Overhead Railway Carriage Interior
Refurbished carriage from the Liverpool Overhead Railway on display at Liverpool Museum. Photo: Joe Neary

On 2nd May 1895 Tommy Burns dived from the roof of a moving train in Liverpool. News of this appeared in newspapers across the country including The Shields Daily Gazette which reported the following day:

Our Liverpool correspondent telegraphs that yesterday afternoon Tommy Burns, the noted swimmer and diver, performed the extraordinary feat of diving from a moving train.

Disguising his identity, he took, with two others, seats in a first-class carriage of the electro overhead railway to the Liverpool Pierhead.

Once seated in the train, Burns divested himself of his overcoat, and, aided by his two companions, sprung upon the carriage roof. From this elevated position, Tommy took a header just as the train was heading for Nelson Dock Station. His leap was one of a hundred feet. Successfully clearing a steamer at anchor in the dock, in a moment he came to the surface all right.

The Overhead Railway Company prosecuted and on 10th May, Tommy appeared at Liverpool Police Court where he was fined the maximum £2 [about £220 in today’s money].

Nearly 40 years later – on 27th November 1931 – the following letter from one of Tommy’s accomplices appeared in the Liverpool Echo, signed with the pseudonym Liverpolitan:

A few days ago,I noticed a paragraph in the Echo about Tommy Burns, one-time great Liverpool diver and all-round sportsman.

I would like to recall to your older readers, and no doubt it will interest younger ones, what, in my opinion, was one of Burns’s most daring exploits. He dived from a moving train on the Overhead Railway into the Stanley Dock.

Letter from 'Liverpolitan'
Letter from ‘Liverpolitan’

A friend and I disguised him as a newsboy in an hotel not far from Dale-street, and made the journey by cab to the Prince’s Dock Station, where we joined a train going north. Nearing the Stanley Dock I assisted Burns on to the roof of the train. My friend and myself were more than excited, but Tommy was calm and unruffled.

We saw him dive off into the dock, and when the train stopped we rushed back and found him swimming about in a bathing costume – he had discarded his newsboy’s clothes. At the time he dived into the dock a barge emerged from under the bridge, and he missed striking it by a foot or two. I think this happened about 1897.

Knowing him as I did, I wish to bear tribute to his wonderful bravery and fearlessness.