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The following episode of Wilson is taken from The Rover March 6th 1971.


Editor’s Note: William Wilson, the famous athlete and record-breaker, was born near Stayling, in Yorkshire, on November 1, 1795.

At an early age he decided to improve his physique beyond the normal, and ran away from home and lived wild on Ambleside Moor.

Later he travelled in Europe, performing remarkable feats of stamina and speed, and on returning to Britain, lived alone in the Cleveland Hills, and later in the Scottish Highlands.

He reached the age of fifty-six, although in appearance he looked thirty years younger, and was still gaining in strength and agility, as shown by his jumping six feet three inches at a village sports meeting.

On July 31, 1852, he decided to return to his native county, and set to walk and run from Sutherlandshire.

His own story goes on: —


It took me twelve days to reach Yorkshire. I could have done it much faster, but I saw so many interesting things that I was often delayed.

After my first scare on seeing a railway train, I began to accept them as part of the landscape. Railways were being built everywhere, and when I reached Ambleside Moor I found that a line was being constructed to skirt the territory that I considered my own. It would not go through Stayling, but was already linking the little town of Tufton with the south. Gangs of men were living in huts, working by day on the new steel roadway, bringing to the dales a bustle and confusion that had not been known before. It was night when I finally arrived at my destination on Thursday, 12th August, and I stared in dismay at the scores of lights and fires that dotted the countryside. Not until I had crossed the river and come closer to these did I discover they were the living quarters of the railway construction gangs. I was standing staring at the unaccustomed scene when three men suddenly lurched out of the darkness. The foremost, a short, squat fellow, with arms that dangled almost to the ground stopped before me aggressively. “I haven’t seen you in these parts before?” he said thickly. “I’ve just arrived,” I replied. “Oho, just arrived, eh? Well, if you’re goin’ to work in the camp you’ve got to know that Big Bill Crocker is the cock-o’-the-walk around here!” he roared. I was going to explain that I had no intention of working in the camp when he dived in at me, threw his long arms around me, and hoisted me from the ground, at the same time tossing me away from him. I fell flat on my back some yards away. It had been done so quickly that I had been unprepared. As I lay there gasping. For the sudden jar had knocked the breath out of me, he came over and drove a steel-toed boot into my side. “Remember that—Big Bill Crocker can put any man in Yorkshire on his back!” he growled. If he had not kicked me I should have probably risen and gone away, leaving the bully to draw what satisfaction he could from the encounter. But that kick roused my anger. The next moment I had whirled around, had caught his leg with both arms, and tripped him headlong. I bounded to my feet as he let out a bellow. “So you want to have your back broken, eh?” he snarled. With that he made a ferocious rush, but this time I was ready for him. I had linked my hands together in front of me, and as he came in I brought them up cup-fashion under his chin, heaving upwards with all my strength. He was lifted right off the ground, turned a complete somersault backwards, and landed with a crash. A gasp of awe came from the other two men, who, from first to last had made no attempt to interfere. That navy was tough. He lay there for about ten seconds, then crawled to his feet, shook his head, and came back to the attack like a charging bull. I waited until he made his grab, then jumped to one side, caught his nearer arm in both my hands, and swung him off his feet in the direction his own impetus was carrying him. Once he was in the air I turned round and round, still holding the trapped arm. Three times I spun him level with my shoulders, then hurled him from me with much the same ment that I usually employed when throwing a hammer. That fifteen – stone man sailed fully thirty feet before he landed with a thud in a newly-dug ditch…He did not come out again. Expecting an attack from the others. I turned and put myself on guard, but they were goggling at me with bulging eyes. They were still staring at me when I walked away. Voices down the road told me more navvies were returning from the town. I decided to make myself scarce before more trouble started. That night I slept in one of the hollows which I had occupied many years before, and before going to sleep I removed all my clothes except my waist-cloth, rolled them up, and stuffed them in a hollow tree to protect them from the damp. I did not mind getting wet myself, but I wanted my newly-acquired clothing to look reasonably decent when I walked into the Tufton District Bank the next morning. I wakened with the dawn, and it was a joy to run down to my old favourite stream and have a splash in the ice-cold water. When I had made a frugal breakfast from berries and a piece of bread which I had bought on my journey down, I headed for the village. Nobody knew me. In the old days I had rarely visited Tufton. It was much better than when I had known it. The coming of the railway had brought a temporary prosperity. Right alongside the bank was one of the new post offices which had opened all over the country during the past twenty years, and I recognised in the doorway someone I had known in boyhood. He shocked me by his look of age. The bank had not changed in the slightest. It was here I had put the remainder of my £3000 legacy in 1812, after I had made provision for my mother and had paid for certain lands which I had presented to the villagers of Stayling in 1831. I was anxious to know how much money I had to my credit. A young clerk with side-whiskers looked at me curiously when I approached. “Can I see Mr Hardy?” I asked, mentioning the manager who had formerly handled my account. The clerk’s jaw sagged. “Mr Hardy – he’s been dead these last twelve years, long before I came here,” he told me. “Then may I see the present manager?” I inquired. “My name is Wilson.” The clerk nodded, went into another room, and presently returned and asked me to follow him. Behind a desk sat a short, pompous man who looked me up and down severely. “Mr Wilson? My name is Barker. What can I do for you?” he asked. “I would like to know how much there is standing to my account,” I told him. “William Wilson is the name.” “Wilson?” The manager was plainly puzzled. “I don’t think we have any account here in that name.” “Oh, yes!” I said. “I had £3000 left me and banked it here forty years ago. If you look it up you’ll find the account has not been touched for over thirty years. I’ve been—er—abroad.” Barker frowned, and lifted down a big ledger, flipped the pages, and finally found some entries which he read. “Yes, we have a dormant account here belonging to a Mr William Wilson. The last transaction that occurred relating to it was thirty years ago. That was in my predecessor’s time.” “Correct!” I agreed. “I’ve not touched it since. Now I want to know how much I have and to draw some of it.” This time Barker looked at me in astonishment. “But you can’t be the William Wilson whose account this is!” he exploded finally. “That’s impossible. He would be a man of between fifty and sixty by now, and you’re now even thirty!”


I was about to make some angry retort when I recollected it was not his fault the mistake was being made.

“You have a specimen signature that I gave you many years ago,” I said quietly. “I think if you compare it with the one I can give you now you’ll be convinced.” I took up a pen and piece of paper, scrawled my signature, and pushed it across to the manager. He compared it with a slip in the book, and rubbed his chin in perplexity. “They’re identical, yet it can’t be! Mr Wilson would be fifty-five or more, and you—” “I’m fifty-six,” I informed him. “I’ve been living in a healthy way, and don’t look my age. I’ve just come back to the district. Surely I’m entitled to some of my own money.” Barker was still dubious, but the signature test had shaken him. Finally he said— “I remember hearing stories about you when you were younger, Mr Wilson. They still talk of your strength and your running ability. They say you once lifted the Grieve Stone above your head.” “That’s true,” I said. “You’re probably thinking that I cannot be the same man as I don’t look powerful enough. Well, if you wish I will take you to the Grieve Stone and lift it again.” “I should find it far easier today than when I was a youth of seventeen. If you don’t want to go that far, I can show you that I’m not as ordinary in physique as I look.” With that I suddenly bent, grasped the two front legs of his big chair, one in either hand, and lifted chair and occupant straight up into the air until I held them above my head. A startled yell came from the bank manager, and the door burst open to admit the clerk, who stared in stupefied horror when he discovered the manager’s predicament. “Put me down! Put me down!” gasped Barker, his bald pate within a few inches of the ceiling. “Are you convinced that I’m Wilson?” I asked, still holding him there. “Yes—yes, I’ll believe you. I’ll certainly believe you!” he hastened to assure me. I set him down gently, and when he had mopped his face he told me to figure of my credit. It was £8000—much more than I had expected. I had forgotten that the money had been earning interest all those years. Having drawn a hundred pounds, I left the bank and walked down the once familiar street. I was discovering that there were drawbacks to not showing my years. Several people who should have known me passed me by without a second glance. In the shop where I bought new clothes I was treated to a discourse on the remarkable athlete Wilson who had won the Stayling mile race thirty-eight years before. I was vainly trying to fasten a high collar to a shirt. “What happened to him?” I asked. “We never knew, sir,” said the assistant. “He just disappeared. I expect his heart collapsed. He must have strained it with the amazing demands he used to make on it.” I grinned when I felt the slow and steady beat of my heart under the white shirt front. Having put the remainder of my purchases in a suitcase. I hired the owner of a pony and trap to drive me over to Stayling. I had a longing to see the old place again. Every yard of the road was known to me, and I could see far across the moor where I had lived my early years of hard training. I found Stayling practically unaltered. There was not even a post office there yet. We pulled up outside the Dick Turpin Inn, and I went in to ask if they had a room they could let me have for a few days. The landlord was the same who had been there all my life, but he was so old and bent that I hardly recognised him. Of course, he did not remember me. He had a room to offer, and I went out to get my bag from the trap. To my astonishment I saw that the trap was about two hundred yards away, careering down the village street at full speed, the driver lashing the pony unmercifully. It was obvious that he meant to make off with my bag, to hide it somewhere and swear he had never seen it. Believing me to be a stranger in the district, he expected his word would be taken in preference to mine. “Hi!” I yelled at the top of my voice. “Hi! Bring back that bag!” He only lashed the pony to a faster pace, and did not even turn his head. At last I lost patience. Snatching off the hat which I was wearing so uncomfortably, I dropped it on the ground and started in pursuit. People turned to stare at me. Men shouted to each other, and others came out from their cottage doorways to see what the excitement was about. My boots made a rare clatter. I was fast catching up with the pony trap. Hearing the sound of my boots, the driver turned his head and nearly fell from the seat in amazement when he found me only fifty yards behind him, Standing up, he yelled and shouted at his pony. It did its best, but I was now in full stride. I could have run down a racehorse. Twice I took short cuts across corners, leaping the ditches, and cutting down his lead even further. At last I came within ten feet of the tail-end of the trap. I took a tremendous leap and landed in the rocking vehicle behind him. The force of my arrival almost caused the trap to up-end. The man dropped the reins, the pony swerved, and in a moment the whole outfit had overturned. Even as it went over I grabbed the driver and jumped clear with him tucked under one arm. Thanks to my sense of balance I landed the right way up. Though I staggered a little before setting him on his feet. He still grasped the driving whip, but I took it away from him. “Just what was the idea?” I demanded fiercely. “I—I—you see—” he gasped. “I ought to hand you over to the police!” I snapped. “But you can have this instead.” Whereupon I set about him with the whip, until finally he took to his heels and fled. I did not take up the chase, but released the pony, turned it loose to graze, and recovered my bag from the overturned trap. When I walked back to the village I found half the occupants waiting for me. They stared at me for some moments in silence, then one man cried— “It’s him—it’s Wilson! It’s Wilson—come back after all these years!” Whereupon they surged around me, asking if it was true, and when I admitted my identity I was nearly flattened by the back-slapping. It was a great homecoming. Everyone talked at once, so I did not have to make any speeches, for which I was heartily thankful. Then in the middle of all the excitement a wheelchair pushed by a strapping youth came round the corner. Seated in the chair, with a bandaged foot extended straight before him, was someone I fancied I knew. At least the face was familiar, though it was so riddled and marked by dissipation and sickness that it was some moments before I knew who the man was. “Here comes the Squire!” one man called, and the crowd became quieter. The Squire! They meant Jasper Falby, my old enemy, the man who had tried to have me hounded from the moor, and who had once tried to have me jailed as a vagrant. He was only slightly older than myself, but he was an old man in appearance now, whereas I still looked young. I walked towards him and I saw a frown come to his face. He peered at me with bloodshot eyes, muttered something to his attendant, then called— “I’ll wager your name is Wilson!” “Right!” I told him, guessing that the trouble with his foot was gout. “And you’re the son of William Wilson, who used to live in these parts,” he went on. “You’re the dead spit of what he used to be when he was your age.” “Wrong. I’m not his son,” I said. “Don’t argue with me, for I know I’m right!” he roared, thumping the ground with his stick. “I never forget a face. What has happened to the scoundrel? He was a ne’er-do-well, if ever there was one. I’ll warrant he finished in jail.” “Not yet,” I replied. “You’re still wrong, Jasper Falby, for I’m not Wilson’s son. I’m William Wilson himself. What’s been happening to you? High living doesn’t seem to have agreed with you. You ought to have lived a simple life, like me, and then you’d have kept young.” He stared as though unable to believe his eyes. His lips moved several times without producing any sound, then he snarled— “I don’t believe it! You’re lying, which is another proof that you take after your father. Your father must be fifty-six by now. What’s the idea of coming here pretending to be him? If you’re up to some roguery you’ve come to the wrong village. I’ll have the police on you!” I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. It was useless to argue with Jasper Falby. Doubtless the pain of his gout had made his temper worse than ever.


There were men who had been children at the same time as myself. We had played together on the farm that my father had rented from the old Squire.

They came to me and tried to catch me by putting questions about those distant days, and when I was able to answer everything correctly they marvelled more than ever at my fitness and my looks. They told me that thanks to my efforts thirty-one years before, when I had won a great deal of land from Squire Falby for the villagers by winning a race, and had their rents lowered by my powers at throwing the javelin, the village still prospered. It was fine to be back amongst old-time friends again. I told them something of my adventures but by no means all. Having seen me chase after that trap, they were quite prepared to believe I could run better than ever. They wanted me to stay on until Easter to see if I could better my record in the Stayling Mile. I said I could not do that, as I had other places to visit, but before the party broke up that evening I had promised to run over the mile course on the morrow and allow myself to be timed by one of the new stop watches which the schoolmaster had recently purchased. I chuckled as I undressed and got into a real bed that night, for I guessed the real reason why they had persuaded me to re-run that mile was because there had been countless arguments in the course of years as to whether I had ever really done it in the time stated—four minutes and two seconds. There were visitors downstairs in the inn before I was up the next morning. They crowded into the cosy parlour as I ate my breakfast, and young Tom Parsons, the son of the Chick Parsons whom I had beaten that famous Easter sports day, said— “We can make it a race today, after all, Wilson!” “How?” I asked. “Has your father decided to come out of retirement and challenge me again?” Tom grinned. I had heard the night before that the father was now so fat that he could hardly walk, let alone run. “No,” Tom smiled. “But some of the men from the construction camp were over last night, and they said they have a Negro working up at the new tunnel who’s the fastest thing on legs. They were offering to back him against any local man for £100-a-side. Ben Pound has been telling me about it. There were no takers, but we reckon if we all club together and raise the £100, it will take these railway navvies down a peg or two to see their man beaten.” I pricked up my ears. I remembered that today—the fourteenth of August—was a Saturday, and that the afternoon would be a holiday for everyone. It might be interesting to see what sort of a runner this Negro was. I agreed to run if the match could be arranged, and young Parsons borrowed the innkeeper’s pony to ride over to the camp to make the arrangements. By midday he was back with the acceptance. The railway builders would be down in force that afternoon with their champion. They offered to lay odds of two-to-one that their man would be an easy winner. The village hummed with excitement. I had a light lunch and got into my old lion-cloth, shrouding myself in a long coat as I walked around the course and watched some of the local folk marking it out. The vicar and the schoolmaster agreed to be starter and timekeeper respectively. They were not the same ones who had been in Stayling when I was a boy, but they knew me by reputation and were anxious to help. Squire Falby shut himself in the Manor and said he would not put in an appearance. The workers from the camp began to arrive—tough, roistering men. I guessed there would be trouble before the day was through, and almost wished I had not agreed to the match. However, it was too late to back out, and the villagers begged me to do my best for the honour of Stayling. More and more of the navvies poured into the village, and very soon between two and three hundred were present, shouting and boasting about their black champion. Tom Parsons and a few others made a collection and raised £100, making a note of how much was due to each person. In this way practically everyone in Stayling wagered on me. Finally there was a roar from the railway workers. A horse-brake had arrived with their champion and his supporters. As the Negro climbed down from the vehicle I had a shock. He was at least six feet seven inches high, and so thin that he looked like a human hop-pole. His legs and arms were unusually long. With him he had a group of toughs whose scarred and battered faces made them resemble prize-fighters rather than navvies. The crowd from the camp cheered again and again, as Sambo walked to the starting-point and had the course pointed out to him. Tom Parsons ranged up to me with a worried expression. “Do you think you have a chance, Wilson? Those long legs of his will cover three yards at a stride. I’m afraid we’ve landed you in something.” I frowned at the noisy mob lining the village green, round which the course was situated. “What’s happened to the stakes?” I asked. “They’re being held by the innkeeper,” Tom replied. “Both sides agreed to that.” “Then be ready to go to his aid when I win,” I muttered. “I fancy some of these navvies won’t like losing.” The crowd was now getting impatient, and the Negro was strutting up and down loosening his limbs. I moved down to the starting point, and as soon as I had shed my coat the navvies muttered amongst themselves. When stripped I looked more muscular than when covered, and they could see the great depth and breadth of my chest. “Look out for him, Sambo!” called someone. “He looks a tough ‘un.” The Negro looked down at me with a contemptuous smile. I paid no attention. I was wondering whether the crowd would keep off the track. They were the toughest bunch I had ever run before, and I knew our solitary village constable would have no chance if they started a riot. Silence descended as we toed the mark. The vicar was looking nervous as he fingered an old pistol. “Ready?” he asked as he pointed it in the air, and as we swayed forward he pulled the trigger. There was no bang, only a loud click. The pistol had misfired, but the Negro, having seen the movement of the vicar’s finger, leaped away, like some long-legged panther. As he did so, he deliberately swung his right hand in my face, knocking me over. He was a hundred yards away before he was stopped and ordered back. My nose was bleeding and my temper raw. The crowd jeered the starter, who was working feverishly on the pistol.

The next episode of Wilson is taken from The Rover March 13th 1971:

At the beginning of the race, the long legs of the six-foot-seven Negro carried him well ahead.

I had now reached the end of the green, and Sambo was about 30yards ahead. To the crowd it must have looked as though the race was over. Sambo’s supporters were cheering themselves hoarse, and the villagers were looking glum. I did not worry, for I knew the black man had already produced his best turn of speed, whereas I had been holding myself in check. We reached the wall of the churchyard. The track ran round it. Navvies had perched themselves on top of the wall and were whooping and yelling excitedly. The path around the church was graveled, but there was a grass verge on either side, and Sambo’s bare feet pattered along the inner strip. Mine did likewise. It was time to increase my stride. I did so, and began to gain rapidly. It was my intention to arrive round the other side of the churchyard right on Sambo’s heels and to pass him in a final rush down the right of the green, where the crowd would get their best view of the final stretch. This meant I had to gain some 20 yards in about 200. It needed a lot of doing, but when I called upon my muscles for the effort they did not fail me. I forged ahead, inwardly chuckling at the sudden change of expression on the faces of the navvies upon the wall. “Look out, Sambo, look out!” bawled someone. “The little ‘un’s catching up!” I was not exactly a “little ‘un,” being of average build, but compared with the long, lanky Negro I was very short. He looked round in some surprise, saw me only 10 yards away, and gaped in astonishment. Putting down his head and swinging his arms more awkwardly than ever, he tried to get away from me. But by that time I fairly eating up the distance. I knew I had him beaten. I put on yet another spurt, and arrived a yard behind him as we reached the end of the wall and level with the old-fashioned lych-gate, which was one of the antiquities of Stayling. In that gateway were a number of men from the railway camp, just how many I did not notice, for I was watching my opponent’s flying heels and did not look at the crowd. I drew level, and heard someone say something in a loud, sharp voice. A fraction of a second later a large stone struck me in the pit of the stomach with terrific force. My breath was expelled with a loud gasp and, as a wave of agony shot through me, I doubled forward and fell. To the crowd who had realised that I was actually ahead, it must have looked as though I had stumbled while making my supreme effort. I fell forward on hands and knees, gasping for air, almost sick with the pain. My brain continued to work. I knew what had happened. I knew that someone in that group of railwaymen had thrown that stone at my stomach. It had bounced off my taut flesh and vanished into the grass, but it had done its work. It had brought me down, and Sambo was shooting ahead in great style. There was only 800 yards to go, and I was far behind. It was at a time like this that a man needed all his stamina and will power. I staggered a few paces, gasping like an exhausted stag. I wanted to double up again. I felt waves of sickness sweeping over me, and my legs seemed to have no strength in them. I forced myself on, each step bringing agonizing pain, but, gradually, feeling returned to my paralysed nerve-centres, and I began to stride out vigorously. As the red haze cleared from my eyes I saw that the Negro was fully 100 yards ahead, and had about 700 yards to go to reach the winning-post. It looked an impossibility to consider catching up, but I was so furiously angry that I was willing to attempt the impossible. I sprinted as fast as I would have done in a hundred yards race. “Run, Sambo—run! He’s after you,” came a frantic yell. This time the Negro did not make the mistake of looking behind. He put on a spurt of speed, but staggered from side to side as he did so. He had almost run himself out. He had forced the pace too much at the beginning in an effort to get the lead, and now he had no reserves to call upon. He did his best. It was not until he was only 100 yards from the winning post that I came alongside him. He gave me one venomous look, screwed up his face, and tried to keep up. It was useless. I went past him as though he was standing still, and was 15 yards ahead when I smashed through the tape which two villagers had stretched across the course. “Wilson wins! Wilson wins!” arose the cry from the delighted villagers. Men and women rushed from the crowd to grip and support me, but my legs gave way under me, and I fell to the ground in a coma, a condition which always came over me after I made an all-out effort. This coma did not last more than a minute or two, but as soon as I opened my eyes I realised there was trouble. The air was filled with angry shouts and booing. There was a trampling of feet, the sound of heavy blows, and the sudden smashing of glass as a stone was throw through a window. I was closely hemmed in by a score of village men, who were trying to hold back fifty or sixty navvies. Many of the latter had produced lengths of metal piping from their clothing and were flailing away with these weapons. It was a riot, and I was the cause of it. I had won the challenge race, and the men from the camp were furious. They had thought it was going to be the easiest thing in the world to take £100 from the inhabitants of Stayling and I had upset their plans. This particular bunch was trying to get at me to manhandle me. I jumped to my feet, fully recovered from the strain of the race but for a pain in my stomach. I wore my usual loin-cloth, and my feet were bare. I was in no condition to face the sticks and lengths of piping of my enemies. But my fellow villagers were doing nobly. Out-numbered by more than two to one, these farm labourers and carters were keeping the mob from me. All over the green I saw rioting going on. It was one of the wildest scenes I had ever witnessed, and not one I had ever expected to see in Stayling. I saw that my defenders were going to be overwhelmed. Several were bleeding from cuts on the face and head. There was only one way to save my local friends from further injury I must remove myself from their protection. Taking a short run, for I had only five or six paces on either side of me, I hurled myself into the air and snatched my legs up under me. I cleared the heads of three or four rows of men and landed on the open green behind. Sight of my bronzed figure passing over their heads caused their jaws to sag, but not all of them knew I had escaped from the circle. Some navvies fought on until their friends turned and yelled— “Wilson’s got out! There he goes! Stop him!”


The howl that arose when I was seen running from the village street was like that from a pack of wolves.

All over the green the navvies stopped fighting the villagers in order to take up the pursuit. Those in front of me closed up to bar my way. I was continually twisting and turning to avoid trouble. Several times it was impossible to turn aside, and I escaped only by leaping over the heads of those who tried to seize me. Finally I got clear of the crowd and saw the open road before me. I could have put on speed and have escaped to the moors, but I wanted to make sure the men from the camp followed me. I did not want to leave them to make trouble in the village. As soon as I was thirty or forty yards away I stopped and turned, taunting the leaders of the mob. They fairly gibbered at that. Those who had thought of dropping out of the chase put on another burst of speed, determined to catch me. The villagers were forgotten. I let the navvies get close enough to believe they had me, then sprinted another hundred yards. That enabled me to gain a farther lead on them, and again I stopped and turned. This time I was even more insulting and pungent in my remarks, and the veins stood out on the ruddy faces of the burly leaders as they strained to get close enough to knock me down. I kept up these will-o’-the-wisp tactics until I reached the edge of the village. By that time some of my pursuers had dropped through exhaustion, but others were still doggedly keeping after me. A few had turned aside to grab the horses from the brakes and wagons which had brought them there. I kept a wary eye on these. The time came when there were nine or ten navvies on horseback forging ahead of the others. They bore down on me with triumphant whoops, and when I left the road and took to the moor they followed me, confident that they could ride me down. I was determined not to run myself to the point of exhaustion. Not far away was the river. At that point it was nearly twenty-five feet in width. I had jumped it several times in the past, and believed I could do the same again, in spite of my previous strenuous efforts. I raced towards it, the horsemen drawing nearer and nearer. Increasing my stride, I hurled myself at the obstacle. The wind rushed past my ears, then I was sprawling on the other bank, my body well forward on the grass. It was the work of a moment only to rise and continue my run, but I did not go very far. I stopped and turned to see what happened to the navvies. Three of them baulked at the water-jump, turning aside and making some excuse about their horses. The others drove in their heels, whooped, and tried to make their mounts take the leap. Not one of them was an experienced rider, and not one of the horses accustomed to jumping. Two of the horses jibbed at the last moment and shot their riders over their heads. The others all made the attempt, but landed in the river, rolling their riders under. Not one reached my side. That was the end of the pursuit on horseback, though fifty or sixty determined ruffians splashed through the river where it shallowed about two hundred yards upstream and continued after me on foot. I led these into the swamp that bordered the village common and left them there floundering while I circled behind the squire’s parklands and was lost to their sight. It was an unpleasant end to what should have been a sporting event, and I blamed myself for ever having accepted the railway worker’s challenge. It had only promoted ill-feeling between them and the people of Stayling. But when I re-entered the village from the other end, I found that the citizens of Stayling were not at all despondent. They were all gathered outside the inn, where the landlord was sharing out their winnings. The navvies had gone after me so whole-heartedly that they had forgotten to try to get back the amount of their stakes. The villagers were rejoicing in their success. As soon as they saw me they made a wild rush and lifted me shoulder high. I was borne around the village whilst they sang and cheered. I was the hero of the hour, and it reminded me of the occasion, many years before, when their fathers had done the same after I had won for them a large chunk of the Squire’s lands. I was breathless by the time they deposited me in the doorway of the inn, where the excited schoolmaster presently struggled through the crowd to my side. “Mr Wilson, I can scarcely believe it!” He waved his new stop-watch, “If I didn’t know this watch was exact I wouldn’t believe it. I was timing you very carefully that last quarter of a mile. You’d never guess the time you did that stretch in?” “In what?” I demanded, seeing that his excitement was growing. “In forty-eight seconds!” My heart jumped a little on hearing that I knew it was a feat that had never before been done, and perhaps could never be done by anyone but me. I was then fifty-six years of age, and I had produced a record that I could not have equaled thirty years earlier. My time for the whole mile was four minutes and 6 seconds, and I knew I could have bettered that had I not been delayed by the stone-throwing incident.


Editor’s Note: Wilson remained at Stayling for more than a month, during which time he tried to make up his old quarrel with the Squire, but without success.

Jasper Falby hated him more than ever for his youthfulness and physique, and blamed him for the damage done during the recent riot.

Eventually Wilson found his way to Hull, and on impulse decided to go down to London on one of the new steamships which had begun to ply from the port.

His story then goes on:


The Seabearer was not a passenger craft. I was the only person aboard who was not a member of the crew. The novelty of my surroundings kept me interested. It was the first time I had been afloat for about thirty years when I’d crossed the English Channel in a sailing-packet. Now I was being driven along by a steam-engine which thumped and rattled like a thousand demons rolled into one, though I noted that a fair spread of canvas was also carried. The day was dull and windless. Once we were away from the coast, we seemed to have the North Sea to ourselves. I did not see any other craft before nightfall. Down in the cabin the captain and I talked over our supper. He seemed to regret the coming of steam, and said it would ruin seamanship. What amused me was the fact that he called me “young man,” whereas I was actually ten years older than he. He knew nothing about me or my past. Before our conversation finished, the ship had begun to roll and pitch alarmingly, and the captain buttoned on his oilskins with the remark that I had better go to my bunk as the weather was on the change. He was expecting a north-easterly squall. I took his advice, and shortly afterwards the Seabearer began to pitch so much that her paddles, first on one side then on the other, raced madly in the air. I could hear the wind howling and the waves beating over the deck. Somehow I fell asleep, but was later wakened by a feeling that all was not well. The roar of the wind and the lashing of the sea was as loud as ever, but something was missing. It took me several seconds to realise the engines were no longer running. We were no longer being driven along by steam. The motion was becoming more violent. Occasionally I could hear the sound of running feet, and once a hoarse bellow from the captain. It was time I went on deck. I dressed hurriedly and struggled along the short gangway to the ladder. The hatch was closed, but not fastened. I was able to raise it and scramble out on deck, where I was immediately caught by a gust of wind and hurled down the port side to the rail, against which I was dashed with considerable force. The next moment a wave broke over me, drenching me to the skin. Someone saw me and came to my side. It was the first officer, and he looked very worried. “You ought to keep below!” he shouted. “What’s happening?” I bellowed back. “Goodness knows!” he roared. “The paddles raced so much that they broke, and now we have to rely on sail. There is only a makeshift mast, and the captain doesn’t think it will stand the strain. That’s why we daren’t put on enough canvas to make real headway. Give me a real sailing vessel every time! If we lose our mast—” Even as he spoke there was a mighty crack, and I saw a dark mass of rigging go swaying over the other way. The worst had happened. We were dismasted. Our engine had failed us, and now we were deprived of our auxiliary sails. The prospect was grim.


The half-hour that followed was a terrible one. The crew cut away the tangle of rigging and tried to rig a jury-mast, but that proved useless. We were left at the mercy of wind and rain.

A full-sized gale was blowing, and with our heavy cargo we seemed likely to be swamped at any moment. All the lifeboats had been smashed or swept overboard. The hatches were bolted down, and I was told to lash myself to a rail. I did not do so. Instead I shed my clothing, which was now so sodden that it chilled my body. I was never cold when exposed to the elements, for I had hardened myself on the moors and mountains for many years past. Having got rid of my boots, I felt more comfortable, but when I made my way to the bridge the captain and the first officer goggled at the sight of me, wearing only my waist-cloth. “Are you mad?” demanded the former. “You’ll freeze to death in this wind.” I shrugged my shoulders and asked him where we were and what was going to happen. He said that as far as he could gauge we were some ten miles off the coast of Norfolk, and drifting with the wind. What was going to happen he could not say, but he feared the ship would be swamped or driven, a wreck, on the distant shore. As time passed the captain looked grimmer and grimmer, the storm was not dying down. We appeared doomed. It was then that I made my suggestion. “If you’ll tell me the direction of the drift, and if you can tell me where you expect to be in about five hours time, I’ll try to swim ashore and send out a rescue-boat,” I offered. The captain glared at me. “Now I know you’re mad!” he exploded. “No one could live in that sea for two minutes! The coast is ten miles away!” “Yes, you told me that before,” I replied calmly. “I think I can make it. Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll be off.” It took some time to convince him I was in earnest. I had to tell him something of my past history, of my records in sport and other matters. Whether or not he believed me, I do not know, but in the end he said I might as well die that way as in a wreck. He worked out the point where he expected to be in five hours’ time, allowing for the wind remaining constant. He said he believed they might keep afloat for perhaps seven hours, but not much longer. I nodded, glanced along the heaving deck, waited until a wave rolled us over in the direction I wished take, then ran down the slope and leaped far into the sea. It was cold, but no colder than some of the Highland streams in which I had been accustomed to swim. A great wave almost hurled me back on to the Seabearer, but I dived through it and emerged in the trough on the other side. I knew my chief danger would be losing my bearings. Two or three stars showed through the thick, dark clouds, and I tried to set a course by those, swimming directly west. As long as I kept going in that direction, I was bound to reach the coast sooner or later. There was need for haste. The Seabearer would not stay afloat indefinitely. I could not afford to spare myself. With powerful strokes I drove through the water. It was an awesome experience. I had been out on the open moor, and on the Scottish mountains in some big storms, but never in the clutches of the sea at such a time. The waves played shuttle-cock with me. They whirled me this way and that until I was likely to be swimming straight out into the North Sea. Only when I could see the stars could I make sure I was headed in the right direction. Just how long I had been swimming before I saw a dark mass rising ahead of me I do not know, but it was when a wave lifted me that I saw something on the horizon, and glimpsed a white line of foam where waves were breaking. I calculated that that must be the coast of Norfolk. I redoubled my efforts, bringing out my reserves of strength, though sometimes my arms felt heavy as lead as they cut through the water. With my legs I kicked mightily, driving myself forward several yards each stroke. My breathing was regular, and my heart was not beating much faster than my normal rate, which was now about once every four seconds. I was enduring well. It was a good thing I was still in fighting trim, for as I neared the shore my difficulties increased. The ebb from the shore threatened to carry me seawards again. I had to fight for every inch of progress. Sometimes I seemed to be struggling for ten minutes and remaining in the same spot. This could not have been the case, for presently I heard the thunder of the surf on the beach, and knew I was much closer than I had been. Desperately I strained to get nearer the beach. I was thrown back again, struggled forward a second time, and felt firm sand for a second or so. Yet it was a long time before I was able to lower both feet and force myself through the receding waters which were so reluctant to allow me ashore. I staggered up the beach and fell on my hands and knees, panting for breath, my salt-stung eyes red-rimmed and sore. There was no time to lose. When eventually I gained my feet, and managed to look about me, I saw cliffs on my right—and a light. I started to run towards it. The fate of the Seabearer depended on me. I came to a steep pathway, and doggedly struggled to the top. There was a neat, white house, with a flag-pole not far away. It was a coastguard station. Luck had brought me ashore within half a mile of it. The coastguard who opened the door to my frenzied knock must have had the shock of his life when he saw me, soaked, bedraggled, my chest heaving and my face drawn with strain. I gasped out my message, mentioning the position where the drifting Seabearer was likely to be, then remembering I did not know what time it was now, I asked him as I lay gasping on his couch. He looked at the clock and told me. “Then it’s all right,” I said. “I was in the water for exactly five hours.” The senior coastguard scowled. “Five hours to cover ten miles in a stormy sea? Impossible! You’re out in your distances.” He lowered his voice and addressed his companion. “Perhaps he’s delirious. He’s been in the water, that’s certain, but perhaps there’s no drifting steamer out there.” I forced myself to my feet. “If she’s still afloat you’ll find the Seabearer where I’ve told you! If you like to take the responsibility of refusing to send out a rescue craft, I can do no more about it.” He gulped, nodded, and sent a messenger running to a rescue station at the other end of town. I knew no more after that. I must have fallen asleep. When next I wakened it was morning, I was covered by a rug, and the elderly coastguard was standing beside me with a mug of tea and the news that the Seabearer had been found within a mile of the spot I had mentioned, and that all the crew had been brought ashore. “Everyone on the coast will be talking about you when they hear what you did,” he added. I grunted and turned over on my side. I wanted only to sleep.

The Truth about Wilson 16 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1029 - 1044

The Further Truth about Wilson 25 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1049 - 1073

Has Wilson come Back? 19 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1081 - 1099

The Great Wilson – The Champion of Champions 11 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1102 - 1113

Wilson – Seeker of Champions 32 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1114 - 1145

It’s Wilson Again 12 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1146 - 1157

The Black Olympic Games 17 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1169 - 1185

The Truth about The Ship of Shivers – Revealed by Wilson 11 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1314 - 1324

Wilson – The 1952 Exploits of the Ageless Super Athlete 9 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1373 - 1381

The Year of the Shattered Stumps 15 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1421 - 1435

I Met the Barefoot Stranger 2 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1459 - 1460

The Barefoot Stranger was Wilson 7 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1461 - 1467

Wilson did It 17 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1491 - 1517

The Man from Camp 90 19 episodes (Reprint of ‘Has Wilson Come Back?’) appeared in The Wizard issues 1565 - 1583

Wilson – Trainer of Champions 29 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1625 – 1653

There were other reprints which are not listed.


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2006