Discovering The Source Of A Modern Swimming Fable

Discovering The Source Of A Modern Swimming Fable

Dr. Tim Johnson, DPS, PEW pondered, “What could a writer from the 19th century offer to the modern swimming community of the early 21st century, 150 years later about swimming?

TheInternational Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame inductee from New York answered his own question, “Would you believe a gigantic fable about the bravado and bravery due to the swimming skills of a remarkable English soldier returning to duty at his station in Malta from a liberty ashore in Constantinople?

The story first appeared in a weekly paper, published by Robert and William Chambers of Scotland beginning in 1932, called Chamber’s Journal. The Journal dealt with history, religion, language, and science.  Many of the articles published were written by Robert. In this case, he appears to be in the mood for an adventure tale of heroics.  It was so good of a story that the New York Times re-published A Night on the Bosporus on September 14th 1873.  A condensed version appears in my History of Open Water Marathon Swimming. It so impressed me as a tale of swashbuckling adventure in the style reminiscent of Errol Flynn’s early movies worthy of a movie script.  I was so delighted to see something from this era that lauded swimming and it caused me to wonder who the Chamber brothers were.  

As Paul Harvey says, “…the rest of the story came by way of the pandemic enforced isolation as an evening spent watching episode 3 of Mike Mosley’s How Did We Get Here? shown on the Discovery+ Channel of Amazon Prime

In school, you are pressured to learn and perform so the connections that were essential to arrive at the modern world are not always put in the perspective of a history making our role in the world understandable.  Different perspectives by different people bring a fuller understand of who we are, as swimmers and as citizens of the world. 

For instance, Charles Darwin went off on a trip around the world aboard the Beagle that included a stop at the Galapagos Islands.  He later wrote a book, On the Origin of Species, in 1859 that promoted his ideas about evolution that was published to great success, underpinning his reputation as a naturalist.  The success was in part due to a book published in 1844 by Robert Chambers called Vestiges of Natural History of Creation that was the rage of England and an international bestseller. 

Chambers’ book was dismissed by the scientific community for its lack of expertise and raised the ire of clergymen for its promotions of transmutation of species, an aspect of phrenological thinking.  Darwin’s book provided the cover for the scientific community with its “natural selection”. By 1872 in the sixth edition, the word “evolution” was added within the text.