Captain Mathew Webb


These days it's hard for us to believe that when Captain Mathew Webb became the first person to swim the English Channel most people found it almost beyond belief .

Swimming was not a common pastime in 1875 in fact most people couldn't swim so to hear that someone had actually swam from England to France was beyond most people's comprehension.

Webb started from Admiralty Pier at Dover having covered himself in Porpoise Oil the weather was favourable and just before One O'clock on Tuesday Webb dived off the step at the end of the pier, Captain Webb began swimming on a direct course for Cap Gris Nez, where he hoped to step ashore in France.

Accompanied by two rowing boats and the lugger Ann of Dover. There were 15 persons in total about half of them reporters for various newspapers. One of the row boats kept just in front of Captain Webb to act as guide and to provide him with refreshments. At 2.30pm it started to rain but this soon passed and at 2.45 Webb took his first refreshments a small cup of beer. Throughout his swim he took no food his only refreshments were to be coffee, beer, brandy and a little cod liver oil, and beef tea.

At 8.30pm the lights of Cap Gris Nez became visible and it was estimated that Webb had a mere 10 miles to go. Everything was going well until 9.30pm ish when Webb shouted that a jellyfish had stung his shoulder and he asked for some brandy. There was a noticable weakening of his stroke and his crew feared that after 8 1/2 hours in the water and the chilly air of the evening were beginning to tell on him.

The Night Wore On

The night wore on and by 4 in the morning the hopes of touching land at the Cape began to fade the light was no longer visible and to make matters worse a breeze had got up and the wind and tide was no pushing Webb towards Calais, Webb fought hard against the wind and tide but was making no headway whatsoever.

The watchers were now beginning to fear for Webb who by now was showing all the signs of complete exhaustion but his courage was undaunted he told the crew that he would not give up with land so close. Webb was growing weaker by the hour and the wind and waves were getting stronger worse they were pushing him away from the land.

With 200 yards to go to the shore it was still feared that Webb wouldn't make it you could taste the atmosphere, realising that encouragement was vital his crew started taking soundings and relayed them to Webb but they lied about the true depth. By this time a crowd had gathered on the shore and French and English alike were cheering Webb onwards.

The rowers were now pushing the oars down to show Webb that they could touch bottom and just when it looked like he must fail his feet touched bottom. He was soon surrounded with well wishers who rushed him to a carriage which carried him to his hotel.

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