Webb was trained as a seaman on merchant ships in China and the East Indies. In the summer of 1863 he saved his twelve year old brother Thomas from drowning near Ironbridge. In 1874 he was awarded the Stanhope Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society, because he had rescued a sailor who had fallen overboard. In 1875, he gave his life as a sailor, and focused only on the swimming.
1875 Webb was the first man who swam across the English Channel without technical aids. He swam from 24 to 25 August 1875, the nearly 33 -kilometer route from Dover to Calais at 21:45 h. Eight years later, 1883, he died trying to swim through the Whirlpool Rapids of the Niagara River. In 1965, he was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame of the international swimming sport.
Matthew Webb was a member of the Federation of the Freemasons, his box Neptune Lodge No.. 22 is located in St. John's ( Newfoundland).