Photographer unknown (Crown Studios), Miss Mercedes Gleitze, December 1930, Crown Studios negatives and prints, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: 1/1-032967-F
Published in the Capital Times, 11 April 2012
Here is Miss Mercedes Gleitze, famous English endurance swimmer, photographed in December 1930, just after her arrival in Wellington. She was a popular visitor. Sportswomen like her were a very modern novelty.
On Christmas day she became the first woman to swim across Wellington harbour. Thousands watched her depart, and thousands more waited at Days Bay. Many of them had gone, though, by the time she arrived for it took her seven hours, swimming breast-stroke. “I never go in for speeding on any of my swims” she told the press “because it would affect the heart and shorten my career.”
A few days later she saw in the new year by beating her own “endurance swim” record. That entailed floating for 42½ hours in the Boys Institute pool in Tasman Street. A full music programme helped draw in the crowds. There were pianists and singers, a string band, and, “a quartet of Maori singers whose refrains and hakas Miss Gleitze found most inspiring”.
She had initially intended to swim Cook Strait, but could never find the right conditions for an attempt. Instead she went on to Sydney for another endurance competition, this time against the best of Australia and New Zealand in the Manly swimming pool. She out-lasted them all, increased her record to 43 hours, and won £500.