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Bobby Pearce collection auctioned at Bonhams Olympic Games Sale

The archive of Australia’s first ever double Olympic Medal winner Bobby Pearce (1905-1976), was the top selling lot at Bonhams Olympic Games Sale held on 25 July in London. The important collection, comprising Olympic Gold Medals, as well as letters, photographs and posters, sold for £49,250 to an Australian buyer, bringing the treasured items back home.

Henry Robert “Bobby” Pearce was born in Double Bay, Sydney, in 1905. His family were known for their sporting pedigree. His father, Harry Pearce, was Australian Professional Sculling Champion, his uncle, Sandy Pearce, played Rugby League for Australia’s national side and his Grandfather, Henry (Footie) Pearce, was a noted Sydney Waterman.

He started rowing early under the tutelage of his father and won his first open race at 14. Despite reservations as Pearce was still an amateur, by 1928 such was his reputation that he was the obvious choice for Olympic Games selection. He went to Amsterdam 1928 as the only Australian rower at the Amsterdam Games and was hugely successful, endearing himself to the crowd by actually stopping during his heat with the French Rower Saurin to allow a group of ducks to cross the course, and then going on to win by twenty lengths. He defeated the American entrant Kenneth Myers in the final, who was so disgusted that he smashed his boat.

This win made him the first Australian to win a rowing Gold Medal, and the only Australian prize winner at the 1928 Games. He returned via England, but was denied a chance to row at Henley, because as a carpenter he was considered an artisan.

In 1930 he went to Hamilton, Ontario, to compete for Australia in the British Empire Games, again winning a Gold Medal, and as work was difficult to find in Australia, decided to remain in Canada, where he was given a job by The Distillers Company as a salesman. No longer an artisan, he was able to travel to Henley the following year, where he won the Diamond Sculls, one of the three premier amateur sculling prizes. Although a Canadian resident, Olympic rules meant that he was chosen to compete again for Australia at the Los Angeles Olympiad in 1932, driving across America to compete, with his sculling boat on the roof of his car. His win there made him the first to retain an Olympic Rowing gold medal.

After 1932 he turned professional competing in the Professional Championship of the World in a wager match at Toronto, where he won the race by a staggering quarter of a mile. He retained the title and went on to defend it successfully in 1934 and 1938, relinquishing it undefeated after WW2.

Regarded by many as the best Sculler ever produced by Australia, Bobby Pearce was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1986.

Values stated include buyer’s premium, details can be found at