ON THIS DATE in 1735, Brook Watson was born. At fourteen in 1749, the British merchant sailor miraculously survived a two-bite shark attack in the Havana, Cuba, harbor. The attack and rescue, depicted in John Singleton Copley’s painting Watson and the Shark (above) resulted in a loss of much of the lad’s right leg, yet he lived, eventually becoming a member of Parliament and lord mayor of London.
A retired cardiologist familiar with the attack on Watson told The New York Times in 2002 that the massive blood loss, the near-drowning, the dangers inherent in a leg-amputation procedure, and probable infections suggested a “99 percent or greater” chance of death in 1749.
Watson recovered after three months in a Havana hospital, and if he was traumatized by the incident he didn’t show it. “So proud was Mr. Watson of his brush with death that he incorporated a drawing of his amputated leg in his coat of arms when he became a baronet in 1803,” The New York Times wrote. “His “His peg leg became famous around London.”