Honor Pioneer Contributor
FOR THE RECORD: Author of first technical book on “Speed Swimming” (1867); First to define “streamlining” in swimming terms; First to reference the “crawl” relating to swimming; Swimming champion of England and Australia; Lived from 1830 - 1901.
July 9, 1830 in London, England, Charles Steedman was born into a Dickensian
world of gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages.
71 years later in 1901, he died in North Williamstown, Victoria,
Australia. During his life Steedman became a champion swimmer in England
and Australia, two countries more than 15,000 miles apart, an unusual
achievement in the mid-19th century. But
his contribution to international swimming was yet to come.
was self-educated and excelled at everything he set out to do.
At the age of eleven he began as a mapmaker, coloring maps.
Two years later, he was a chemist’s assistant.
At fourteen, he apprenticed to a cabinetmaker and attended evening
classes to learn grammar and mathematics. At
nineteen, he became a piano-maker, where his newfound knowledge of mathematics
enabled accurate measuring and fitting of the spruce sound board.
So successful was he in his new craft that he was said to be “proud at
having to pay income tax”, a fact that enabled him to vote (Note: At the time,
the so-called “working classes” were not entitled to suffrage, unless they
earned enough to be taxed.)
learned to swim at the age of thirteen, and by age fifteen in 1845, he was a
professional swimmer who already had won wagers in races around the countryside.
At age nineteen, he won the championship of England from G. Pewters, a master of
the sidestroke, a new racing style of the day.
(It should be noted the sidestroke had become very popular because its
superior body streamlining made it faster than the traditional breaststroke of
the time.) Steedman didn’t train
for races for the simple reason that after an arduous day of ten hours work, a
light swim in the evening was all he could manage.
Nevertheless, in 1852, and again in 1853, he beat Frederick Beckwith,
nine years his senior, for the Surrey Club Championship, the event commonly
regarded as the Championship of England, and kept the winning prize belt with
him throughout his life.
immigrated to Australia in 1854 and became swimming’s first internationalist
when he shared England’s more advanced knowledge of the sport with his new
countrymen. He became champion of Victoria, and there published the first book
on speed swimming. “Manual of Swimming” (1867) was the world’s first
technical book on “speed swimming” and marked the beginning of swimming’s
modern era. The practical value of
the book was enhanced by the fact that the book was actually written with the
authority of experience by one of the great competitive swimmers of the era. The book was later reprinted in 1873 in Steedman’s native
London and it became internationally popular.
is safe to say that Charles Steedman was the first notable contributor to the
development of competitive swimming as a recognized sport, and his seminal work
set the stage for the beginning of the modern era of swimming, later in the 19th
century. As a respected member of the new Melbourne, Australia colony,
his book was well received. The 270
page “Manual” as the book was popularly known, contained the first
descriptions of racing strokes and how to train.
His description of streamlining was a written first.
swimming’s first internationalist, Steedman’s “Manual”, as it was
colloquially referred to, became the world’s first reference to bathing,
plunging, diving, floating, scientific swimming, training, drowning and rescuing
written by an accomplished swimmer using available sound, scientific methods of
the day to authenticate his beliefs. Steedman
was “The Counsilman of the 19th Century.”
a scientist, he used mathematics as a means to derive better speed results.
“A rapid swimmer will have to exert an effective power equal to the
cube of the power exerted by the other; hence the fleet swimmer, because of his
greater expenditure of power, and because of the greater resistance he meets
with as a consequence of that expenditure, cannot proceed in the water at a
speed more than about double of that of the slow swimmer.”
describes the North American Indians as swimming with an alternative continuous
arm action which was a type of crawl stroke, predating a subsequent reference by
at least 30 years. “Crawl” was
the 19th Century term used to describe the dog paddle, as we know it today.
sections of “The Manual” are devoted to the need to bathe regularly and give
accounts on how to rescue people. Few
people at that time washed because few people could swim.
He encouraged people to like the water and learn to swim.
He mentions the high rate of drowning and importance of skilled swimmers
to rescue people from drowning.
Steedman rescued over 66 lives without gratitude or offer of award.
to Cecil Colwin, “Two First for Charles Steedman,” SwimNews, February,
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