Webb Family Name Mini-Book Excerpt
"One particularly dare-devil but ultimately unfortunate bearer of the proud name of Webb was Captain Matthew Webb.
Born in 1848 in Dawley, Shropshire, he was the first person to swim the English Channel without the use of artificial aids.
He had already become something of a British national hero before he entered the record books for this feat.
He had joined the Merchant Navy when aged 12 and, a number of years later while serving as a mate aboard the Cunard Line ship Russia, sailing from New York to Liverpool, he dived into the freezing waters of the mid-Atlantic to rescue a man who had fallen overboard.
His daring rescue attempt failed, but he was awarded £100 and the prestigious Stanhope Medal of the Royal Humane Society.
Feted by the national press, he hit the headlines again when, while home on leave, he rescued his 12-year-old brother from drowning in the River Severn, near Ironbridge.
Ten years later, by this time serving as captain aboard the steamship Emerald, he resolved to attempt to swim the English Channel after reading of the failed attempt by fellow Englishman J.B. Johnson.
It was not until August 12 of 1875 that he made his first attempt – but poor sea conditions and high winds forced him to abandon the swim.
Undeterred, he made his second and this time successful attempt twelve days later.
Diving from the Admiralty Pier at Dover and, smeared in porpoise oil and backed by three escort boats, he landed on the beach at Calais after a gruelling 21 hours and 45 minutes in the Channel – with the zigzag course he had taken more than 39 miles (64km) long.
Recognised as a true British hero, his picture was put on boxes of Bryant and May matches – a picture that is thought to have provided the inspiration nearly a century later for the character Inspector Clouseau, portrayed by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther series of films.
His final and most daring stunt came on July 24, 1883, when he attempted to swim through the Whirlpool Rapids below the Niagara Falls in New York State.
Jumping into the river’s fast flowing waters from a small boat located near the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, he began to swim, but he drowned in the section of the river near the entrance to the treacherous whirlpool.
His body was recovered and interred in Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls.
There is a memorial to the daring Captain Matthew Webb in his home town of Dawley, while the John Betjeman poem A Shropshire Lad commemorates his death with the vivid imagery of his ghost swimming back home."