Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1875, Captain Webb became the first person to swim The Channel.

Webb was born in Dawley, Shropshire, the son of a local doctor. Webb joined the merchant navy and while serving on the Cunard ship SS Russia, he attempted to save a man overboard by diving into the sea in mid-Atlantic. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, Webb was awarded the Stanhope Medal and became an instant celebrity.

In 1873, Webb learned of a failed attempt to swim the channel and was encouraged to try himself. At his first attempt, Webb was prevented from crossing by strong winds and choppy waters. He attempted a second time, diving in from Admiralty Pier, Dover, smeared in porpoise oil. Despite stings from jellyfish and strong currents off the French coast, which prevented him from landing for five hours, Webb landed at Calais after 21¾ hours, after taking a meandering crossing of about 40 miles.

After his illustrious performance, Webb took up a career as a professional swimmer. He performed in exhibition swimming events and wrote The Art of Swimming. Webb went to America to compete in a competition for a prize of $50,000. The challenge was to swim the Niagra River in the rapids beneath Niagra Falls. Webb began the swim but within 10 minutes, he was dragged underneath by a whirlpool. His body was discovered four days later.

Webb is buried near to where he made his final assault on glory, in Oakwood Cemetery, Niagra Falls. In his hometown of Dawley, there is a memorial to Webb with the inscription ‘Nothing Great is Easy’. In Dawley, there is a legend that says that when Webb made his exultant return home, a pig placed its front trotters onto the wall of the sty in order to see Web returning in triumph.

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