Wednesday, 14 January 2009


There has not always been a lifeboat in Swanage. Until 1875 it was the responsibility of the local Coastguard to rescue the crew of any vessel in peril in the vicinity of Swanage. Typically this would be done once the vessel had gone ashore using the ‘rocket apparatus’, a rocket powered breeches buoy. Alternatively they might alert a nearby lifeboat, the nearest at the time being in Poole, and request that they assist. Often this might prove impossible or take too long in the circumstances. Commonly, local men, manning their own shore boats, would launch to assist. In doing so they not only imperiled their own lives but also put their own livelihood at risk. It was common at the time for the RNLI to recognize these selfless acts of bravery with their thanks, with medals and with cash rewards.

On the 23rd of January 1875 there was a serious gale and a heavy sea running down-channel. The Brigantine, ‘Wild Wave’ of Exeter, was heading for Poole harbour but loosing its struggle to round Peveril Point. Gradually it became apparent that she was not going to make it and that the 6 men onboard were going to need rescuing in some way. It was only “with difficulty, and by incurring much risk”, that the Chief Officer of H.M. Coastguard, John Lose and 12 of his men put to sea in their boats and saved all 6 of the crew from the Brig. For this act of bravery Mr Lose was awarded the Silver Medal of the Institution and his men were rewarded.

As a direct result of this rescue the local residents of the town decided to petition the Lifeboat Institution and request that a lifeboat station be created in the town. Consequently the region’s Lifeboat Inspector was sent to visit the town to assess the need. On Thursday 4th March 1875 at a committee meeting of the Insitution, the Duke of Northumberland, Chairman of the Lifeboat Institution at the time, approved the request of local Swanage residents and the recommendation of the Lifeboat Inspector that a lifeboat be stationed at Swanage. Provided, that is, that the local residents “extend their co-operation to the undertaking”. This was of course agreed to and in a very short space of time a boathouse was built (at a cost of £350 on land provided by the Earl of Eldon), a slipway constructed (Cost £175) and a boat, the ‘Charlotte Mary’ provided from a bequest of Miss Margaret Ryder Wilde in memory of her two sisters Charlotte and Mary.

On the 16th September Miss Wilde’s nephew and his wife came to Swanage along with various dignitaries, officials of the Institution, local people and nearby lifeboat crews. The first President of the Swanage branch of the Lifeboat Institution, George Burt esq, attended the naming and launch saying, “that he felt sure that the crew would fully perform their duty with the lifeboat at all times”. Miss Wilde’s niece then named the boat before it launched in style (the Coastguard and Artillery Volunteer Corps fired a volley each) for its maiden exercise with the Poole and Kimmeridge lifeboats in the bay. This included being intentionally capsized by a crane to prove its self-righting ability.

I would like to think that in the ensuing 133 years the crew of the Swanage lifeboat have lived up to the expectations of George Burt and been a credit to the memory of Miss Margaret Wide and her two sisters…

(Quoted material is Copyright to the RNLI and taken from the Complete Historical Archive of the Lifeboat Journal)

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