George William Fearnley was a local hero by saving the lives of 22 drowning persons in Manchester and other parts of the world.
Although born and living in Salford, George Fearnley worked for Messrs Kenworthy, Carriers, on the banks of the Rochdale Canal in Manchester. He had distinguished himself at an early age by rescuing horses that had stumbled into the canal. His first rescue was in 1880 when he saved the life of George Rushton, who fell into the canal at Castlefield. On three occasions in 1884, he rescued a boy named John McGrath also at Castlefield. Unfortunately, the day after the third rescue, the boy was burnt to death! In 1885, he saved the life of Hannah Goff, an umbrella maker.
In January 1886, George emigrated to Queensland Australia, hoping to make his fortune in the goldfields. He spent three years there and it was reported that he performed some heroic feats. He came back to England and took his wife back to Australia, where he rescued William Brierley from the Brisbane River. On his way back to England in 1896 he was successful in saving the life of William Fern in the Bay of Colombo, Ceylon. His new employment was at Manchester Corporation Electricity Works, also on the banks of the Rochdale Canal, where he rescued Joseph Robins and Joseph Howarth in 1896, a Mrs Stevenson in 1898 and William Price, a milk boy, from Palace Lock in 1901.
The people of Manchester and Salford showed their gratitude to George Fearnley. In 1902, at the Regent Road Baths, Mr J.G.Groves, MP for Salford South, presented George with a medal on behalf of William Price's father. He was also awarded The Salford Hundred Humane Society's medal for saving Hannah Goff. But it was when George became ill with internal injuries during the rescue of William Price that Councillor Hampson arranged a swimming gala that raised £45 for George. He never really recovered from that final rescue and even developed asthma. He died on 30th November 1904 at the age of 47.
The funeral of George William Fearnley took place at Weaste Cemetery on Monday 5th December 1904, "amid many manifestations of regret". The cortege, consisting of a car and four horses and eight carriages, left his home at 47, Doddington Street, Salford, at 2.30 pm. The blinds of many houses and shops near the residence were drawn. There were many wreaths, including one from the Mark Addy Swimming Club.