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Coverdale, Percival George (Percy) (1882–1963)

by A. J. Harrison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

This is a shared entry with Frederick Myles Coverdale

Percival George Coverdale (1882-1963), yachtsman and boatbuilder, and Frederick Myles Coverdale (1885-1958), sculler and shipwright, were born on 20 March 1882 and 12 April 1885 at Holbrook Place, Hobart, second and third sons of Norrison John Coverdale, clerk, and his wife Mary Elizabeth Gawan, née Hinsby, and grandsons of John Coverdale. Educated at the state school, Macquarie Street, they grew up at Battery Point near the boatbuilding yards that had made the area famous. Norrison bequeathed to his sons 'the love of the river' and encouraged their aquatic pursuits. On leaving school, both boys were apprenticed to Hobart shipbuilders.

Fred first raced as an oarsman in a 'short four' for the Hobart Rowing Club in the Boxing Day regatta at New Norfolk in 1902. Over the next decade he developed into a champion stroke in both IVs and VIIIs, but it was in the single scull that he excelled. Champion of Hobart (1906-12) and of Launceston (1909-13), Fred won the Australian single sculls title in 1913 before retiring from championship rowing. He credited his successes to instruction by Alec Young and the Bayes brothers, and to physical fitness developed from hard training. For relaxation, he enjoyed hunting and fishing in the steep hills between the Lachlan and Huon rivers.

On 8 November 1915 Fred married Nina Grace Dixon with Presbyterian forms at her aunt's home in Hobart. A founding member (1910) of the Sandy Bay Rowing Club, he contributed much to his sport as a coach and supporter, and returned at the age of 37 to stroke the club's VIII. In the early 1920s Fred leased his brother Percy's boatyard at Battery Point, but moved by 1925 to Adamsfield where he prospected for osmiridium. Returning to the capital, he worked as a shipwright during the 1930s and 1940s for the Marine Board of Hobart and for Purdon & Featherstone. He coached the Buckingham and the Lindisfarne clubs, and trained several interstate crews, including the Tasmanian VIII in 1949. Predeceased by his wife and survived by two of his three daughters, Fred Coverdale died on 15 July 1958 at his Battery Point home and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery.

At 15, Percy Coverdale was employed by Robert Inches in his slipyard at lower Cromwell Street, Hobart. On 15 February 1910, at the nearby Anglican Church of St John the Baptist, Percy married Frances Minnie Rodgers (d.1959); they were to remain childless. In 1914 he took over Inches's business. A keen oarsman and competitive cyclist in his youth, Percy became known throughout Australia as a yachtsman and master boatbuilder. Devoted to the native timbers of Tasmania, he avoided plans and constructed his boats from hand-sculptured 'half-models', producing some of the finest craft on the Derwent.

Four times in the 1930s Percy won the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania's Bruni Island race. His best-known yacht was Winston Churchill, in which he finished third in the inaugural Sydney to Hobart race in 1945; in other hands she continued to be a force in sailing for many years. He also built Landfall, Windward, Chloe, Telopea and Frances, the last of which he built for himself in 1961. Percy Coverdale was a great raconteur who addressed his listeners as 'mate'. Lean and wiry, with a pipe perpetually clenched between his teeth, and a reputation for being touchy, he welcomed those who shared his passion for boats and sailing. He died on 29 March 1963 at New Town and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Webster and L. Norman, A Hundred Years of Yachting (Hob, 1936)
  • Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Sailing On (Hob, 1980)
  • J. Muir, Maritime Reflections (Hob, 1991)
  • News (Hobart), 14 Nov 1924
  • Mercury (Hobart), 17 July 1958, 30 Mar 1963
  • private information.

Citation details

A. J. Harrison, 'Coverdale, Percival George (Percy) (1882–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/coverdale-percival-george-percy-9844/text17413, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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