Joseph Alexander Fogg - swimmer and life saver


Joseph Alexander Fogg made felt hats until he began work for Northcote Council at the Northcote Baths. At that time he moved from Collingwood to Northcote to live at 250 Clarke Street with his mother and sister Florence.

Saving his brother from drowning had a profound effect on Joseph and his later career at the swimming baths. He became involved with a number of swimming clubs including Deep Rock, Fitzroy and Melbourne and became a competitive swimmer winning many prizes. It was life saving however that remained Joseph's passion.

In 1928 he began teaching swimming at Northcote Baths in Frederick Street. The baths were located over an old brickworks hole. When they were built it was the largest financial project the City of Northcote had taken on and also the longest with planning started before WWI.

The baths were open air and were therefore closed during the cool Melbourne winters. During this time Joe worked as dog inspector and rates collector. Later he remarked that he had knocked on every door in Northcote.

In a Northcote Leader interview in 1956, Fogg recounted that 28,000 people had ‘gained certificates and learnt to swim’.

He retired in 1969 when the now old concrete Baths were closed and the new modern swimming centre in McDonnell Park, Victoria St opened. Early in 1970 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire ‘for services to swimming’. In February that year he passed away, aged 78 years.  Fifty cars took part in the cortege. The Mayor and Deputy Opposition Leader Frank Wilkes, attended the funeral.

Joseph was manager of Northcote Baths for 40 years. 'Foggy' as he was known, was always proud to relate there had never been a drowning during his watch as manager. It has been estimated that he trained around 40,000 people (mostly children) to swim. He further claimed to have saved hundreds from drowning during his life.

Fogg is closely connected with the history of Australian swimming education.  He was friendly with the famous Sir Frank Beaurepaire in 1906. He was the first instructor for the ‘Learn to Swim Campaign’ (later ‘The Herald Learn to Swim Campaign’) which started in 1929. Frank Beaurepaire would be chairman for 24 years. 

Fogg was secretary of the Patriotic Carnival of 1918 that introduced Alec Wickam’s high dive at Deep Rock at Yarra Bend. 90,000 people attended and it was promoted by the notorious John Wren (of ‘Carringbush’ fame). It was Wickam who taught the Cavill family the now popular ‘Australian Crawl’ swimming stroke (free style). 

Many older residents remembered with much affection their experiences learning to swim with Fogg at the old concrete Frederick St Baths. The baths are now a housing estate, but the remaining front parapet and stairs that are a reminder of its former use. 

JOE FOGG & 50 YEARS OF SWIMMING HISTORY. (1956, MARCH, 28).  Northcote Leader. (Northcote, Vic. : 1882-), pp 1 & 13.

Margaret McDonald – Oral History recorded 1983.

LEARN TO SWIM. J. FOGG. (1934). Northcote Leader. (Northcote, Vic. : 1882-), pp 14.

WELL EARNED BEM AWARDED TO JOE FOGG. (1970, January, 7). Northcote Leader. (Northcote, Vic. : 1882-).

JOE FOGG IS ILL. (1970, January, 28), Northcote Leader. (Northcote, Vic. : 1882-), p. 3.

OBITUARY NOTICE (1970, February, 11) Northcote Leader. (Northcote, Vic. : 1882-), p. 12.

NORTHCOTE HONOURS LATE JOE FOGG. (1970, Febraury, 11). Northcote Leader. (Northcote, Vic. : 1882-), p. 7.