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Charles Steedman

Charles Steedman was born on 9th July 1830 in London, England. His eventful life would see him become a champion swimmer in England and Australia, and his professional and sporting interests combined in the successful publication of this book, Manual of Swimming.

Steedman did not learn to swim until the age of 13, but like every venture he attempted, he quickly excelled in the sport. At the age of 19 Steedman took the national championship from G. Pewters, who swam the new racing style of the day – the sidestroke. In 1852 and 1853 Steedman beat Frederick Beckwith to claim the Surrey Club Championship, an event commonly regarded as the Championship of England.

Professionally, Charles Steedman was a self-educated man who had worked in a variety of occupations before he immigrated to Australia during the gold rushes of the 1850s. As an 11 year old, Steedman had begun as a mapmaker, before working as a chemist’s assistant two years later. At fourteen he began an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker while studying grammar and mathematics at evening classes. By the age of 19, Steedman was working successfully as a piano-maker. Somehow, at the close of an arduous 10 hour working day, Steedman still managed to find the time to train as a swimmer.

Steedman’s arrival in Melbourne in 1854, as the swimming champion of England, caused considerable interest among local swimmers who had heard of his exploits. He continued to swim competitively in his new country, and became champion of Victoria. An article in Melbourne’s The Argus, dated 25 February 1867 and titled ‘Swimming matches at Sandridge’, describes Steedman’s feats, and mentions that several competitors later declined to enter the water after seeing him swim. Professionally, in Australia Steedman worked as a journalist before becoming schoolmaster.

His professional and sporting skills combined with the 1857 publication of his book, Manual of Swimming. The Sport Australia Hall of Fame describes this book as ‘marking the beginning of swimming’s modern era’. As a book written by an experienced, champion swimmer, it contains some of the earliest descriptions of racing strokes and training methods and was the first major technical contribution to the new sport of ‘speed swimming’. Steedman’s international influence on the early years of this sport was confirmed when the book was published to great success in London, six years later.

Charles Steedman died at the age of 71 in 1901 in North Williamstown, Victoria. His impact on the sport of swimming was recognised both nationally and internationally over a century after his death when in 2000 he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and in 2006 when he was recognised by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.