This silver Banks Challenge Cup trophy was awarded to John D Irvine, stroke of the Union Bank crew in January 1881. The octagonal base is decorated with eight silver shields documenting the cup's previous recipients. The cup is engraved with an image of four men in rowing shell with a yacht in the background. As the trophy bears no maker's mark it has been variously attributed to Edwards & Kaul of Melbourne and Edward Fisher of Geelong as it resembles the trophies produced from the workshops of both silversmiths.
The Banks Challenge Cup was instituted in 1874 between two crews representing banks in Geelong and Ballarat. A winner three years running became the permanent owner. After Geelong won in 1874 and 1875, the race attracted top crews from various Melbourne banks. Melbourne's Union Bank began a three year winning streak in 1878 that won them the cup outright. Local rowing clubs and regattas proliferated in the Australian colonies in the late 19th century, especially in Victoria. Ballarat, with its influx of people and wealth due to the gold rush, had three rowing clubs by 1884. These were the Ballarat Rowing Club founded in 1862, the Ballarat City Rowing Club founded in 1870, and Wendouree Rowing Club founded in 1884. Consequently Ballarat became famous for its competitive rowing regattas that were held on either Lake Wendouree or Lake Learmonth.