On 29th January 1897, Tommy Burns dived from a moving train as it passed over the Tay Bridge in Scotland.

The Dundee Courier (30th January) carried a detailed report of this dive which resulted in Tommy being rescued from the freezing water. It was reported that a large crowd had gathered at the west end of the Esplanade adjoining the bridge and railway officials were also keeping watch.

Tay Bridge
Tommy dived into the freezing water in January 1897. This photograph by Mike Thomas was taken more than a century later – in January 2010 – and it captures the bleak wintry conditions in the Firth of Tay at this time of year.

Tommy and four or five friends bought third class tickets from Tay Bridge Station and boarded the 10.45 local train. Tommy stripped off his outer clothes and used a rope to get out of the carriage window and on to the roof. When the train reached the ninth girder, he dived over the parapet and into the river, surfacing quickly. But the Courier noted:

The boats which had been engaged to pick him up by some misunderstanding had rowed well to the south instead of lying off the ninth or tenth girder.

Photographer W. K. Thomson of Edinburgh told how painters on the bridge threw planks for Tommy to cling on to but one of these struck him on the side and stunned him.

The harbour launch went to his rescue and took him ashore. Railway officials had called the police who took Tommy to the Central Police Office but:

The police were at a loss to know what to do with the champion after he was in their hands.

Tommy’s friends took his clothes to the police station and after a couple of hours, police let him go and he caught the 5.28 train to Edinburgh to fulfil an engagement.

On 4th February, the Edinburgh Evening News reported that Tommy:

… has been confined to bed for some days past owing to an injury sustained by some painters on the bridge throwing planks and sleepers to him while in the water.