The Lifeboat & its Work – Part 4

The Committee were not insensible to the deficiencies’ in the means of saving life in 1850, but the support they received was not sufficient to enable them to overcome their difficulties. 

The lamentable accident to the Shields Life-boat, had, however, the effect of calling public attention to the Life-boat question; and in the sequel important results to the cause of humanity flowed from an event which at the moment was only thought of as a great calamity. For the mind of the nation having been once directed to the existing state of things, men could no longer view with apathy the increasing loss of life from Shipwreck, the many and fatal accidents to inefficient Life-boats, and the entire absence of any along extensive lines of coast in these islands. 

One of the first effects was, that following in the steps of those great men who, since the days of Queen Elizabeth, have been the pioneers of progress in humanity as well as in arts, science, and literature, and have thus made this country illustrious by its religious and civilising influences, a noble band of men formed themselves into a Committee to make renewed efforts on behalf of the shipwrecked sailor. 

The late Prince Consort, with his highly cultivated mind and intuitive appreciation of all that was good and great, accepted the office of Vice-Patron of the Institution, in conjunction with the late King of the Belgians. Two or three years afterwards, Her Majesty The Queen, who had been its Patron since her accession to the Throne, contributed £100 to its funds ; and subsequently became an annual subscriber of £50 to the Society. 

Algernon, Duke of Northumberland, the “good Sailor Duke,” became its President in 1851, and threw his whole heart into the work, which ultimately made his name famous throughout the world. On his decease, in 1866, his office was filled by the Duke of Northumberland, who took great interest in the welfare of the Institution, and who, in conjunction with his son, Earl Percy, M.P., continued to render it valuable and cordial co-operation. 

Mr. Thomas WIlson, formerly M.P. for the City of London, who had already been its Chairman for twenty-six years, and was then: over eighty years old, with an unclouded intellect, and a zeal that knew no rest, became absorbed afresh in the work. 

He was seconded by Mr. George Palmer, the Deputy Chairman of the Society. He was about the same age as Mr. Wilson, and by his intelligence and foresight aided in every way in his power to further the great and national work of the Institution; and shortly before his decease, in 1853, the Committee had the honour to present to him its Gold Medal in acknowledgment of his long and most valuable services. 

In 1853 the Institution was most fortunate in enlisting the services of Mr. Thomas Chapman, F.R.S., Chairman’ of Lloyd’s Register, as successor to Mr. George Palmer, as its Deputy Chairman, Mr. Chapman has ever since brought to bear on the affairs of the Life-boat Institution an amount of talent, activity, and experience which have rarely been witnessed in a similar capacity, and which have been productive of the happiest and most successful results to the cause of humanity. 

In 1854 Mr. Thomas Baring, M.P., F.R.S., at Mr. Chapman’s request, became Chairman of the Committee of Management, in succession to the late Mr. Alderman Thompson, M.P., who had been appointed Chairman on the death of his friend Mr. Wilson. Mr. Baring continued to hold that office to the close of his life (1873), when Mr. Chapman consented to become Chairman of the Committee ; and Mr. George Lyall, late Governor of the Bank of England, became the Deputy Chairman.

Sir Edward Perrott, joined the Committee of the Institution in the early part of 1850. As Chairman of its Sub-Committees, he has during the past twenty-four years rarely been absent when its sub and general committee meetings are held; and thus, and in many other respects, he has powerfully and unceasingly aided in building up the noble superstructure of Life- boat work which we now witness and admire on our coast. In grateful recognition of these services the Committee of Management, in 1872, had the satisfaction to present to Sir Edward the Gold Medal of the Institution. 

Captain Washington, R.N., F.R.S., became a member of the Committee in 1851; he brought his great experience and ability to bear for many years on the Life-boat cause, and published a pamphlet on Naval Architecture and Life-boats. 

At this period Captain George DavIes, R.N., rendered hearty co-operation to the Life-boat cause by visiting, on behalf of the Institution different Life-boat stations in Northum berland and elsewhere. He had previously greatly distinguished himself in Saving Life from Shipwreck, and had been presented by the Society with its Gold and Silver Medals and Clasps, in acknowledgment of his many acts of bravery. 

The Marquis of Cholmondeley, Admiral Sir William H. Hall, K.C.B., Mr. W. H. Harton, Admiral Ryder, The Right Hon. Stephen Cave, M.P, Captain de Ste. Croix, Colonel Fitzroy Clayton, Sir William Clayton, Admiral McHardy, Colonel Palmer, and other gentlemen have also rendered valuable services for a long period at the Committees of the Institution. 

In 1852 Captain J. R. Ward, R.N., was appointed its Inspector of Life-boats. His appointment and services have been of great benefit to the Life-boat cause. Possessing a clear mind, considerable scientific knowledge, and a zeal tempered by great discretion, he has devoted a large portion of his life to mature the means of Saving Life from Shipwreck, and to promote the best interests of the Institution. 

In 1862, Captain David Robertson, R.N., was appointed the Institution’s Assistant Inspector of Life-boats, and he has ever since discharged the duties of his responsible office to the great satisfaction of the Committee of Management and the Local Committees. 

In consequence of the great increase in the number of the Life-boats of the Institution, it was found absolutely necessary to appoint another Inspector at the beginning of the present year, and Captain C. Gray Jones, R.N., was accordingly selected for that important post ; and he has already given promise to emulate in every respect his two Senior Officers, having been: presented with the Society’s Silver: Medal in acknowledgment of his intrepidity in the Dundrum Bay Life-boat in February last.

On the reorganisation of the Society, in 1850, the Committee undertook the immediate and more decided superintendence of the Life-boat work on our coasts, with the aid of the Local Committees at the several Branches.

It was arranged that the boats should be periodically inspected by their own officers ; while a fired scale of payments to the coxswains and crews of the Life-boats on all occasions of their going afloat in them, whether on service or quarterly exercise, was settled, in addition to an annual salary to the coxswains. Again, a system of quarterly and other Reports from the Branches to the parent Institution was initiated. 

Beyond all this, however, it was evident that the first and most obvious step to take was to introduce an improved plan of Life-boat, both as regarded external form and internal fittings. 

The Duke of Northumberland took deep interest in the subject, and which resulted in His Grace’s offering a prize of one hundred guineas for the best model of a Life-boat, together with a further like sum to defray the cost of building a boat on the model to be chosen – and a handbill, of which the following is a copy, was extensively circulated on the coasts of the United Kingdom, and in many foreign countries, calling attention to his offer:

“To Boatbuilders, Shipwrights &c.

“Great loss of life having occurred from time to time on’ the coast of Northumberland, and elsewhere, by the upsetting of Life-boats, and especially in the case of the Shields Life-boat in December last, whereby twenty pilots were drowned, notice is hereby given, that, with a view to the improvement of boats to be employed for such purposes, His Grace the Duke of Northumberland offers the sum of one hundred guineas for the best model of a Life-boat, which may be sent to the Surveyor’s Department, Admiralty, Somerset House, London, by the 1st day of February, 185I. 

“The Surveyor of the Navy has consented to act as final referee in adjudging the reward, and has named the following Committee to examine the models, and conduct the requisite éxperiments:: Captain Washington, R.N., F.R.S., Inspector of Harbours ; John Fincham, Esq., Master Shipwright at Portsmouth Dockyard ; Isaac Watts, Esq., Assistant Surveyor, Admiralty, Somerset House Commander Jeriningham, R.N., of H.M.S. Excellent, late Inspecting Commander of Coastguard at Great Yarmouth, and James Peake, Esq., Assistant Master Shipwright, Woolwich Dockyard. 

“And His Grace offers the further sum of one hundred guineas for building a Life-boat according to the model which may be approved of. 

“It is considered that the chief objections to the present Life-boats, generally speaking, are : –

“1. That they do not right themselves in the event of being upset. 

“2. That they are too heavy to be readily launched, or transported along the coast, in case of need. 

“3. That they do not free themselves of water fast enough. 

“4. That they are very expensive. 

“It is recommended that the models be made on the scale of one inch to a foot, and that they be accompanied by plans, specifications, and estimates. The models will not be detained beyond the 1st of April, in case the respective builders should wish to send them to the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851.

“London, October, 1850″

That offer was freely responded to by boat-builders and others from all parts of the United Kingdom, and from France, Holland, Germany, and the United States of America, and the large number of 280 models and plans were sent in. On examining the papers, it was found that there was a want of exact information on many points, and accor ingly a circular, naming the several particulars required, was sent to each contributor. The answers to these circulars, with the original descriptions, specifications, and plans of the several models, made five folio manuscript volumes. 

The several models and plans were deposited in rooms at Somerset House, lent by the Admiralty, and the Committee appointed to decide on their relative merits devoted themselves unceasingly for six months to the examination of them. 

A general review of the models soon pointed out that they might be advantageously grouped according to their characteristic features. Thus there were several models in the shape of pontoons ; catamarans, or rafts, formed a second group ; a third group may be described as having for its type a troop boat or steamer’s paddle- box boat ; a fourth as partaking chiefly of the north country coble ; and lastly, a group composed of the ordinary boat in every-day use, slightly modified according to the nature of the coast they were intended for.

After examining the models separately, so as to ascertain their form for pulling or sailing, their dimensions, capacity for holding water, area of delivering valves, weight, nature and amount of extra buoyancy, and trying experiments in the Thames on their relative stability, power of self-righting, and readiness in freeing themselves, having also prepared a description of several, and added a few remarks – each model was brought forward in turn before the General Committee, the description and remarks read over, discussed, corrected, and agreed upon.

The difficulty then arose, where so many boats were nearly alike, of deciding on the relative merits of each. In order to ensure that no good quality should be ove looked, the Committee agreed upon those points which they considered the essential qualities of a Life-boat, and their order of precedence. 

The Committee considered it an essential requisite in a Life-boat that she should be a good rowing boat, and able to get off the beach in any weather in which a boat can live at sea, as, in the absence of such a power, other good qualities are of no avail. To this then was awarded the highest number; but, as on the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk, where the wrecks generally occur on outlying sands, nearly all the Life-boats go off under sail, and, as it was evident that some of the best models were prepared with this view, it was considered that these also were entitled to be placed on a par with boats built chiefly for pulling; and a slight difference was accordingly made in its favour. 

These Preliminary formula having been arranged, all difficulties disappeared Each model was again brought forward in its turn, each of its qualities was named and examined in order, and the number, or proportion of the whole number, according to its merits, was proposed, agreed upon, and set down in a column. After some days, when many models had been examined, these numbers were added up, and the relative order of merit in the several boats established. The six boats that stood first on the list were then for the third time brought forward, and placed together side by `side, their several points again examined, and the models carefully compared with each other. The issue was a confirmation of the values already adjudged, and it was ultimately decided that Mr. James Beeching, of Great Yarmouth, was the successful candidate for the premium offered for the best model of a Life-boat, he having obtained 84 marks out of the maximum of 100. 

The result of the labours of the Northumberland Committee, which was fully concurred in by Admiral Sir Baldwin Walker, Surveyor of the Navy, was embodied in an elaborate report, accompanied by a plate of the Prize Life-boat, and: of several of the principal boats brought under the Committee’s notice, of which drawings were prepared by Mr. Joseph Prowse, then Draughtsman in H.M. Dockyard, Woolwich, and now the zealous Surveyor of Life-boats to the Institution. This Report was published at the sole expense of the Duke of Northumberland, and copies of it were presented by him to all the competitors for his prize, to the principal authorities in the United Kingdom, and to the Maritime Governments throughout the world. 

A selection of the competing Model Life-boats was afterwards shown on a large stand in the Great Exhibition of 1851, at the desire of the Committee of the Naval Section. The Jury of that Class in their Report to the Commissioners of the Exhibition said in respect to them, “Models of these very Life-boats figure amongst the most valuable contributions to the Great Exhibition, and furnish a splendid example of liberality in the cause of humanity and practical science, never surpassed if ever equalled.”

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