Davis Dalton was born on 25 Oct 1846 at Vegesack near Bremen, Germany, although in The Times 19 Aug 1890 it is stated that he was born in New York 26 Oct 1851.
In 1890 he claimed to have swam the English Channel. He was in the water 23 hours and swam sixty miles. It is not admitted in England that he ever got across. It was immediately disputed by The Times and The Daily Mail.
In a letter to The New York Times in 1900, F. E. Dalton of New York City claimed that in August, 1890, his father, Captain Davis Dalton, swam from Cape Griz-Nez to Folkestone in 23½ hours, being covered with jellyfish bites when he landed and blinded by salt for two weeks afterwards.
Davis Dalton was married at Philadelphia. His death occurred at Far Rockaway, Long Island, NY, of apoplexy while giving a swimming exhibition with his son on 6 Aug 1899.
Dalton spent some time in England earning a living from exhibition swimming and races. He had 3 children in England between 1874 and 1880 (his eldest child born New York 1871) and the family is living in Kensington in the 1891 census. He is described as a naturalised American and his wife as German
On August 17 1890, Captain Dalton left Folkestone for Boulogne with the intention of swimming back across the Channel to Folkestone, a distance of 27 miles. Dalton expressed his conviction that he could perform the journey in 20 hours, and if successful would beat the time of Captain Webb. He entered the water at four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, and accomplished the journey, without any remarkable incident, at half-past three the following afternoon.
In July 1891, Captain Dalton swam from Blackwall to Gravesend in the River Thames, London, covering the entire distance on his back.
In December 1891, Captain Dalton swam for 16 hours continuously at the Dover Baths, England.
In December 1899, Captain Davis Dalton swam for 12 hours continuously at the Latchmere Public Baths in London, England.
Wanganui Herald, New Zealand, 20 October 1890:-
The Successful Swim Across the Channel.
DETAILS OF DALTON’S FEAT.
On a recent Monday afternoon, Davis Dalton, the American back-swimmer, accomplished his projected swim from France to England, landing on the beach at Folkestone at 3.28, about a thousand yards on the west side of the new Victoria Pier. The scene at the landing was one of great excitement. Dalton was thoroughly exhausted, and dropped down in a faint. He had been seen for a long time before he touched land, and a large number of boats gathered round him, while thousands of people congregated on the beach.
Dalton was accompanied by Captain Henry Dunn, who acted as his pilot on the tugger lifeboat Ocean King. The swim is the longest which has been accomplished in the Channel, the distance traveled, allowing for drift of the tides, being about sixty miles at least. Dalton covered it in two ebbs and two floods, being in the water altogether 28 hours and 8 minutes, and swimming nearly the whole distance on his back. At 4 p.m. on Sunday, the weather being favorable, Dalton jumped off the stern of the Ocean King about a hundred yards from the head of Boulogne Pier, the flood tide taking him towards Cape Grisnez, when he had to contend with a strong ebb tide setting very fast to southwest. He was apparently swimming quite easily, aided by one or two short rests. A 6 p.m. he was still proceeding with the ebb tide, going with a strong, steady stroke with his legs, never, even when resting, having been in any other position than on his back. At 7 o’clock Dalton was swimming well, and asked for some refreshments. He took a cup of bovril, made hot by means of a spirit kettle. The weather was beautiful, and the sea comparatively smooth. Very slow progress was made off Cape Grisnez on account of the strong tide.
The night was extremely cold, and small quantities of bovril were frequently taken by Dalton, still bearing north-east by east at 10.30, the rate of progress improved. Dalton was still cheerful, and his leg strokes were firm and strong and slightly quicker. A 1.30 a.m. Dalton was getting away from Cape Grisnez and drawing towards the east end of the ridge. The weather had improved and the water was smooth, but very cold for the time of the year. At 2 a.m. Dalton was making very little process, and took some more beef tea, saying he felt rather tired and cold.
At 3 a.m. a shower of rain came on, prior to which Dalton had a long rest, lying on his back in the water, spread-eagle fashion. At four the day began to dawn, and Dalton, through swimming fairly well, had drifted, and continued to drift, a long way east-ward. The sea was very cold, he took small quantities of beef tea frequently. His rests in the water usually lasted about ten minutes.
At .30, after a hard struggle, Dalton reached the Varne lightship, when he evidently was pretty well fagged out. He had been in the water about 14½ hours, during which time both the sea and the wind had been decidedly cold. There had been a good deal of thunder and lightning, with occasional rain. Being spring tides, Dalton had some hard work to do in battling with them. A 7.30 the ebb tide was setting west from the Varne at a great pace. Squalls of rain were frequent, the sea and wind very cold. At 9.30 Dalton was setting fast towards Hythe with a strong current. At 10.20 he rested for ten minutes and complained of the coldness of the water, but started off again mush refreshed, showing very evident signs of fatigue.
At 11.30 Dalton, very much exhausted, was supplied with more bovril, his strokes appearing very much weaker. At 12.15, just east of Hythe, Dalton was very much exhausted, had a short rest, and then proceeded, having now got the benefit of the flood tide. At 2.30 Dalton was abreast of Sandgate, and in a terribly cold and exhausted condition. At three o’clock Dalton was gradually getting weaker and taking longer rests, until it was quite painful to see him in the water. When spoken to he only said, “I am done up.” About this time he used the breast stroke a little. His face had now a semi-livid appearance. When within a quarter of a mile from the shore Dalton swam quite powerfully again, and struck the shore at 3.28, amid the loud cheering of the spectators.
Dalton is an American, having been born in New York in 1851. He has had great experience in swimming for the last twenty-five years, and has had long distance swims in the Pacific, Atlantic, Bay of Biscay, German Ocean, and the rivers Amazon and Mississippi, but he does not appear at any time to have swam for wagers. Eighteen months age he came to England with the special object of training for his big swim. Three months he went to Folkestone, since which time he has subjected himself to a severe course of training, rising at four o’clock in the morning and entering the sea for a two hour’s swim, besides spending eight hours day in the Folkestone Swimming baths. in addition to this, he took long walks from six to eight miles daily. Dalton is a thick-set, muscular man, having powerful thighs and chest, and is about 5ft. 5in. in height.
Dunlap’s Cable News Company, London, August 22 1890:-
Mr. Davis Dalton, the American back swimmer, is not in an enviable frame of mind, owing to the universal disbelief in his assertion that he swam from Cape Grisnez to Folkestone on Monday.
In order to stem the tide of public sentiment that is setting against him, he prints letters attesting the fact. These, however, were made by persons totally unknown, and who were in Dalton’s employ. A sporting sheet calls public attention to the fact Dalton was badly beaten by Beckwith at the Westminster aquarium in 1886, when a test as to which swimmer could remain longest in the water was made. The Telegraph this morning publishes a challenge from “A responsible Sportsman” offering Dalton a purse of $50 provided he will, before the end of September, swim in any style he likes, from Blackwall pier to Gravesend, a distance of twenty miles.