The 200 Year History of Scarborough's RNLI

BACKGROUND

Many meetings and much private discussion took place at Trinity House in Scarborough during the close of the eighteenth century, not only among seamen, but also amongst other well-disposed persons who had been thinking and planning for a Lifeboat Service that would be more efficient with a special boat constructed for the sole purpose of use as a lifeboat. Foremost amongst these people was Thomas Hinderwell and there was a great satisfaction when a definite scheme began to come to life.

For many centuries past, life had been lost in the brave endeavour to save the crews of stranded and wrecked vessels around Scarborough's treacherous coastline. In the 18th century Scarborough cobbles were used with many lives saved but also lost. and so following meetings in Trinity House during the year 1800 it was resolved to get a plan and commence building, at the same time making an appeal for subscriptions to defray the cost. and so by August 1801 the sum of £212 1s 6d was reached. a committee of management already appointed, it resolved that there would be two crews of twelve, each appointed from amongst the fishermen and that they would be employed in rotation. The lifeboat service at Scarborough had begun.

As the third oldest lifeboat station in the british Isles and Ireland, Scarborough has a proud tradition of saving lives at sea. during its 200-year history, the number of people rescued is in substantial but untold numbers. For all that, sixteen men have given their lives in the service of Scarborough lifeboat. The heroism so often displayed is seldom mentioned and the tragedies that sometimes followed poorly chronicled.

There are four very significant occurrences in the history of Scarborough lifeboats. Occurrences, where the courage of the lifeboat men was not enough. Occurrences where some, lost their lives. Read on and you will discover a little of its history including its first launch as part of the R.N.L.I.

Wednesday 17th February 1836 : crew lives lost: Ten drowned: Joseph Allen, Thomas Boyes, John Clayburn, Thomas Cross, John Owston Dale, James Day, Richard Marchman, James Maw, Thomas Walker, Joseph Waugh.

The first lifeboat disaster to occur at Scarborough happened on ash Wednesday the 17th February 1836. Hundreds of Scarborians crowded onto the harbour south sands and cliffs to watch a lifeboat rescue from a stricken sloop. Then disaster as the Lifeboat overturned. Within minutes the would be spectators were showing remarkable bravery by forming human chains and wading into the raging waters to rescue the survivors.

Leading to this disaster, on Shrove Tuesday, 16th February 1836 a violent storm raged along britain's north east coast, being particularly rough in the Scarborough area. during the night an unusually high tide combined with gale force winds to completely demolish the primitive Spa buildings and wooden staith. The next day (Wednesday) brought no abatement of the storm off Scarborough. The sea was extremely squally with heavy surf swirling furiously around the piers and two bays.

As was usual in the 19th century, a great multitude of spectators converged on the piers, cliffs and south sands (there was not a Foreshore Road in those days). In anticipation of a shipwreck and lifeboat rescue drama many men stood around the lifeboat house in the hope of being called upon to help launch the lifeboat.

The crowds were not disappointed, for on ash Wednesday morning a storm battered ship with disabled sails was seen in distress in the South bay, not far from the end of the lighthouse pier attempting without success to enter the harbour. It looked as though it would be driven by wind and tide onto the dangerous rocks south of the Spa. The single masted sloop from Aberdeen named 'John' was carrying cargo.

Aided by numerous strong men, the Skelton lifeboat was quickly launched onto the ebbing sea to the sound of resounding cheers and many an earnest prayer. The 14 lifeboat men rowed with full speed towards the floundering 'John'. Their mission, to rescue its crew of three men. Just as it reached the stricken sloop the lifeboat was hit by gigantic waves and capsized instantaneously. because of the ebbing tide, there was not enough water for the lifeboat to right itself. So it remained where the waves had flung it, upside down in the sea with both its ends wedged firmly in the sand.

When the lifeboat was over turned 10 of the crew were washed overboard on the seaward side where the strong ebb tide bore them helplessly out to sea. Weighed down by their full-length tight fitting leather sea boots, none of the men had chance of survival. Within minutes they were dragged down by the current, disappearing from sight beneath enormous rapidly receding waves and hazardous foaming surf.

Three of the lifeboat men, Francis Anderson, Macklen Foster and William Trueman had taken the precaution of fastening themselves to the lifeboat's armlines, thus they were not flung into the sea when the lifeboat capsized but were able to climb onto the underside of it, out of the reach of the sea and able to breath through the lifeboat's conducting pipes.

Another lifeboat man, William Mollon, was flung to the shoreward side of the capsized lifeboat and managed after several attempts to scramble onto the outer bottom of the lifeboat. There he precariously clung, his hands clasping the outer ends of two conduiting pipes whilst angry waves endeavoured to sweep him away.

As the ebbing tide receded so the spectators on the sands were able to shorten the distance between them and the upturned lifeboat and attempt the rescue of the man they believed to be the only survivor. Forming a human chain, a double line of people linked by joined hands, scores of fearless men waded through the waves to remove the lifeboat man from his perilous perch and carry him to safety. although barely conscious, he managed to tell his rescuers that three of the lifeboat crew were still alive under the overturned lifeboat.

Amazed at the information, the brave rescuers quickly reformed the human chain between the sands and the lifeboat and one by one the three other surviving lifeboat men where brought ashore whilst the watching crowds cheered themselves hoarse. The bodies of eight drowned lifeboat men were recovered later that day, being washed onto the shore once the tide turned. Richard Marchman's body was not found until the following May. The body of Thomas boyes was never recovered. The crew of the stricken sloop were all rescued, being brought ashore by rocket lines. Skelton's lifeboat was repaired and put back into service. She remained in use until 1861, which was when the Scarborough Lifeboat Station joined the R.N.L.I.

2nd November 1861 crew lives lost: Two Lost: J. Burton and T. Brewster. also lost: Lord charles beauclerk, W. Tindall, J. Iles

In April 1861, Scarborough received its first R.N.L.I. lifeboat, a vessel called the "Amelia". The boat was given several stiff trials in the South bay, and all seemed pleased with her performance. Tragically, the "Amelia" was only launched once on service and on that occasion she took life instead of saving it. at 4pm on 2nd November 1861, the South Shields schooner "coupland" tried to enter Scarborough harbour during a northerly gale. as she rounded the pier-end, the wind blew her sails inside out, and she was taken aback. The vessel was driven helplessly across the South bay, and she finally struck rocks opposite the Spa, some thirty yards from the sea wall.

The "Amelia" was manned and launched at once, and was soon within reach of the wreck amongst great foaming waves that had dislodged stones from of the sea wall. The "Amelia" was now being hurled this way and that and the crew were unable to control it. One of the crew, Thomas Clayburn - was hurled from the boat and was washed ashore where he was rescued by means of a lifebelt that was thrown to him. all hopes of affecting a rescue went: the "Amelia" was repeatedly thrown against the sea wall, and three more men were hurled from her. One of these was crushed to death between the lifeboat and sea wall whilst another scrambled back into her. The third was washed ashore exhausted and alive.

The lifeboatmen realising there only hope of survival was to strike out for the shore whilst they still had strength in their bodies left the boat one by one. a large crowd of spectators had assembled on the sea wall and the braver ones waded out through the surf to try and help the lifeboatmen reach safety. Three of them died in the surf as they tried to help. a second lifeboatman also perished as he failed to make the shore. eventually, communication with the wreck was effected by means of rocket lines, and the six crew of the "coupland" were saved. Five men died in the rescue attempt; Lifeboat men J. Burton and T. Brewster. The spectators who died, Lord Beauclerk and Messrs. Tindall and Iles were posthumously awarded Silver Medals for gallantry. The "Amelia" was smashed beyond repair and never put to sea again.

9th December 1951 crew Lives lost: One died: Frank Dalton

In 1951, the Lifeboat, "E.C.J.R." was brought to Scarborough. designed for use from tidal harbours, she was powered by twin 20 horsepower diesel engines and had a radius of operation of 63 nautical miles at her full speed.

At 11.15am on the 9th december 1951 she answered a call from a distressed motor-vessel, the 499-ton dutch coaster "Westkust". Within fourteen minutes the "E.C.J.R." was at sea.

Coxswain John Sheader located the wreck some 19 miles of Flamborough Head by means of rockets, which were being fired by other vessels standing by "Westkust". They found her in a sorry state; her port rails were submerged and she was down by the stern.

Heavy seas made it difficult for the lifeboat to come alongside her. However, this was done and two lifeboat men, bowman Frank Dalton and 2nd Mechanic Thomas Mainprize, boarded the "Westkust" to assess the situation. Minutes later the dutch captain gave the order to abandon ship and the lifeboat men helped the ten crew to board the "E.C.J.R."

Last to leave the coaster was Frank Dalton, who now, had no one to help him off the coaster. as he clambered over the side of the coaster and was about to lower himself into the lifeboat, a huge wave swept her into the coaster, trapping Frank Dalton who was hanging by his hands from the coaster's rails. although he managed to get back into the lifeboat he had been so badly injured that he died before the lifeboat reached the shore.

This tragedy marred what had otherwise been an almost perfect rescue; the Lifeboat and its crew had performed throughout with great skill and courage. Frank Dalton was posthumously awarded the Bronze Medal for his gallant conduct. coxswain, John Sheader and 2nd Mechanic Tom Mainprize were also awarded the Bronze MedaL.

8th December 1954 crew lives lost: Three John Sheader, John Cammish, Frank Bayes.

Tragedy struck a second time for the "E.C.J.R." when she was returning from a five hour escort duty service and capsized near the harbour mouth. about 4.15pm on the 8th december 1954 after successfully escorting a number of fishing boats into the harbour the "E.C.J.R." capsized near the harbour mouth. Several crewmen, Ernie Eves, Bob Crawford, John Sheader, John Cammish and Frank Bayes, were thrown from the lifeboat.

As the lifeboat righted itself, Bill Sheader, Mickey Scales and Alan Rennard hauled back aboard Ernie Eves and Bob Crawford. but three men were missing, coxswain John Sheader, Second coxswain John Cammish and Signalman Frank Bayes. They died in the surf. Coxswain Sheader, like many men before him had given the best part of his life to the Lifeboat Service. He had been a crewman for forty years and coxswain ten. At the age of 63 he finally gave his life. All the boats they had been escorting entered the harbour safely.


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