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Man saved another person from drowning and his exertions nearly cost his own life

Year 1823, John L Birtwhistle

Read by Christopher French – Supporter, Royal Humane Society

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July 10, 1823

The next case to which the Honorary Medallion has been awarded is one of uncommon occurrence and of peculiar interest; as both the individual who was drowning and the one who attempted to save him remained in shallow water for fifteen minutes, without being able to render each other the slightest assistance.

The case, as communicated by Mr. John L. Birtwhistle, surgeon, of Limehouse, is as follows:

“On Thursday morning last, the 10th July 1823, being induced by the warmth of the weather to bathe, I proceeded for that purpose to a convenient place beyond the Bridge on the New Cut at Bow Common. observed at some distance a person in the act of swimming about the middle of the river, when of a sudden a woman came running for assistance, and told me there was a person drowning. I immediately hastened to the spot, and perceived his hand above the surface of the water.

I was undressed, with the exception of my small clothes, which I hastily pulled off, and plunged in, to rescue the unfortunate individual from a watery grave. I succeeded in grasping him firmly by the hand; but, as it is well known how eagerly the drowning man catches at every reed of hope by which he may be saved, he unfortunately entangled his feet with mine, which caused us both to sink twice; arising, principally, from my being at the time in a state of great weakness, originating from previous illness.

I disengaged myself, however, by some powerful effort from his grasp, and happily succeeded in bringing him to the shore, in a depth of about two feet of water, where we both lay for nearly fifteen minutes, utterly unable to render each other the least assistance.”

The Committee cannot refuse themselves the pleasure of adding a few lines from Mr. W. H. Howkins, the gentleman who was rescued from drowning. In a letter to Dr. Martin, the Registrar, he says: ” I am, indebted, willing to bear testimony to what Mr. Birtwhistle has informed you, and am convinced that, without his humane exertions, I must have inevitably perished; and although

he was then in a state of great weakness, he disregarded his own safety to rescue the life of a fellow-creature, an act which, I hope, I shall ever know how to appreciate, and an event, which, from attending circumstances, will remain indelibly impressed upon me.”

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