The Lifeboat & its Work – Part 3

Between 1841 and 1850 no appeal was made to the public on behalf of the National Shipwreck Institution, and it is therefore difficult to furnish any detailed account of its operations; but the records of three accidents to Life-boats, with a terrible loss of life, are succinctly given.

The first was at Blyth, Northumberland, in October, 1841. The Life-boat was pulling off against a strong wind, when a heavy sea struck her, causing her to run stern under, and to half fill with water. From want of delivering-valves the boat could not free herself; she  became unmanageable, and fell off the wind, when a second sea struck her, and she capsized. On this occasion ten men were drowned. 

Again, at Robin Hood’s Bay, on the coast of Yorkshire, seven miles south of Whitby, in February, 1845, the Life-boat went off to the assistance of a stranded vessel, the Ann, of London, during a fresh northerly gale. The Life-boat had. got alongside the wreck, and was taking in the crew, when, it is supposed, four or five men jumped into her at once on one side, when, a heavy sea striking her at the same time, she capsized. Many of the crew got on her bottom, while three remained underneath her, and in this state she drifted towards the shore on the opposite side of the bay. On seeing the accident from the shore, five gallant fellows launched a coble (fitted with air-cases as a Life-boat), and tried to pull off to the rescue; but she had hardly encountered two seas, when she was turned end over end; two of her crew were drowned, and she drifted ashore bottom up. On this occasion Lieut. Lingard, R.N., of the Coastguard service, and eleven men, lost their lives, three men came on shore safely under the Life-boat, and some on her bottom; the other men were washed off. 

The following deplorable accident also happened to the South Shields Life-boat on the 4th of December, 1849, when the boat, manned by twenty-four pilots, went out to the aid of the Betsy, of Littlehampton, stranded on the Herd Sand. There was a heavy sea on from the eastward at the time, but little wind, and a strong ebbtide. The boat had reached the wreck, and was lying alongside, with her head to the eastward, having a rope fast to the quarter, but the headfast not properly secured, and the shipwrecked men were about to descend into the Life-boat, when a heavy sea, recoiling from the bows of the vessel, lifted the bow of the boat, and turned her up on end, throwing the whole of the crew and the water into the stern sheets. The headfast not holding, the boat drove in this position, astern of the vessel, and, before she could recover herself, a second sea completed the work of destruction by throwing her completely over, and she ultimately drifted on shore bottom up. On this occasion twenty out of twenty-four (or double her proper crew) were drowned under the boat. On seeing the accident two other Life-boats immediately dashed off from North and South Shields, saved four of the men, and rescued the crew of the Betsy.

The boat to which this last sad disaster happened was 34 feet long, over all, and had nearly II feet breadth of beam. It was of the shape of a steamer’s paddle-box boat, or nearly of the original Greathead form, and had 30 inches sheer of gunwale, and 11 inches curvature of keel. It was fitted with an air-case under the flat or deck, 15 inches in height, which contained 224 cubic feet of air, with a well for water-ballast in the middle, holding 30 cubic feet, or 17 cwt. when full. The surface of the flat or deck was 20 inches above the underside of the keel; and the boat was fitted with flat top air-cases around the sides. The boat had an open well when the accident happened, and when thrown on end the water-ballast would run out into her stern. 

It is but justice to add, and it is a fact highly honourable to the port, that the Life-boats at Shields had been in constant use since Greathead first launched his boat there on the 3oth of January, 1790, and that this was the first case where loss of life had happened. At this time (1849) the Life-boat work was in a very depressed state, the public having apparently lost all interest in it. Some of the Local Life-boat Associations had ceased to exist, and many of the Life-boats had been allowed to fall into decay; and in places where ship-wrecks were very rare, the boats had remained many months out of the water  so that when wrecks did occur the boatmen had no confidence in them, and preferred going off in their own craft to a wreck, which was often attended with most lamentable consequences. Funds, too, were often wanting to pay these brave men for their services, and the whole system was in such a low state, that among all the Life-boats in the United Kingdom there were perhaps not a dozen really efficient boats. The National Shipwreck Institution with diminished funds, had been exciting less interest from year to year, while the great increase of our commerce was constantly occasioning an increased number of casualties at sea. 

Its income in 1849-50 was £354 17s. 6d. in yearly subscriptions, donations, and dividends arising from a small amount of stock in the 3 Per Cent. Reduced Annuities.

From the time of the formation of the Institution, in 1824, it had awarded 74 gold medallions, and 429 silver medals, to officers, boatmen, and other persons, as honorary distinctions for their meritorious exertions in saving life from shipwreck : and had voted pecuniary rewards to the amount of £6,976 for saving altogether 6716 lives; in addition to having expended £5500 on Life-boats, and other appliances, for saving life from shipwrecks on our coasts.

4 thoughts on “The Lifeboat & its Work – Part 3

  1. Living near the sea it is always worrisome when tourists arrive with their little dingy blow up sea floaters. The tides can change quickly and carry them out in the Bay Area to open sea. We hear helicopters from time to time over that area. But there are no massive boats involved around the town Aberystwyth. I believe the railways diminished sea trade at the harbour way back in the 1800s. Boats exist in the harbour Borth, a small village/town on the coast near our village, has a lifeboat station. I shall look into both Aberystwyth and Borth activities over the years now. Your stories of casualties though. It shows you have to be of a certain special and unique character to become part of a lifeboat crew. Those following up and going into danger themselves too after witnessing capsize. All the best.

    1. I’m posting these from a book published in 1874 and as I’m reading and editing, you realise how terribly brave the individuals were. It’s quite an eye opener.

      1. I worked with someone in social services who was on call. He swam in open sea regularly for a few miles at a time to keep up his fitness levels. Good that you are keeping up awareness.

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