Water sports were a popular form of entertainment in Pyrmont, with sailing and rowing regattas held as early as 1847. The 1848 regatta, honouring Queen Victoria’s birthday, featured eight races, with significant prize money. As the occasion became more formal, spectators could observe from a decorated flagship, while booths on shore sold food and drink.
In 1858, no fewer than 2,000 spectators on Pyrmont Bridge cheered on the competitors in a dozen races. In 1870 the North German barque Bonito served as flagship, “extensively dressed with colours and evergreens, and other arrangements for visitors.” There were never fewer than 300 people on board, watching 11 races. Ten years later the Pacific Mail steamer Australia was the flagship.
From the 1860s Balmain became a serious rival in hosting regattas, and during the 1880s Pyrmont’s events declined in popularity, though committed committees struggled to keep the tradition alive. Other venues emerged and public transport improved. Increasing industrialisation, and increased shipping, must also have made Pyrmont rather less attractive for spectators and competitors.