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Charlton, Andrew Murray (Boy) (1907–1975)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Andrew Murray (Boy) Charlton (1907-1975), swimmer, was born on 12 August 1907 at North Sydney, only son of Oswald Murray Charlton, bank manager, and his wife Ada Maud, née Moore. Known as 'Boy', he was brought up at Manly where he revelled in the surf. Educated at Manly Public School, and at Sydney Grammar School in 1921-22, he entered Hawkesbury Agricultural College in January 1923.

On 13 January at the State championships Charlton swam 880 yards freestyle in 11 minutes 5.2 seconds, taking 19 seconds off the world record. In January next year at the State titles held at the Domain baths in Sydney he defeated the great Swedish swimmer Arne Borg over 440 yards freestyle, equalling Borg's world record of 5 minutes 11.8 seconds—the cheering was heard in Martin Place. Next Saturday before a wildly enthusiastic crowd he beat Borg in the 880 yards freestyle event by 15 yards, setting a world mark of 10 minutes 51.8 seconds. These feats helped to revive public interest in competitive swimming and, dubbed the 'Manly Flying Fish', he became a popular sporting idol. His trainer was Tom Adrian.

At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris Charlton won the 1500 metres title in 20 minutes 6.6 seconds, setting new Olympic and world records; he was only the third Australian to be awarded a gold medal in swimming. In the same race, 13 minutes 19.6 seconds was a world mark for 1000 metres. He was third in the 400 behind Johnny Weissmuller and Borg, and one of the 4 x 200 relay team which came second. Despite illness, he won other races in Europe, including every event he entered in the Tailteann Games in Ireland, before returning to a tumultuous welcome in Sydney. In December he left Hawkesbury Agricultural College without graduating in the diploma course, and worked on Malcolm McKellar's station, Kurrumbede, at Gunnedah. On 8 January 1927 Charlton, now trained by Harry Hay, set a new world record of 10 minutes 32 seconds for 880 yards. He returned to Gunnedah and next year was seriously ill with rheumatic fever. In 1932 he set new Australian records for 440 and 880 yards, but was unplaced in the 400 and 1500 metre events at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

In 1934 Charlton moved to Canberra and entered a pharmacy business with a friend and former Manly swimmer John L. Davies; he became captain of Manuka Swimming Club. Representing Canberra at the New South Wales championships in Sydney in January 1935, he beat the French and Australian champions Jean Taris and Noel Ryan in the 880 yards in one of his greatest swims and last race. Next year he took up sheep-raising with J. Hyles on part of Woolowolar, near Tarago. On 20 March 1937 at St Mark's Church, Darling Point, Sydney, he married Jessie Muriel Hyles. He then settled on a 12,000-acre (4856 ha) property, Kilrea, at Boro near Goulburn, and became a successful grazier. Extremely shy and modest, 'Boy' shunned publicity. He refused offers to turn professional saying: 'I would never be forgiven by the Australian public … I am not in the sport for what I can get out of it'. He never won an Australian title, but to Australians in the 1920s he was a popular idol and national hero.

Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Charlton died suddenly of a heart attack at his Avalon home on 10 December 1975, and was cremated. His estate was valued for probate at $131,850.

Charlton's stroke was a four-beat, trudgen crawl, called by some at the time the single trudgen crawl. There was very little leg movement: the wide scissor kick was made horizontally at the end of the left arm drive with the body turned well sideways, then followed two or three vertical kicks. His powerful arms and withering final sprint made him a champion, despite the fact that he rarely trained, preferring to surf instead. In 1968 the new Sydney Domain baths were named after him and in 1972 he was honoured by the International Swimming Hall of Fame at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States of America.

Select Bibliography

  • Forbes Carlile on Swimming (Lond, 1963)
  • P. Besford, Encylopaedia of Swimming, (Lond, 1976)
  • Lone Hand, 14 Feb 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Jan 1923, 14, 17, 21 Jan, 14-19, 22, 28, 31 July, 14-19 Aug 1924, 10, 27 Jan 1927, 8, 17, 27, 28 Aug 1928, 18, 25, Jan, 10 Feb 1932, 27 Feb, 29 Oct 1935, 9 Aug, 12 Dec 1975
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 12 Nov 1971
  • Canberra Times, 17 Dec 1975
  • Sun (Sydney), 17 Dec 1975.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Charlton, Andrew Murray (Boy) (1907–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/charlton-andrew-murray-boy-5562/text9447, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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