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Captain Matthew Webb

Captain Matthew Webb was born in Dawley in Shropshire in  1848. He had first come to public attention in April, 1873 by  reason of his fearless act in jumping from the deck of the fast  moving Cunard Liner ‘Russia’ in response to a cry of “man  overboard.” It was midnight, the ship was in mid Atlantic,  running before a furious gale, and Webb’s leap looked like a  leap to certain death. A boat was lowered, and after three  quarters of an hour’s search, Webb was picked up. He had  been unable to save the sailor’s life but in 1874 he was  awarded the Stanhope Gold Medal for exceptional bravery, and  was the first recipient of this medal. Webb’s link with Dover came in 1875 when he became the first  person to swim the English Channel. His first attempt on 12  August ended in failure, due to his being carried more than  nine mile off his course by the strong current. Webb made his  next attempt on 24 August, diving from the Admiralty Pier a  few seconds before 1 p.m. and reaching Calais at 10:41 a.m.  the next day. He had been in the water for nearly 22 hours and had swum 40 miles rather than 22, having been carried off  course by strong currents. Covered with a protective layer of porpoise grease, the 27 year old Webb was accompanied by a support boat, which provided  him with nourishment while he remained in the water. During  his 22 hours in the water he kept up his strength with doses of  cod-liver oil, beef tea, brandy, coffee and strong old ale. He  used the breast stroke almost exclusively, averaging twenty  strokes per minute.   Webb died less than eight years later, drowning in an attempt  to swim the Niagara Falls in July 1883. A memorial to Webb  was unveiled on Dover Sea Front in July 1910.  
Captain Matthew Webb. Captain Webb landing at Calais. Captain Webb Memorial, which stands on Dover Sea Front.