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James Gordon Bennett, I Presume

Another sport introduced to the US by Bennett was Polo. He brought over the entire British Polo team to show how it was done (1878). At one point he encouraged, by means of a wager, a young English team member, one Colonel Candy, to take his pony up the stairs in the famous Reading Room in Newport. For this Bennett lost his membership in the Reading Room, and in a huff he built the Casino on Bellevue Avenue, the first sports complex.

Now we get to what was originally the impetus for this evening on James Gordon Bennett. As publisher, he had a good sense, well ahead of his time, of news as entertainment. There are two famous examples of expeditions sent out, by the Herald, in search of adventure, to be reported as front page scoops by Herald reporters. Ace reporter, Henry Morton Stanley, born John Rowlands into an orphanage in London, was sent on a Bennett lark to find the great humanist Dr. Livingstone, who was considered lost in unexplored central Africa. Stanley mounted a huge expedition to find him, with an unlimited expense account from Bennett.

A contemporary description of Stanley emerging from the jungle: "At the front marched a tall Sudanese with the flag of the New York Yacht Club. Then Stanley on a henna-stained mule, with silver-plated trappings that glittered in the sun." he was followed by "a compact force of three whites, thirty-one armed freemen of Zanzibar as escort, 150 porters and 27 pack animals."

The tragic Jeanette expedition was to explore the Arctic and was funded completely by Bennett, but run by the U. S. Navy. Named for his sister, Jeanette, later Mrs. Isaac Bell, Jr., the steam bark departed London for the Bering Sea in 1878. She was crushed in the ice, and her people perished in the arctic winter of 1881, except for those few who were fed by the Iniuts. Several Siberian islands bear the name Bennett.

In 1868, Bennett (age 27) suddenly became vice-commodore of the NYYC, (all the flag officers had resigned) and his large schooner, Dauntless, became flagship in 1871. (Henrietta was sold and became a "fruiter".)

During his tenure as commodore, Bennett sailed her across the ocean to escort James Ashbury in Cambria back to the US in a transatlantic match race in preparation for the America's Cup race in 1871. Dauntless also participated in that dismal America's Cup race as part of the fleet that met Cambria on the race course. In a rematch, George Schuyler, the surviving member of the America's syndicate, convinced the commodore to defend with one boat at a time. Dauntless was to defend but was damaged in the tow out to the start, so Columbia defended the Cup against Livonia but not very well.

The Club acquired new quarters on Madison and 27th Street, upstairs from the American Jockey Club. Bennett hired for the club the Herald's editor of the ship news, one Niels Olsen, who was to remain as Club Steward or Superintendent until 1904, and who personnally kept all racing records of the club during that time, in a clear longhand. Flying starts, instead of the traditional start from anchor, became the norm, and racing proceeded at an unprecedented rate: sometimes several 40- hour races in a week. In 1872, two important trophies were put up by the commodore, the Cape May Challenge Cup and the Brenton Reef Challenge Cup, both of which inspired intense racing for decades. In what would have seemed uncharacteristic earlier in his life, the commodore limited gambling to $5 on any game at the club.

During the Annual Cruise, Dauntless had a collision with the Sow and Pigs light ship and suffered severe damage, as did the lightship. That was about the end of Bennett's personal racing career. In subsequent mentions of Dauntless in the press she was owned by others, notably Caldwell Colt, son of Samuel. Her beautiful model alongside Coronet shows her under Colt's ownership.

In the last year of his first commodoreship, 1874, much of the board minutes are taken up with reports of the Badge Committee, when our current badge and motto were established. Also a Ladies Day Regatta was held, June 25, where vessels were expected to race in cruising trim, with working sails, and all guns secured.

In 1877 on New Years Day, Bennett performed a misdeed, at the house of Dr. William May in New York. Bennett attended an open house at the home of Miss Caroline May, who was noted for her charm and daring. Already well-served with punch from other open houses, he proceeded to insult his host most grievously. The next day, Miss May's brother stepped up to Bennett's carriage as he arrived for lunch at the Union Club, and they grappled in the snow. A duel was called for, even though dueling was as anachronistic then as now. A formal duel at twelve paces, with a retinue of surgeons attending, took place across the Delaware-Maryland state line, and both men fired wild. They declared themselves satisfied. Bennett, however, was embarrassed, removed himself from New York society, and took up residence in Europe and on his yachts, only returning briefly to New York and Newport. He never married until four years before his death in 1918.

In 1883, Bennett built the most magnificent steam yacht of its day, the beautiful Namouna. At 616 tons and 226 feet she was far larger than the next largest, the first Corsair at 185 feet. He was elected commodore again in 1884, (perhaps on the strength of Namouna) and relocated the clubhouse, again, to 67 Madison Ave, with a dining room to seat 100 diners comfortably. Capt. and Mrs. Henn challenged for the America's Cup in Genesta, and the commodore built a 94-foot cast-iron centerboard sloop named Priscilla (designed by A. Cary Smith) to defend. She competed in all the trial races, but was beaten by Puritan. At the end of his second term, Bennett accepted another America's Cup Challenge, again from Wm. Henn in Galatea. His terms as commodore were busy and formative ones, and characteristic of both Commodore Bennett, and of the yacht club itself.

Bennett used Namouna to travel up the Nile, to India and Ceylon, across the Atlantic regularly, and he did the navigation himself. He was always in touch with the Herald by telegraph and dispatches, and he entertained a regular stream of famous guests.

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