Tommy Burns ‘saved 42 lives’
According to newspaper reports, Tommy Burns saved 42 lives and held medals and awards from the Liverpool Humane and Shipwreck Society and the Royal Humane Society.
A report in the Leeds Times on 25th March 1893 informed readers:
Burns is a well-known Liverpool swimmer and diver, and has medals enough to make a bullet-proof breast-plate almost, for saving the lives of some thirty-two persons at different periods of his life.
The Liverpool Echo a few days earlier had observed:
He is literally covered with medals, most of them conferred on him as rewards in connection with the thirty-two lives he has saved from drowning.
The earliest report of Tommy’s lifesaving appeared in the Liverpool Echo in 1884 when he was just 17. He had been travelling on the 7pm Rock Ferry steamer on 17th May when a fellow passenger lost his hat in a gust of wind. In trying to save it, he lost his balance and fell overboard in mid-river. The report continued:
“Man overboard” was the cry from a hundred throats and immediately a young man, known to his companions as “Tommy Burns”, who is a well-known Liverpool swimmer, threw off his coat, dived into the stream, and swam to the help of the other.
Tommy put the man on his back and kept his head above water until the ferry turned about and lifebuoys were thrown to him. He put one around the exhausted man and the other around himself.
The pair were taken on board a yacht which went to their rescue and they were transferred to the ferry and taken to Liverpool. The Echo stated:
The man who fell in was in a very bad way, but Burns seemed little the worse for his prolonged efforts in swimming to the rescue and sustaining the man. On arriving at the Landing-stage Burns was carried shoulder high along the bridge amid great cheering.
The Liverpool Mercury of 19th May added more detail, naming the unfortunate passenger as Dennis Bellis of Meaburn Street. It also revealed that Tommy was a baker living at 2 Exmouth Street and was captain of Sefton Swimming Club.
The Mercury later reported that on 29th May, the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society had awarded Tommy a silver medal and 13s 6d [about £67 in today’s money] for damage to his clothes.
‘Noted swimmer’ leaps to the rescue
Another gallant rescue on 17th September 1886 was covered by the Isle of Man Times which told how a young man named George Cain, of Barrack Street, Douglas, fell into the bay while fishing from the steps of Victoria Pier.
Fortunately Tommy Burns, a noted swimmer, who had more than once distinguished himself in saving persons from drowning, happened to be on the pier, and without waiting to divest himself of any of his clothing, he gallantly jumped off the pier and rescued the lad.