“A Little Duck:” Miss Beckwith Swims the Thames: 1875

Agnes Alice Beckwith in a rather daring aquatic costume.

Agnes Alice Beckwith in a rather daring aquatic costume.

“A LITTLE DUCK” A Young English Girl Swims Five Miles on a Wager of £60 to £40

[From the London Standard of Sept. 2.]

A young girl named Agnes Alice Beckwith, daughter of the professor of swimming at Lambeth Baths, yesterday accomplished the difficult feat of swimming from London Bridge to Greenwich. The distance is rather more than five miles, and the time was remarkably fast−namely 1 h. 7 m. 45 s. Mr. Beckwith has been connected with the Lambeth Baths for nearly a quarter of a century, and for fourteen years held the proud position of champion swimmer of England. The heroine of yesterday’s proceedings is but 14 years old, of slim make and diminutive stature. The object was to decide a wager of £60 to £40 laid against her by Mr. Baylis, the money being deposited with Bell’s Life. The event created a great deal of excitement, and all along the route the progress of the swimmer was watched by excited crowds on the wharves and barges. In addition to the London Steamboat company’s Volunteer, a private steam launch, and a rowing-boat containing her father, the referee, and some half dozen others immediately interested in the result, a perfect swarm of boats accompanied—and indeed impeded—the swimmer the entire distance. London Bridge was crowded, as were the vessels and other points whence a view of the start could be obtained. Miss Beckwith dived from the rowing-boat at nine minutes to 5, and at once commenced a rapid side stroke, which she maintained to the finish. She was attired in a swimming costume of light rose pink llama, trimmed with white braid and lace of the same color. The water was very smooth and the tide running about three miles per hour. Swimming about a couple of yards in the rear of the referee’s boat, Turner Pier was reached at 11 minutes past 5. At Horseferry Dock (5:22) a salute was fired, and the swimmer was encouraged with lusty cheers. The Commerce Dock was quickly left behind, and soon after the Hilda, on her return from Margate, crowded with excursionists, passed the flotilla. Passing Millwall Miss Beckwith crossed to the north side and took advantage of the strong tide. At this point she was met by the saloon steamer Victoria, whose passengers were vociferous in their applause. The foreign cattle market at Deptford was breasted at twelve minutes to 6, and, as Greenwich Hospital appeared in sight, the intelligence was conveyed to the swimmer by repeated cheers, a salute being also fired from the Unicorn. The pier at Greenwich and the grounds of the ship were crowded with people who cheered to the echo when the spirited strains of “See the Conquering Hero Comes” announced the success of the attempt. Miss Beckwith swam some distance beyond the pier, and was taken on board at 5 h. 58 m. 45 s., having accomplished the distance, as stated above, in 1 h. 7 m. 45 s.

She seemed almost as fresh as when she started, and to all appearance was capable of going considerably further. It is worthy of mention that this was Miss Beckwith’s first essay of the sort, if we except a trial trip on Monday from Battersea to Westminster. Her nearest approach to the present feat was a swim of two and a half miles in the Lambeth Baths in three-quarters of an hour. Sunday Times [Chicago, IL] 19 September 1875: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While there seems to be a misprint in the time the young swimmer spent in the water, Miss Beckwith went from strength to strength, swimming from Chelsea Bridge to Greenwich, a distance of ten miles, in 1876 and from Westminster Bridge to Richmond, in a “pleasure swim” of twenty miles in 1878. Described as “A London Naiad,” in 1883 she made an unsuccessful attempt to swim from Sandy Hook to the Iron Pier at Rockaway Beach. Here is a detailed article describing Miss Beckwith’s subsequent career.

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8 thoughts on ““A Little Duck:” Miss Beckwith Swims the Thames: 1875

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Indeed–eminently predictable. One couldn’t possibly just focus on her strength and athletic ability. That said, the bathing-costume does sound quite fetching. Pink is not a colour often seen on the sands. Miss Beckwith’s father ran “aquatic” shows, which had a show-girl aspect to them, which is probably the source of the costume in the illustration.

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  1. kat

    The side stroke, no less. I have no idea who invented some of those strokes that seem designed for some other species.

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Mrs Daffodil wondered at the notion of using the side-stroke, which simply does not seem efficient enough for Thames currents. One might joke that Miss Beckwith could not use the “breast-stroke” because the terms was too indecorous for a young Victorian girl. But the choice of side-stroke is quite puzzling.

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  2. Connelly

    Agnes would have been daring indeed to attempt to swim in that constriction of corsetry. She would have been defeated by breathlessness. Agnes must have put on her ‘rational dress’ swimsuit before entering the water.

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  3. Pingback: Her Bathing Suit: 1895 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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