By the Save Waterloo Dock Team

04 October, 2019

14 February 1911 - James Clarke, local hero was awarded a medal and certificate for rescuing ​a man from drowning in West Waterloo Dock, one of his many outstanding rescues and achievements.

James, also known as Jim originated from British Guiana (Guyana). At fourteen he stowed away on a ship on its way to Liverpool and was adopted by an Irish family in the Scottie Road area.

He worked on the docks, was a fantastic swimmer and a member of Wavertree swimming club. He was known for rescuing many kids from drowning in the river, docks and canals. It’s said he was the first black man to have a street named after him.

Here is a first hand account of one of Jim’s rescues by local author Billy Woods, aged 86. ( italics are the Scouse dialect) :-

'There was a sack in the canal, some of the lads thought it was kittens and one lad had jumped in to save them and then got into difficulties himself. A black man jumped in and saved him. He turned the lad on his side and the lad belched and then vomited, then, he seemed to recover. Two policeman had come, someone had broken the red alarm that was on the corner of Hopwood Street and Vauxhall Road.

The policeman asked the fella was the lad going to be alright. I was only about seven and when this fella stood up he seemed huge, the physique of a top athlete, like Jesse Owens who broke the 100 yards and 220 yards and the long jump record along with Hitlers heart at the 1936 Olympics.

In a deep voice he said “ Yeh, I think he’s gonna be alright, we’ll keep im ere for a cupl-iv-minits.”

The policeman enquired “What happened Jim?”

This fella said “ Ah don’t know really, buh is feet were caught in the old wire mattress on der bottim.”

Then he said “ Luk, a’l av teh ger -on back ‘ome an get some dry clobber on. Dis is der second time dis as ‘appened to me - dis week. - Deh missus will go bonkers.”

A big crowd of kids followed him up the road in awe.

I remember him nodding at me mate and I asked him “Dih yuh know dat man ay?”

Me mate said, that the man had taught them all to swim “ Dat man lives at the back iv yours - in Back Ashie. Ee tort us all tih swim in Boroughs baths.”

When I got home I told me aunts and granny all about what happened. The fella from next door was fixing a leak and when I’d told the story he said “ Dat man, Jim Clarke has goh more medals for savin people from drownin than the King’s goh. He’s pulled more men out of the Mersey an the cut than I’ve ad hot dinnas.”

Black History Month - Celebration of a courageous local hero James Clarke 1886-1946, who saved a man from drowning in West Waterloo Dock