Home » Sporting Life » Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall – The Fastest Pedestrian in the World

Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall – The Fastest Pedestrian in the World

hewitt state library of victoris - Copy

State Library of Victoria

Last year I wrote a post about John Arthur Trudgen, a local hero  who although virtually unknown now, in his day he was a champion swimmer and  had a stroke named after him.

Recently I came across another 19th century sporting  local hero who found fame here and around the world.

Frank Scurry Hewitt was born in Ireland, but later lived and worked in Millwall, when he began his athletic career he was known as Frank Hewitt from Millwall. When he was an old man he told a newspaper about his origins.

It was in 1863 I ran my first race at Bow running grounds, England, for £5 aside, 440 yards. The old Sporting Life was stakeholder and referee. They paid me all in sovereigns. I had never had so much money in my possession. I wrapped it up in my handkerchief, and was very frightened till I got safely back to Millwall. I gave it to my mate, who backed me and gave me half of the stake. I was then working on the wonderful iron ram Northumberland, and great people came from all parts of the world to look at her. She then was the wonder of the world — only had to get steam! up, ram the other fellow, and that was the end of it.

‘My father’s regiment, Her Majesty’s 24th Green’s, was stationed in Dublin Barracks. My mother, a beautiful woman, could speak seven different languages. They lived in Limerick, in George-street, where I was born on May 8, 1845. My father was Major Francis Scurry — that is my name. As I entered in Sheffield handicaps as Frank Hewitt, I have always been called Hewitt.

(The Northumberland he is referring to is the HMS Northumberland which was built in the Millwall Iron Works and launched in 1866.)

Amateur Athletics of the time was dominated by runners with independent wealth or those who were backed by rich patrons, for others the only way to make a living in running or ‘Pedestrianism’ as it was known was to run in matches against other runners for a cash purse.

This is how Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall made his name by winning a number of races all over England, the Sportsman magazine gives a list of his more notable races.

frank hewitt - Copy

State Library of Victoria

Frank Hewitt of Millwall  is the best  all round’ man the English foot racing arena has possessed for some years,, was born on May 8, 1845, and stands 5ft 8 in. in height His first appearance in the pedestrian arena was in 1863, with Springhall, of London, a quarter of a mile, for £5 a side, at the Bow Running Grounds, Hewitt winning easily.

Smith was next pitted against him, at the same enclosure, the latter allowing his opponent 10 yards start in 440, for £10 a-side. when Hewitt was again successful, Hawkins then , opposed Hewitt, the same distance as the previous matches, for £10 a-side ; the men met on the Chatham and Maidstone-road, when Hewitt was again victorious.

A silver challenge cup way given to be competed for at Greenwich, which was also won by Hewitt, beating a field of 15 others. In 1866 he went to Sheffield, and succeeded in carrying off a £40 handicap. The Marquis of Queensberry  and other noblemen and gentlemen having promoted a 150 yards and a quarter of a mile handicaps at the Crystal Palace, Hewitt was one of the men who entered. In the 150 yards race he was defeated by W. Brown, of Manchester (to whom he gave a yard and a half), by a foot He, however, won the 440 yards handicap by five yards, taking the first prize, £25.

He next received £10 forfeit from J. Heeley, .of Lowerhouses, who was matched to run him 250 yards. He also received £2 of Cobbler Wood, from Sheffield, for their match, distance 150 yards. They were afterwards matched for £25 a-side to run the same distance, and the race took place at Hyde park, Sheffield, and was witnessed by upwards of 6,000 spectators. The result was never in doubt, Hewitt winning easily by four yards.

Rothwell of Bury, then matched himself with Hewitt to run 440 yards for £25 a-side, and they met at the Royal Oak-park Grounds, Manchester. Odds of 3 to 1 were laid on Hewitt, who won by a yard. He next competed in Mr Cooper’s quarter of a mile sweepstakes of £5 each, eight of the quickest men in England contesting. Fortune again favoured Hewitt, for he won in a most masterly style, and took the first prize £4o, and a splendid silver cup, given by the promoter ; Hayward, of Rochdale, was second ; and Mole, of Walsall, third.

In September, 1867, he ran J. Nuttall, of Manchester, 440 yards, for £25 a-side, at Hyde-park, Sheffield, Nuttall allowing his opponent four yards start. Hewitt won easily. In April, 1868, he won the first prize in a mile handicap sweep stakes of £5 each, at Manchester, to which was added by Mr Cooper, a silver challenge cup, value 60gs. and £30 in money, Hewitt defeating Albert Bird, who received 15 yards start; R. Hindle, of Paisley; and McInstray, of Glasgow, after an exciting struggle, by a foot, in 4m. 21s. He shortly afterwards ran second to R. Buttery, of Sheffield, in an 800 yards handicap, for which £100 was given by Mr  Cooper, at the Royal Oak Park grounds, Manchester.

On August 17, last year, he beat J. Ridley, of Gateshead, on handicap terms, distance 880 yards, for £50 a-side, at Hyde-park, Hewitt having 12 yards start, and his opponent 25 yards start. The betting was in favour of Hewitt at 5 to 4, a huge amount of money changing hands, and he won a most exciting race by three yards; time, lm. 54s.

In 1869 Frank Hewitt with a few other English pedestrians travelled to Australia and New Zealand and successfully beat many of the local pedestrians.

hewitt harris

State Library of Victoria

One of his most famous series of races was against local champion  J. G.  Harris at what became the Melbourne Cricket ground in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000. A local newspaper gives the results.

 One of his principal races is that colony was with Harris. At 100 yards Hewitt won, at 200 yards Harris won, at 300 yards there was a dead heat, and at 440 yards Hewitt won easily. The run-off of 300 yards, for £200 a-side, was won by Hewitt.

dead heat harris

State Library of Victoria

After this great success, Hewitt stayed in Australia and became a great favourite amongst the pedestrian fans.

He carried on running and winning races  into his forties, and was well respected for his opinion on Athletics  in his later life.

A Sydney paper reported his death in 1926

Frank Hewitt

SYDNEY, Saturday.

Frank Hewitt, one of the greatest footrunners Australia has ever known, died here to-day. Fifty-seven years ago Hewitt came to Australia from England, with two other pedestrians. Bird and Topley. He began his Australian career at Melbourne in 1870 where he ran a match on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, against J. G. Harris over 100, 200, 300 and 440 yards. They were wonderful contests. Hewitt won the 100 yards by a foot, the 300 yards was a dead-heat, Harris won the 200 yards, and Hewitt easily won the 440 yards event. At the time of his death the old champion was 81.

Although timings were difficult to confirm , Hewitt is credited with running 100 yards in just under 10 secs, 142yds in 13 sec, 300yds in 30sec, 400yds in 43sec. and 880yds in 1 min 53sec.

It was widely reported that he broke the Half Mile world record in Christchurch, New Zealand in the time of  1 min 53.1 secs.

There is no doubt that he was one of the most famous pedestrians in the world before the Olympic movement started and excelled over a wide range of distance from 50 yards to a mile, in his long career in Australia, he never forgot his Millwall connections by always insisting that he was to known as Frank Hewitt of Millwall.

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