contracted Typhoid fever and died in a Melbourne sanatorium three weeks later, unmarried and with no children.
Searle descendants Darlene Searle – Podger and husband Allan, and Tanisha and Glen Searle have been preparing for their great great uncles birthday milestone by giving his cenotaph a fresh coat of paint.
Darlene Searle – Podger said “It’s a wonderful family story we share with our local community and Australia and anybody who wants to ask, we love sharing his amazing story of how he got to the UK and we are very proud to be a member of his family”.
Henry Searle reached great heights of rowing through just general living conditions where he was raised working with his family and developed his skills which he thought nothing of, back then there was no institute to support him.
Tanisha Searle, one of the youngest of the Searle family said “when I was a student at Palmers Island School we had two sport houses, one called Cameron while the other was called Searle named after my Uncle Henry.
I remember when I was young both family members brought framed photos to the school to hang on the wall and I realized then had this very supercool person who was really good at sport.
When I went to high school our school were very strong in rowing and at assembly’s they would often mention his name but they didn’t know they had is relative sitting in the crowd.
I believe it is important my granddad and family shares these stories with us so we can hold onto them otherwise they will get lost and that’s not something we don’t want”.
Searle’s great great nephew Glen Searle said “I’m really proud to be related to this amazing Australian icon. I only realized the enormity of what Henry Searle meant to the Australian public when I visited an art installation by local artist Sean O’Keeffe at Grafton Regional Gallery a few years ago”.
Mr O’Keeffe had researched 170,000 mourners had attended the funeral procession of Henry Searle in 1889 and seeing the physical art piece gave me a perspective I hadn’t really appreciated before.
The Searle bloodlines continued to be strong on the water with many family members in later years becoming world, national and state rowing champions. Iluka rowing champion Cheryl Everson missed out on being selected for the Australian Rowing team when women’s rowing appeared for the first time at the Olympics.
Another Searle family member, world yachtsman Kieran Searle while choosing a hull of a different kind signed a photo in 2013 for his granddad after competing for Australia in the junior America’s Cup “to papa its not quite rowing but I tried”.
Along with the Searle bloodline rowing legacy the Australian National Portrait Gallery has a caricature portrait of Henry Searle by award winning artist Sir Leslie Ward dated 1889 and an obelisk was erected in the rowers owner in Parramatta River.
Other family treasurers include a stopwatch Searle used to time himself with while rowing, his numerous trophies crockery and bowler hat.
The Clarence River Historical Society at Grafton Museum currently have an exhibition featuring Henry Earnest Searle.