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 Webbâ€™s grave â€œNothing great is easyâ€. So swimming across the Niagara river proved.