Giovan Maria Salati of Malesco, the first man having crossed the English Channel

We investigated with our past articles Bernardo Pellegrini, General Remonda and General Mainoni, they had where from Insubrica region and played a significant role in the French Napoleon army.

However there is in Insubrica region a figure that despite having fought for Napoleon, notably in the Waterloo battle, is more reputed for his sport achievement. We are writing about Giovan Maria Salati, from Malesco Valle Vigezzo, nearby Camedo in Switzerland.

Giovan Maria Salati (or Jean-Marie Saletti in the French version), son of Domenico Salati and Anna Maria Polino, was born in Malesco in Val Vigezzo, on 26 March 1796. As we have seen for Bernardo Pellegrini, there was a compulsory conscription, introduced by Napoleon in 1802. Salati opted for enlisting, as the other alternative would have been to live in the region as a deserter.

Giovan Maria Salati, despite coming from an alpine valley, most likely embarked as a sailor for a certain period on the most important frigate of the French navy, the Belle Poule sailed by approx. 330 sailors. The ship belonged to the Virginie class, a class of ten 40-gun frigates, designed in 1793. The whereabouts of Salati are not known in details, but the Belle Poule, after having been completed in 1802, sailed mostly in the East Indies, notably between the Red Sea and Cape Good Hope.

The Belle Poule was then captured West of Canaries by the English Navy. Salati most likely wasn’t sailing, as it is known that he took part, as an imperial guard’s maritime rifleman, in the battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. After few days from the end of the battle Salati was found by the English forces seriously injured.

After a few months of convalescence, he was transferred to a floating prison in Dover. These were usually decommissioned vessel which had been transformed in a place of substantive detention.

On August 16, 1817, during a storm, Salati decided to escape from the vessel: he used a bundle of straw as buoyancy aid and threw himself into the sea. Despite the ongoing storm the escape was successful as, the following day, he managed to land at Boulogne. He was recovered completely exhausted by some French fishermen. Salati survived to marry, have children, and lived in France until his death in 1879

Salati is thus thought of having been the first man in the world to have crossed the English Channel by swimming.

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