The Royal Family of Swimming

Australians were smashing swimming records from the 1890s onwards. Meet Australia's first family of swimming champions - the Cavills. 
 

The history of swimming in Australia is in part the history of the remarkable Cavill family. The dynasty begins with ‘Professor’ Fred Cavill, born in London in 1839, who took up swimming after serving in the Royal Navy. A London newspaper, reporting in 1876 that Cavill had won three Royal Humane Society medals for saving life at sea, described him as 'one of Sir Charles Napier’s sea-dogs who…bears the stamp of a noble specimen of British sailor'.

It is uncertain when he left the navy, but in 1862, he won the swimming championship of England over 500 yards (457 metres). In the early 1870s, he opened baths in London and taught many distinguished people to swim, including Princess Mary of Teck, the future Queen Mary.

From Australia's Yesterdays

The history of swimming in Australia is in part the history of the remarkable Cavill family. The dynasty begins with ‘Professor’ Fred Cavill, born in London in 1839, who took up swimming after serving in the Royal Navy. A London newspaper, reporting in 1876 that Cavill had won three Royal Humane Society medals for saving life at sea, described him as 'one of Sir Charles Napier’s sea-dogs who…bears the stamp of a noble specimen of British sailor'.

It is uncertain when he left the navy, but in 1862, he won the swimming championship of England over 500 yards (457 metres). In the early 1870s, he opened baths in London and taught many distinguished people to swim, including Princess Mary of Teck, the future Queen Mary.

In 1877, in a second attempt, he swam the Channel from Dover to Calais in a little over 12 hours. Two years later, he migrated to Australia with his large family, and took over baths at Lavender Bay, Sydney, where he gave learn-to-swim lessons. The baths were resumed when the North Shore railway line was being built in the 1880s, and Cavill made a brief return visit to England.

Later, Cavill opened an elegant swimming baths in Farm Cove, Sydney, by the Botanic Gardens. The natatorium, as it was called, became one of the sights of the town. The baths were open-slatted and supported by iron buoyancy tanks, and the dressing cubicles were equipped with mirrors, brushes and combs. In 1909, a gale swept away the natatorium and deposited it on a beach across the Harbour, some kilometres away, but the Professor lived on till 1927, watching his sons distinguish themselves as champion swimmers.

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