The Story of Captain Davis Dalton


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Captain Davis Dalton was a long distance swimmer and swimming instructor. He wrote a book on how to swim.


“How to swim by Davis Dalton, 1899, emanates from America, and is by a swimmer who may be called cosmopolitan. He could claim to be a German, an Englishman, or an American. See the London 1891 Census listing for Davis Dalton. His son, who helped him to write the book, is a Londoner but is resident in New York, so that the nationalities have become a little mixed. The book has many good and original points, but has the defect I have already mentioned as so common with English and Scotch writers of being published under the name of a professional so-called champion. However, for America it is the best book brought out since that of Bennet in 1846.”



He had two sons that also wrote a few books about how to swim. Go here to read the full book: Swimming Scientifically Taught


The Dalton method of swimming is still taught in schools today.


How to swim, a practical treatise upon the art of natation, together with instruction as to the best methods of saving persons imperiled in the water, and of resuscitating those apparently drowned, by Captain Davis Dalton champion long-distance swimmer of the world: chief inspector of the United States Volunteer Life-Saving corps. He never lost his native accent, nor did he become acquainted with the English language sufficiently to write this book, nor did the experts in London consider him a good swimmer. In answer to my enquiry Mr. F. E. Dalton who is swimming instructor at the Battery Baths, New York, wrote on 16 Jan. 1900 that my late father Davis Dalton was born on 25 Oct .1846 at Vegesack near Bremen Germany, but in The Times 19 Aug 1890 it is stated that he was born in New York 26 Oct 1851.


In 1890 he swam the English Channel. He was in the water 23 hours and swam sixty miles. It is not admitted in England that he ever got across. It was immediately disputed by The Times and The Daily Mail.


But Dalton did a most foolhardy thing, which might have cost him his life, though he did it in ignorance, he jumped off the Ostende boat going at full speed.


Davis Dalton was married at Philadelphia. His death occurred at Far Rockaway, Long Island NY. of apoplexy while giving a swimming exhibition with his son on 6 Aug 1899.


Officially Senor Tirabocchi is the first man in history to swim from France to England and the fourth to cross the Channel either way. In a letter to The New York Times, F. E. Dalton of New York City claimed that in August, 1890, his father, Captain Davis Dalton, swam from Cape Griz-Nez to Folkestone in 231/2 hours, being covered with jellyfish bites when he landed and blinded by salt for two weeks afterwards.


Some of the swimming complements of Capt. David Dalton:


On December, 1899, Captain Davis Dalton swam for 12 hours continuously at the Latchmere Public Baths in London, England.


On August 17, 1890, Captain Dalton left Folkestone for Boulogne with the intention of swimming back across the Channel to Folkestone, a distance of 27 miles. Dalton expressed his conviction that he could perform the journey in 20 hours, and if successful would beat the time of Captain Webb. He entered the water at four o'clock on Sunday afternoon, and accomplished the journey, without any remarkable incident, at half-past three the following afternoon.


In July, 1891, Captain Dalton swam from Blackwall to Gravesend in the River Thames, London, covering the entire distance on his back.


In December, 1891, Captain Dalton swam for 16 hours continuously at the Dover Baths, England.


A swim made by Frank Eugene Dalton as reported in a local newspaper of the time:


Professor Dalton, who had for some time past been training for his swim across the Channel, attempted on June 15th to swim from Dover to Ramsgate, a distance of about 22 miles. Great interest was evinced in the matter, both at Dover and Deal. C. E Fisher, of Green Hill, Harrow-on-the-Hill, who had challenged Dalton, came down quite unexpectedly and entered the water with Dalton.



Both men, however, failed to accomplish the swim, which has only been done by the late Captain M. Webb. Dalton entered the water at nineteen minutes to nine a.m., and Fisher followed three minutes later. Dalton swam as usual, on his back, with his hands under him. Fisher using the breast and side stroke.


Dalton averaged 48 strokes per minute for the first hour, while Fisher adopted a much more steady stroke. The water was not more than 48 degrees much to cold to make it wise for lengthened immersion. The wind was light from the east and directly against the swimmers, and it freshened very much as the South Foreland was approached, the broken water causing them mush discomfort.


Fisher passed Dalton about two miles from Dover, but Dalton regained his lead, and the men swam in company for a time. At two minutes to eleven, when off the South Foreland, Dalton, who showed signs of fatigue, left the water, and was taken into the cabin of the launch, where he soon recovered. Fisher continued swimming, and a large number of boats came out from Deal to meet him. He was loudly cheered as passed the pier, which was reached at 1 o'clock. From this point however, he did little more than drift with the tide, and a twenty-seven minutes past one, when off Sandown Castle, he was taken out of the water, being almost paralyzed by the cold. Fisher says he will attempt to swim the Channel in the autumn in company with Dalton, or by himself.


As reported in the Grey River Argus , 13 November 1912. This is a newspaper published in New Zealand.


The Successful Swim Across the Channel.




On a recent Monday afternoon, Davis Dalton, the American back-swimmer, accomplished his projected swim from France to England, landing on the beach at Folkestone at 3.28, about a thousand yards on the west side of the new Victoria Pier. The scene at the landing was one of great excitement. Dalton was thoroughly exhausted, and dropped down in a faint. He had been seen for a long time before he touched land, and a large number of boats gathered round him, while thousands of people congregated on the beach.


Dalton was accompanied by Captain Henry Dunn, who acted as his pilot on the tugger lifeboat Ocean King. The swim is the longest which has been accomplished in the Channel, the distance traveled, allowing for drift of the tides, being about sixty miles at least. Dalton covered it in two ebbs and two floods, being in the water altogether 28 hours and 8 minutes, and swimming nearly the whole distance on his back. At 4 p.m. on Sunday, the weather being favorable, Dalton jumped off the stern of the Ocean King about a hundred yards from the head of Boulogne Pier, the flood tide taking him towards Cape Grisnez, when he had to contend with a strong ebb tide setting very fast to southwest. He was apparently swimming quite easily, aided by one or two short rests. A 6 p.m. he was still proceeding with the ebb tide, going with a strong, steady stroke with his legs, never, even when resting, having been in any other position than on his back. At 7 o'clock Dalton was swimming well, and asked for some refreshments. He took a cup of bovril, made hot by means of a spirit kettle. The weather was beautiful, and the sea comparatively smooth. Very slow progress was made off Cape Grisnez on account of the strong tide.


The night was extremely cold, and small quantities of bovril were frequently taken by Dalton, still bearing north-east by east at 10.30, the rate of progress improved. Dalton was still cheerful, and his leg strokes were firm and strong and slightly quicker. A 1.30 a.m. Dalton was getting away from Cape Grisnez and drawing towards the east end of the ridge. The weather had improved and the water was smooth, but very cold for the time of the year. At 2 a.m. Dalton was making very little process, and took some more beef tea, saying he felt rather tired and cold.



At 3 a.m. a shower of rain came on, prior to which Dalton had a long rest, lying on his back in the water, spread-eagle fashion. At four the day began to dawn, and Dalton, through swimming fairly well, had drifted, and continued to drift, a long way east-ward. The sea was very cold, he took small quantities of beef tea frequently. His rests in the water usually lasted about ten minutes.


At .30, after a hard struggle, Dalton reached the Varne lightship, when he evidently was pretty well fagged out. He had been in the water about 14-1/2 hours, during which time both the sea and the wind had been decidedly cold. There had been a good deal of thunder and lightning, with occasional rain. Being spring tides, Dalton had some hard work to do in battling with them. A 7.30 the ebb tide was setting west from the Varne at a great pace. Squalls of rain were frequent, the sea and wind very cold. At 9.30 Dalton was setting fast towards Hythe with a strong current. At 10.20 he rested for ten minutes and complained of the coldness of the water, but started off again mush refreshed, showing very evident signs of fatigue.


At 11.30 Dalton, very must exhausted, was supplied with more bovril, his strokes appearing very much weaker. At 12.15, just east of Hythe, Dalton was very much exhausted, had a short rest, and then proceeded, having now got the benefit of the flood tide. At 2.30 Dalton was abreast of Sandgate, and in a terribly cold and exhausted condition. At three o'clock Dalton was gradually getting weaker and taking longer rests, until it was quite painful to see him in the water. When spoken to he only said, "I am done up." About this time he used the breast stroke a little. His face had now a semi-livid appearance. When within a quarter of a mile from the shore Dalton swam quite powerfully again, and struck the shore at 3.28, amid the loud cheering of the spectators.


Dalton is an American, having been born in New York in 1851. He has had great experience in swimming for the last twenty-five years, and has had long distance swims in the Pacific, Atlantic, Bay of Biscay, German Ocean, and the rivers Amazon and Mississippi, but he does not appear at any time to have swam for wagers. Eighteen months age he came to England with the special object of training for his big swim. Three months he went to Folkestone, since which time he has subjected himself to a severe course of training, rising at four o'clock in the morning and entering the sea for a two hour's swim, besides spending eight hours day in the Folkestone Swimming baths. in addition to this, he took long walks from six to eight miles daily. Dalton is a thick-set, muscular man, having powerful thighs and chest, and is about 5ft. 5in. in height.


Source of above article: Wanganui Herald, Volume XXIV, Issue 7244, 20 October 1890. This is a New Zealand newspaper.


Friday, August 22, 1890


(By Dunlap's Cable News Company) London, August 22.


Mr. Davis Dalton, the American back swimmer, is not in an enviable frame of mind, owing to the universal disbelief in his assertion that he swam from Cape Grisnez to Folkestone on Monday.


In order to stem the tide of public sentiment that is setting against him, he prints in attesting the fact. These, however, were made by persons totally unknown, and who were in Dalton's employ. A sporting sheet calls public attending to the fact Dalton was badly beaten by Beckwith at the Westminster aquarium in 1886, when a test as to which swimmer could remain longest in the water was made. The Telegraph this morning publishes a challenge from "A responsible Sportsman" offering Dalton a purse of $50 provided he will, before the end of September, swim in any style he likes, from Blackwall pier to Gravesend, a distance of twenty miles.



The Dalton Stroke



Frank Eugene Dalton



Swimming book by Frank Eugene Dalton; ‘Swimming scientifically taught: a practical manual for young and old.’


dalton swimming by signs and wonders.



The route taken by Capt. Dalton - Boulonge Pier, France to Folkestone, England 23-1/2 hours




Another newspaper article about Capt. Dalton:


August 15, 1897 - New York Times




Capt. Dalton, Supposed to be Lost at Sea, Reappears and Saddens Coney Island.


There was sadness through out Coney Island last night because of Capt. Davis Dalton, the life saver and professional swimmer, who started from the iron pier on Friday morning, saying that he intended to swim to Sandy Hook Lighthship, fourteen miles away. He returned yesterday morning to West Brighton with the two men who had accompanied him in a rowboat, and reported a desperate struggle of thirty hours with the deep and deadly sea. Coney Island believed him.


When he swam in, panting and apparently exhausted, he was cheered and welcome as one returned from the locker of Davy Jones. People on the island had remained awake nearly all night awaiting news of him from the lightship, where he was to have reported, and searchlights were flashed upon the wide and seething water until daylight. Late yesterday afternoon Coney Island began to feel a chilling conviction that it has been sold, that its sympathies had false pretenses. Capt. Dalton was found to be wonderfully wide awake and comfortable for a man who had been buffeting the Atlantic and in a deadly peril thirty hours. He and his companions had told thrilling stories of the frequent upsetting of their boat. Yet of six ham sandwiches which they had carried with them, four were found dry, neat, and serviceable in the bottom of the boat.


While the endurance of the Coney Island sandwich is known to all men, it was argued that no sandwich had ever been known to climb back in a boat and dry itself after it had been victim of an upset. Furthermore, a bottle of whisky which had been taken by the party was fond with its contents. This straw of circumstance abruptly broke the back of faith. Coney Island recognized that it had been deceived, fooled, as the vulgate there hath it; “made a monkey of.” The home of the “fake” had become the victim of the “fake.” The authors and manipulators of immoveable schemes and games had yielded weakly to the sinful device of an Englishman. Popular opinion there is that Capt. Dalton and his friends had gone to Fork Hamilton and spent the night there. In on other way can Coney Island account for the inviolate condition of the bottle and the unimpaired symmetry of the sandwiches.


The Dalton party stuck manfully to their wild tale of the sea, but as they drifted away from each other their narratives diverged more widely, and as they become more graphic and copious in detail their memories of events become more and more contradictory. Their united intellects failed to explained the remarkable occurrence of a man swimming fourteen miles and turning when almost in hail of his goal-they say they went close to the lightship-to swim fourteen miles back. Coney Island was unanimous in the opinion that it had been made the victim of misplaced confidence and undeserved enthusiasm.


Monday, August 07, 1899


Famous Swimmer and Life Saver Stricken With Apoplexy While in the Water at Rockaway.


Caption Davis Dalton, the well-known life saver and expert swimmer, was drowned yesterday afternoon in the ocean near Hog Island, Far Rockaway. Caption Dalton was giving an exhibition of swimming at the time and was seized with apoplexy in the water. He uttered no outcry when he sank and for some time it was though by some of the people who were watching him from the beach that he was fooling them. Finally, however, oats were put out and several men dived down in search of the swimmer. His body was recovered and brought ashore. Coroner Ruoff's physician was summoned and after an examination he said that death had been caused primarily by apoplexy.


Captain Davis Dalton gained considerable fame as a swimmer by swimming from Coney Island to Sandy Hook, a couple of years ago. He left Ravenhall's Pavilion, near the old iron pier early one morning and did not return for two days. A boat followed him to Sandy Hook. As a life saver, Captain Dalton had a record that excelled those of the others. it is said that he rescued during his life, 278 persons from drowning.