Captain Webb: Facts About the First Person to Swim the English Channel

Here are some facts about Captain Webb.

  • Captain Matthew Webb was a British professional swimmer. He was the first person to swim across the English Channel, the body of water between England and France.
  • Captain Webb was born in Shropshire in 1848, one of 12 children. He joined the merchant navy when he was 12, and learned to swim in the River Severn near his home.

  • Webb tried to rescue a man overboard by diving into the Atlantic Ocean, while sailing from New York to Liverpool. He was given a medal and £100 although the man was never found.
  • He swam from Dover to Calais in just under 22 hours on the 25th August, 1875. Two weeks earlier, he gave up on his first attempt because of strong winds.
  • Webb covered himself in porpoise fat before entering the water.
  • Because the currents blew him off course, he ended up covering a distance of about 64 km.

Captain Webb

  • After his success, Captain Webb made the most of his fame. His name appeared on a brand of matches, and he also endorsed books, pottery and various other products.
  • He gave up his naval career to focus on swimming. He competed in swimming competitions all over the United States, beating the current champion in a competition at Nantasket Beach, Massachusetts.
  • Webb also took part in several stunts, including floating in a tank of water for 128 hours. He wrote a best-selling book called The Art of Swimming and enjoyed world wide fame.
  • In July, 1883 Captain Webb tried to swim through the Whirlpool Rapids near Niagara Falls. He died while attempting the dangerous swim and was buried in nearby Oakwood Cemetery.
  • A memorial to Webb in his home village of Dawley, Shropshire reads — Nothing great is easy.
  • The Captain Webb pub in Telford is named after the famous swimmer.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous Victorians by visiting our Victorians resources page.

English Channel: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the English Channel.

  • The English Channel is the body of water that separates the south coast of England from the north coast of France.
  • It is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world.

  • It covers about 75,000 square km and stretches for about 560 km. At its narrowest point, the Straits of Dover, a distance of only 33 km separates England and France.
  • The Channel Islands belong to the UK, although are less than 50 km from the French coast. The islands were occupied by the Germans during World War II.
  • The deepest point in the English Channel is north of Guernsey, at about 180 metres. Many weapons from the two world wars have been dumped there, including poison gas shells.
  • The first passenger ferry crossed the English Channel in 1821.
  • In 1995, a hovercraft carrying cars crossed the channel in just over 22 minutes, the fastest ever hovercraft crossing.
  • Captain Matthew Webb made the first solo swim across the English Channel in 1875, taking 21 hours, 45 minutes. He battled strong currents and was stung by jellyfish.
  • In 1988 an 11 year old boy swam the Channel in just under 12 hours. A 70 year old Australian swam across the Channel in 2014, taking just under 13 hours.
  • A French aviator, Louis Bleriot was the first person to fly across the English Channel in 1909. Bleriot did it in 37 minutes and won 1,000 pounds for his achievement.
  • The Channel Tunnel was opened in 1994 and has the longest portion under the sea of any tunnel. Plans for a tunnel under the channel were announced as far back as 1802.
  • The so-called Miracle of Dunkirk took place off the French coast in summer, 1940. Hundreds of battleships, tugs and fishing boats rescued over 338,000 Allied troops from the French beaches.