Frederick Cavill and his Amazing Baths


Cavill migrated to Australia, reaching Melbourne with his family in February 1879.  He soon moved to Sydney and set up as a ‘professor of swimming’ at his Lavender Bay Baths.  In 1884 he published a pamphlet How to Learn to Swim which outlined his theories on ‘natations’.

Cavill’s name looms large in the history of Australian swimming.  Very rarely can one person, or in this case a family, lay claim to being the starting point of a particular sport in Australian history.  However, without doubt, the Cavill clan are entitled to the phrase “the first family of Australian swimming”.

While it was islander Alick Wickham who introduced the crawl stroke, it was Cavill and his family who refined it, spread it through Australia and the world, and caused it to re-write all the record books. Cavill became Australia’s first notable swimming coach. His son Sydney Cavill invented the butterfly stroke

Cavill’s greatest Australian feats included swimming from Parramatta to Sydney, and eighteen miles from Glenelg (South Australia) to the Semaphore.

In 1888 he went back to England for a brief visit, but when he arrived back in Sydney he found his old Lavender Bay Baths, which he had leased, had been resumed for the construction of the North Shore railway. He was promised £3000 compensation but eventually ended up with £300 pounds.

Frederick Cavill

The infuriated Cavill created such a ruckus that the state government gave him permission to set up new baths at Farm Cove.  This was the site of Cavill’s first Floating Baths or “natatorium”, a floating bath constructed of timber slats and iron tanks.  He opened two more natatoriums at Lavender Bay and Woolloomooloo.

He and his children taught swimming and lifesaving at the natatoroum for many years until a vicious storm one winter’s night in 1909.  The bath was blown across the harbor and smashed up on the rocks.  The then 70 year old Cavill felt he was too old to build another and decided to retire along with the bath.  He watched his sons, Ernest, Charles, Percy, Arthur, Syd and Dick, whom he had coached, achieve world fame with numerous world records.

Cavill passed away in 1927 at the age of 88. Certainly no group or family in sporting history has been more colorful nor had more influence than two generations of the Cavill family.

Sydney Harbour Bathing society:        http://www.sahof.org.au/hall-of-fame/member-profile/?memberID=266&memberType=athlete;

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