Wednesday, 14 March 2007


Many is the time that I have been asked why I wanted to join a lifeboat crew. It's always struck me as a particularly dumb question.......given the chance who wouldn't? However, the fact that I read a lot of stories like this as a boy might help explain it...........

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the biggest rescue ever carried out by RNLI volunteers during the charity’s 183-year history. Four rowing lifeboats rescued 456 people from the White Star Liner Suevic after she struck rocks off the Lizard Point in Cornwall. In all 525 people escaped from the incident, and not one life was lost. This huge life saving achievement still stands as a record one hundred years after the shipping disaster.

The S. S. Suevic was on passage from Australia to Southampton with a general cargo when she ran onto the Maenheere Reef in dense fog and a strong south westerly gale. The signals of distress were quickly responded to by RNLI lifeboats from The Lizard, Cadgwith, Coverack and Porthleven. The Mullion lifeboat was also alerted but did not attend. In heavy seas, the RNLI volunteers rowed out time and time again to rescue hundreds of men, women and children. It took them almost 16 hours and, as a result of the bravery and determination of the volunteer crews, six silver RNLI medals were subsequently awarded.

Peter Greenslade, RNLI Honorary Secretary at today’s Lizard lifeboat station, and a local historian, says it’s hard to imagine just what the lifeboat crews went through one hundred years ago:

‘When the lifeboats first launched it was dark, foggy and very rough, but that didn’t deter the crews from putting to sea. We know that at times the rowers were barely stemming the tide as they pulled against the prevailing conditions. They were in open boats and at the mercy of the sea. It must have been terrifying and yet they went back to the Suevic time and time again. I, and the present day RNLI volunteers at The Lizard have nothing but admiration for what they all achieved.’

After the incident the Committee of Management of the RNLI granted six silver medals. One was to the Rev. ‘Harry’ Vyvyan, the Honorary Secretary at Cadgwith, in recognition of his gallant and arduous services (see attached report from The Lifeboat Journal of November 1907). At one stage he went on board one of the ship’s lifeboats manned by Suevic crew. Afterwards he recalled:

‘I went on board to steer her into Polpero but soon found the six men could hardly pull against the wind. You know the place and how nasty it is to come in with six men who could hardly pull at all, particularly against a heavy sea, a strong wind freshening all the time and a cross tide running strong….I can tell you I felt jolly proud when she touched the beach and all the women and children were landed safely. Directly I landed my passengers I stood up in the bows of the boat and called for volunteers to go back with me.’

Silver medals were also awarded to Edwin Rutter, Coxswain Superintendent of the Cadgwith lifeboat, William Mitchell, Coxswain Superintendent of The Lizard lifeboat and Edwin Mitchell, Assistant Coxswain at The Lizard. The two other silver medals were presented to two of the Suevic crew, George Anderson and William ‘Bill’ Adams, who time and again climbed down the side of the stricken ship to hand children to the waiting lifeboat crews. George Anderson said afterwards:

‘It was a trying task but, lor, to see those mothers clasp their bairns to their breasts and to hear their thanks and ‘God Bless yous’ – well, it made me feel that I could have swum ashore with all the babies in the ship.’

If you would like to make a donation to the RNLI I have added a new 'Justgiving' link to the side bar. No pressure but we do rely on your support to provide the service we do! Thanks.

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