When an archives’ focus is geographical, as ours is, there is often reason to be thankful for the fact that a town has a fairly unique name. This makes it easy to take advantage of the increasing number of online resources around the world which allow searching of historical materials by keywords: there aren’t any other Deserontos, so when we find a hit, we can be fairly sure that the article or book in question is about this town.

This week, the resource we were plundering was the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. This is an incredibly rich seam of information from Australian and international sources, including digitized newspapers, manuscripts, maps and photographs. Among the results for a search on Deseronto was this interesting snippet about a hard-fought and arduous event held in Deseronto in June 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee:

Great Tug of War

A story of an extraordinary tug-of war comes from Canada. At an athletic meeting held at Deseronto, Canada, on Jubilee Day, two teams, styled Picton and Deseronto, were down for a tug-of-war, seven men aside, one pull of 3ft. to a finish : and for the record time of 2h. and 10min. those fourteen men strained every muscle in the glaring sun without any apparent advantage. Picton secured eight inches in the first hour, which Deseronto reduced to nil, but could not get it over scratch 1/16th of an inch.

They, however, held it there for half an hour, when Picton again, by fractional parts, got 7in. ; and the judge, after consulting the captains, decided to call it a draw in Picton’s favor, as the condition of some of the contestants did not warrant a continuation, although they were all averse to a draw. Stimulants had to be administered to every man frequently, and applications of cold water and rubbings were in order.

This story appeared in Victoria’s Traralgon Record and Bairnsdale Advertiser newspapers in October 1897, some four months after the event itself took place. News evidently travelled more slowly in 1897 than it does today.

The tug-of-war was one of a series of events held on June 22nd. The advertisement in Deseronto’s own newspaper, The Tribune, on June 18th proudly proclaimed that “This will be one of the most imposing celebrations ever held in the Bay of Quinte District”.

Diamond Jubilee celebration
In its post-event coverage on June 25th, The Tribune noted that the tug-of-war was “a magnificent exhibition of strength and endurance”. It went on to add that

the Picton team was organized by Mr. Taylor of the Bank of Montreal in 1892 and…has never been beaten. Mr. Taylor only induced them to come here on the understanding that he would not captain or coach their opponents, so that there might be fair play for all. He did, however, show the home team the correct position for pulling, a most important point. To those who think the pull should have had a time limit we are informed that it was conducted on precisely the same lines as the great international pull at Madison Square garden New York in 1892.

We missed the opportunity of organizing a rematch at last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, but maybe if Queen Elizabeth II is still on the throne in 2022 we could arrange a re-run of the event for her Platinum Jubilee. With nine years in which to practice, perhaps this time Deseronto will win!