Several newspapers of the time described how Tommy Burns fought with a shark which attacked him as he was giving a swimming display of a seaside pier in 1890.
The North-Eastern Daily Gazette of 15th August reported:
Last evening the celebrated diver Tommy Burns, who was engaged to dive from New Brighton Pier, Cheshire, and afterwards perform aquatic feats in the Mersey, was the hero of a curious adventure. Whilst in the river he signalled for help, having been attacked by a large fish, which was subsequently found to be over five feet long, and pronounced to be a young shark, whose teeth left a severe wound on Burns’s arm. Boatmen put off to Burns’s rescue, and handed him a clasp knife, with which he despatched the monster, bringing it in triumph ashore.
The Cheshire Observer on 9th August informed its readers that several hundred spectators had gathered at the pier head and along the sands to watch Tommy dive from the pier:
… immediately afterwards great consternation was caused among the onlookers, who saw that he was holding deadly combat with the monster fish. Burns showered vigorous blows upon the body of his assailant and succeeded in keeping it at bay until the arrival of the boat.
Tommy was exhausted by the encounter and he was brought ashore with the shark ‘which was 5ft 4in long and had ‘a formidable row of teeth’.
Burns’s left arm is severely scored, the result of his desperate encounter; and he is to be congratulated upon overcoming so powerful an enemy with no worse injuries.
The Manchester Evening News commented on 8th August:
The appearance of a stray whale in the Mersey would only evoke popular agreeable interest, but the advent of a shark 5ft 4in long, is apt to cause panic amongst bathers at the Cheshire watering place. It has proved a capital advertisement for Tommy Burns, however, and indeed, he is consistently fortunate in respect of sensational advertising. He is under a deep obligation to that shark if he could only realise it, though its manner of introducing itself was rather unmannerly.
The monster of the deep must have been stuffed because in 1893 it was reported that he had presented it to the Royal Aquarium in London where he had been hired to dive 100ft from the roof dome into a small tank of water 7ft deep.