Amongst so many Gold medals, let’s remember the first cross Channel swimmer.

Today we celebrate the remarkable feat of a great swimmer. Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel through his epic swim on the 24th and 25th of August 1875.

Webb first attained fame through diving into the Atlantic in an attempt to save a drowning passenger from his ship. He subsequently resigned as a Cunard Captain to take up professional swimming. On August 12th 1875 his first attempt to swim the Channel failed. 12 days later he covered himself in porpoise oil to keep warm and swam out from Dover. 21 hours 45 minutes later he staggered ashore in Calais, after swimming 39 miles in a roundabout course, battling against the outcoming tide from France.

His feat earned him instant fame and fortune. He was acclaimed on his return journey to his native Shropshire. The story goes that even a pig put his trotter up on to a wall to see the returning hero. He went on to float for 60 hours in the Westminster Aquarium, to beat his own floating record in Boston, and to defeat the US champion swimmer.

Unfortunately in 1883 he jumped from a boat into the swirling waters below the Niagara falls. 10 minutes later his vigorous swim ended in disaster as he was pulled down by the strength of the currents and killed.

Such pioneering spirit was a proud part of Victorian England. It is good to see our young athletes today capture this spirit again, believing they too can perform great feats. As it says on Webb’s grave “Nothing great is easy”. So swimming across the Niagara river proved.

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4 Comments

  1. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted August 24, 2008 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    In these days of everything instant and for today we often forget our heritage like this. I rember when Captain Webb was cellibrated on boxes of matches, and I am sure at the time many products would have recorded the man and his feat. What happened in the past can be an indicator of the future, regertably left wing school policy does not like competition or remering our great past heros. It may make us proud of our country and undermine changes the left would like to make.

  2. Bazman
    Posted August 24, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Many people especially those who were schoolboys about 25 years ago know of him because of matches.
    http://www.specialistauctions.com/makethumb.php?p

  3. mikestallard
    Posted August 24, 2008 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    One thing which the English speaking nations have given the world is their sports.
    Bullfighting and petanque, though interesting, are not world sports. Even Australian rules and American football are not world sports.
    Even Muslims love horse racing, though their camel racing, spectacular as it is, cannot compete with the Olympic Games where athletes do mainly British sports.
    And thank you, much maligned Victorian Public Schools, for giving us the rules and the right spirit to play those games which tied the Empire together.
    I just hope that the sportsmanship of the Victorian Public Schools manages to survive now the Empire and the Public Schools have changed into something else.
    Soccer anyone?

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    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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