The Lifeboat & its Work – Part 5

Meanwhile James Beeching constructed a twelve-oared boat ; it was 36 ft. long, and was the first self-righting Life-boat ever constructed. He also built one on the same plan for Boulmer, on the coast of Northumberland. The first boat was purchased by the Ramsgate Harbour Commissioners, and it afterwards performed many gallant exploits, and saved a large number of lives. 

He also built other boats of that class, but did not strictly follow the original design. Amongst them were two for the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, which Society had placed some Life-boats on the coast. The two in question were stationed respectively at Lytham and Rhyl; but unfortunately those boats met with lamentable accidents in the year 1852. 

There is no doubt that in both those cases the imprudent carrying of sail was the immediate cause of the disasters, their sails being more adapted for racing than for Storm sails; besides, the boats were faulty in their form, faulty in their fittings, and faulty in their mode of ballasting. The water ballast escaped by the pump-hole when the boats rolled, and the tank, not being full, became a shifting ballast, which of course is very dangerous in any boat. 

The Lytham Life-boat was 28 ft. long, 7 ft. wide, 3.5 ft.  deep, and had 25 cwt. of water ballast. The Rhyl boat was 26 ft. long, 6 ft. wide, 3 feet deep, and had I8 cwt. of water ballast. 

At the time it was generally supposed that the boats were built after the prize model ; but it afterwards proved that such was not the case, there being material differences between them. 

The Life-boat Committee not being altogether satisfied with Beeching’s boat had previously requested Mr. Peake, one of their number, to go over the various competing designs once more ; and after careful examination to embody as many as possible of the good qualities of the best plans into a new design, by which it was hoped the errors of Beeching’s plan might be overcome. 

Such a boat was accordingly designed by Mr. Peake, and, by the authority of the Lords of the Admiralty, was built at Woolwich Dockyard at the expense of the Government, under Mr. Peake’s personal superintendence. The first trial of it on the coast was made at Brighton, on the 3rd of February, 1852, in a strong south-west breeze. The Duke of Northumberland and several Naval Officers and others, along with a large body of the fishermen and boatmen of the place, watched the trial with much interest.

Its extreme length was 30 ft., length of keel 24 ft., breadth of beam 8 ft., and its depth 3.5 ft. It pulled ten oars double-banked. It had side air-cases under the seats, and raised air-cases, 4 ft. long, in the extremes up to gunwale height, the tops being covered with a good coating of cork, to prevent their being stove if jumped upon. In order to free the boat of any water she might ship, 8 tubes closed by self-acting valves, passed through the deck and bottom. With the ballast of an iron keel of 7 cwt., the boat weighed 46 cwt. The draught of water was 15 in., and 18 in. with the Crew on board. It was proved by this trial – 

1. That when the boat had been hove keel up by a crane, she righted herself in five seconds.

2. That when light she entirely freed herself from water in fifty-five seconds. 

3. That on taking the beach through heavy rollers the boat showed great buoyancy and stability, and brought her crew on shore without shipping water. 

4. That she could carry thirty persons besides her crew, or forty-two in all. 

Many modifications and alterations were made in this boat from time to time, after the numerous trials and experiments to which it was subjected, and ultimately it was completed and presented to His Grace, who had three others built similar to it at his own expense, besides the one on Beeching’s design, with Transporting Carriages and Boat Houses complete, for the use of the fishing stations and shipwrecked crews on the coast of Northumberland.

After these boats had been tested on the coast by its Inspector of Life-boats, some of them in gales of wind and heavy seas, during the following winter, the National Life-boat Institution proceeded cautiously to build others on the same plan; and this class of boat, with certain important modifications and improvements in form, it has continued to adopt up to the present time – the Committee and its Officers having, however, incessantly laboured to introduce into the construction of the boats every improvement that modern science and actual trials in the heaviest storms could suggest ; so that the Life-boat of the Institution may now be truly designated an omnium gatherum, and cannot be looked on as any one man’s design or invention.

In the year 1852, the “Lifeboat, or Journal of the National Life-boat Institution,” was first published, with the view of laying before the public all the information respecting the construction and establishment of Life-boats – the number of Shipwrecks – the exertions made to save Life and Property – and the prizes and medals awarded to those who had been most active in that noble service. 

Prior to the year 1839, the “Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck ” was the only Institution for the benefit of Shipwrecked Seamen whose sphere of action extended over the whole coasts of the United Kingdom ; but in that year the valuable Society termed the “Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Benevolent Society” was founded. That Society, in addition to its ordinary work of relieving the temporal wants of shipwrecked persons, and helping the families of deceased members, established a few Life-boat Stations on the coast ; but in 1853 it offered to hand them over to the Life-boat Institution, with the funds raised for their special support, provided the latter would alter its title, so as to prevent any misconception of their respective duties. Accordingly, in 1854, “The Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck” agreed to alter its title to that of “The Royal National Life-boat Institution. Founded in 1824 for the preservation of life from shipwreck”. The two Institutions since that period have worked cordially together the one in saving life, and the other in fostering it when saved. 

The year 1856 was also a very eventful period in the history of the National Life-boat Institution. The late Captain Hamilton Fitzgerald, R.N., a previous liberal contributor to its funds, left it the munificent legacy of £10,000, and in no way restricted its application. The Committee, feeling deeply the confidence which this gallant Officer had reposed in them, decided to carry out his humane object by expending the whole amount, if necessary, in planting additional Life-boats on the coast. The result was a large increase in the number of its Life-boats, and, as a sequence, in the number of lives saved.

The Institution has, since then, through the liberality of the nation, been enabled to pursue vigorously its great work on the coast, and has, probably, made the most striking and remarkable progress on record, as far as the history of benevolent Societies is concerned. It has now a noble Life-saving Fleet of 242 boats under its management, and has, since its formation, contributed, by these and other means, to the saving of upwards of 22,000 lives from Shipwrecks on our coasts. It is impossible to conceive the blessings that have thus been conferred on countless families by the preservation of so  many human beings from a watery grave.

And here it is only right to mention that in 1854, after the passing of the Merchant Shipping Act, the Board of Trade, being anxious to assist the Institution, as before stated, in the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck on our coasts, came to an arrangement with it, whereby, on certain conditions, the Board undertook to repay from the Mercantile Marine Fund sums expended in payments of Coxswains’ salaries and rewards to the crews of the Life-boats for going out in them, either on service or exercise. 

Thus the Society was materially aided in its efforts to found new Life-boat Stations, and to improve the efficiency of the older establishments. But at the close of the year 1869 its Committee, finding that the generous support of their countrymen was sufficient to maintain and work their Life-boat Fleet, and to meet all other requirements, and feeling confident that they could rely on a continuance of that support, felt it a public duty to decline any further assistance from funds raised by taxation ; and while heartily thanking the Board of Trade for the cordial and liberal co-operation which they had afforded to the Institution, it relinquished any further assistance from the Mercantile Marine Fund.

In addition to the assistance that had been thus rendered to the National Life-boat Institution by the Board of Trade, the efforts of that Department in organising Rocket Apparatus Stations on the coasts of the United Kingdom, and in the maintenance of the same in thorough working order, have been unceasing. This means of saving life contributes every year, under the zealous management of the Officers and men of the Coastguard Service, to the rescue of hundreds of persons from Shipwreck at places which, from their rocky nature, preclude the employment of Life-boats.

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