Downing College Boat Club was established in October 1863. Despite the College's founding in 1800, the college did not admit undergraduates for the first 21 years, due to financial difficulties, and even in 1863 only had 14 undergraduates! The motion "let there be a Boat Club” was proposed by a 21 year old Irishman, Richard Henn Collins, and unanimously passed. The first committee was formed, with Brickwood (captain), Bradbury and Collins, and they set about finding a boat and rack space.

Downing made its racing debut in the Lent bumps of 1864, and made an admirable start going up two in the Lents and 5 in the Mays. However you would be hard pressed to recognise the crew as Downing, with only four of the crew actually matriculating there. With no official colours, they raced with violet blades with black Maltese crosses, and in 1866 they raced with green and silver blades. In 1866 the motion was passed that the Club should adopt black and magenta, and since then these have been the colours of all Downing sports clubs.

Between 1863 and 1882, Downing moved from its initial position at the bottom right up to 10th on the river. The Club was clearly successful from the start, though in 1868 the crew withdrew (maintaining their position) because MacMichael was required to row in the Blue Boat - the only oarsman to represent Downing at university level in its first century. With the college so small, a single oarsman's disappearance was clearly significant. 10th on the river was an 80 year high unfortunately, and Downing slipped into the second division in 1887, a place where it stayed until after the second world war.

The Club gained its first boat house in 1893, with the generous sponsorship of the then-Tutor, Rev'd J Saunders. He bought the land and an appeal was launched to pay for the construction of the Boat House. The new Boat House was officially opened in May week of 1895. Despite generosity from tutors and alumni such as this, the Club was not particularly well funded, indeed in 1897 a motion was made for a subscription to cover 'tea things' and in 1904 to buy a new hair brush and comb! However the lowest patch came later in 1897, when the Captain was sent down and the committee subsequently resigned. With no suitable replacements to be found, the minute book was signed off "Finis DCBC".

The Club could not remain dormant for long, however, and continued to receive support from Alumni that periodically brought new boats. In 1902 the Master cleared the Clubs' arrears from his own finances. In 1903 the Club passed a motion to put on a College Ball, and for the next few years continued to run the Ball. Thus the Club continued, after a tumultuous first 50 years, into a period of stability broken only by the Great War.

In 1920, Downing's 2nd VIII qualified for the first time, and both crews won blades, resulting in a very lively dinner, and a bonfire composed of several doors from around college! The Boat House was rebuilt in 1938, and fitted with hot water for the first time. At the re-opening, Mrs Gray (daughter of F. G. Pilley, of the Pilley Scholarship) said; "Let us have some more rowing blues, and although I am told it is a mathematical impossibility, I would like to see you Head of the River one day. Good luck!"

After the Second World War, DCBC broke back into the first division, and by 1960, Downing had 7 boats racing in the Mays. The novice section of the Club was particularly strong in this period, winning the Clare Novice Regatta in 1965 and 1967. At the other end of the spectrum, in 1963, Downing had its first blue since 1869. The 1971 crew collectively funded £230,000 towards the cost of the new Boat House ensuring their influence lasted beyond the last memory of their exploits on the river.

In 1979, Downing finished 6th on the river and had its best Henley result, finishing runners-up in the Ladies Plate. The following year the crew rowed over every day, but the year after got blades and moved up to 2nd on the river. 1982 was the first time Downing finished Head of the River, probably before most current rowers at DCBC were born. In 1983 the crew rowed over all three days before being bumped on the last day by LMBC. In 1984, Downing came back ready for the challenge and went Head of the Lents and Head of the Mays, stroked by Dominic Reid - our first Double Headship. The women put their first crew on in the Lents 1981, which remained fairly stationary until 1987 when the crew began a meteoric rise, getting blades for the next three years.

In the 1990s, science took hold of the sport, and rowing machines, new blades and lighter boats increased costs dramatically. At the same time, the old Boat House was seriously deteriorating. This led to the foundation of the Centenary Trust, to channel and allocate the donations of the Club, and maintain a perspective of future expense. The Club also arranged sponsorship and individuals continued to make very significant donations for equipment.

In 2001, the new boat house was opened, and Downing now boasts one of the finest fleets on the Cam. In the last few years Downing has been hovering near the top of all the Bumps charts, and has produced such rowers as Tom Middleton, who competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Another ex-DCBC, Annie Vernon, took silver in the Quad at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and rowed in the women's Eight final at London 2012.

Both squads continue to further the Downing legacy today, with the women and men doing their college proud on and off Cam.