By 1890, two other daring performers – Professor George Higgins* and Emily De Voy – were competing for newspaper coverage by making parachute jumps from hot air balloons.
Tommy’s reaction was to make his own parachute jump from his favourite bridge at Runcorn on Thursday 20th February 1890 … clutching a toy parachute!
Several newspapers carried similar reports on the event including the Wrexham Advertiser the following Saturday which described how Tommy left the Mersey Hotel with Professor Boston, Old Bas Kenrick and Ted Savage ‘a well-known pedestrian from Salford’.
Tommy went on to the bridge, stripped to his swimming costume and then the signal to go was given by Kenrick who fired a revolver. A ‘big gun’ was also fired from the hotel bowling green. The report continued:
The drop was taken from the first arch on the Widnes side of the river, Burns dropping in the most erect manner possible. He was no sooner under the water than up again, only to receive the cheers of the thousands assembled. After swimming about a short time Burns was picked up by a boat in attendance. The parachute was an ordinary toy one.
A large gathering of pedestrians and well-known athletes in addition to Mr Harry Montague, of Hengler’s Circus, and a number of artistes engaged there, afterwards assembled at the hotel to welcome Burns.
On behalf of Mr Savage, Mr Montague presented Burns with a silver cup as a token of the respect in which he is held by Mr Savage, and said that although only quite young Burns had for some years been the acknowledged champion diver, swimmer, and runner of the world. He had never in the course of his life witnessed a finer drop, and in the performance of this feat Burns had added another laurel to his fame.
He (Mr Montague) was making arrangements to take Burns for a tour through Ireland, America, and other places, and he sincerely hoped he would succeed in doing as well in America as Barnum had done in England.
The Manchester Evening News (Friday 21st February) added more detail:
The parachute, being a toy one, had no effect on the descent of the athlete, who struck the water with his feet.
* Higgins, was landlord of the Lord Nelson Inn in Mill Street, Coppenhall, Crewe, where Miss de Voy, also lived. The pair were involved in a ballooning accident at a charity gala in Leeds in August 1891 when 39-year-old Higgins was killed. Miss De Voy, 22, escaped unhurt.