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Captain Cecil McVilly

Cecil McVilly rowing.jpg
Cecil McVilly P02317_026.jpg
Captain C. L. McVilly (right), speaks with some local children seated on the ground. In the background is a convoy of over ten Ford vans ready for departure. The main purpose of Dunsterforce was to reorganise resistance in Mesopotamia and Persia to German penetration of Asia during the period 1918 to 1919. Australian War Memorial P02317.026

Born: 3 August 1889

Enlisted: 19 July 1915

Occupation: Commercial traveller

One of the best amateur scullers Australia has ever produced

Tasmania’s first Olympian was rower Cecil McVilly who enlisted with the 40th Battalion on 19 July 1915.

In 1910 the interstate rowing championships were held for the first time in Tasmania.  McVilly, a local sculler from the Derwent Rowing Club, in Hobart, won the national title in front of a large crowd of onlookers.

In 1911 he retained the national sculling title by winning the annual interstate contest on the Parramatta River, in New South Wales.

Cecil McVilly was selected to row in the single sculls at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912.  He was first across the line in his heat but during the race steering problems with his boat had caused him to foul his German opponent. He was disqualified.

In 1913, McVilly returned to Europe and became the first Australian-based rower to win the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Royal Henley. For that achievement, over 30 years later, he was retrospectively awarded a Helms Trophy as the ‘foremost amateur athlete in Australasia’.

Cecil McVilly regained his sculling title at the interstate eights and sculling contests in Victoria in 1914, where he was also coach of the Tasmanian eight.  The crew of the eight included Frederick House.

During World War One, Captain McVilly served in France and the Middle East.  During his war service he was wounded twice, on one occasion experiencing severe abdominal injuries. 

Captain McVilly was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty he handled his Company with great skill, leading them to their assembly position, through an intense enemy bombardment during which he maintained splendid control of this men and also set a very fine example by his personal courage.  He has on previous occasions commanded raiding parties and displayed abilities of a very high order.”

Captain McVilly was also Mentioned in Despatches.

After World War One, Cecil McVilly continued his interest in rowing.  In 1926 he coached the Tasmanian team in men’s interstate championships on the Brisbane River.  The Tasmanian eights won by a length in from South Australia.  At this time Cecil McVilly was also Secretary of the Tasmanian Rowing Association.

McVilly Close in the Canberra suburb of Gordon is named in his honour.

Cecil McVilly died on 4 November 1964


Rowing research by Robin Poke, sports historian.