First Lytham Lifeboat and disaster 1852

Southport Visiter

Oct 8th 1852



Preston Saturday,

Intelligence was received here today of a melancholy accident which happened off Lytham yesterday afternoon, by which eight seamen lost their lives, each leaving a widow and children destitute. The fatality arose from the capsizing of a lifeboat belonging to Lytham.

Lytham is situated at the estuary of the river Ribble, some 12 to 14 miles from this town, in consequence of the numerous vessels which have been wrecked off Lytham it was deemed expedient that a lifeboat be purchased. For that purpose a considerable sum was raised by subscriptions from visitors and residents and a few months ago a fine boat was obtained from the establishment of, Messers BRECHIN and Son of Great Yarmouth [the successful competitors for the Duke of Northumberland’s prize of £100]. The craft [which was adapted for pulling and sailing] was highly spoken off by nautical men, and pronounced fit to go anywhere and through any sea.

Yesterday afternoon eleven hardy seamen all natives of Lytham, set out to test the capabilities of the new boat, little did they dream that what was to be the means of saving others would be the instrument of their own destruction. Three out of the eleven were all who reached land, one named SHANNON, owing his life to being transferred as a pilot on board the THOMAS CLIFTON bound for Preston.

The lifeboat left Lytham about 1pm many persons were on the beach to witness the departure. Even though the weather was squally the little craft seemed to make way very satisfactorily. What is called a “lug sail” was used on the occasion. It was observed by some experienced persons, as the boat proceeded on its course, that too much sail was carried, considering the weather. Between 2 and 3pm when dashing through the breakers about 3miles from shore the boat leaned over alarmingly, owing to the quantity of sail she carried. About that time a heavy shower came on which concealed the boat for a short interval from view of those on the lookout. When next she came in sight she was keel uppermost. Men on the hills skirting the sea rushed down to the beach and raised the alarm, almost immediately two boats were got out to proceed to the scene of the disaster. The smaller boat was taken to the Horse Bank [a large sand-bank in the channel], where it was moored, the crew then hastened across the sand-bank, rushed into the water and waded to the ill-fated boat, underneath the inside of which they found two crew, Richard GILLET and James PARKINSON, the latter being nearly exhausted. It is miraculous these men lasted so long it being 4pm when they were rescued, but as the lifeboat was formed in a dome shape over the two suffers and it having six apertures in the bottom, they were enabled to breathe more freely. None of the other unfortunates being visible, the boat returned to Lytham about 7pm with the survivors. The scene on its arrival was heart rendering in the extreme.

The following is a list of those lost :-

HARDMAN - leaves a widow and 6 children

J. GILLET - leaves a widow and 5 children

SWANN - leaves a widow and 3 children

DAVIS - leaves a widow and 3 children

WHITESIDE - leaves a widow and 3 children

WINDER - leaves a widow and 2 children

T. GILLET - leaves a widow and 2 children

26 children are left to bemoan the sad end of their parents, the wife of WINDER, we regret to add, is near her confinement.

SWANN the pilot had command of the boat and it is considered he acted somewhat recklessly in not relieving some of her sail and he with great presence of mind recommended his men to make their way around her keel to try and right her. This he attempted himself but as unsuccessful. Although the crew had been provided with belts and other appliances for the preservation of life, yet, strange to state, these were left behind when the boat went out.

Official account

Yesterday afternoon the Lytham lifeboat was ordered out for practise. It was manned by Capt W. SWANN and nine men. The wind was very heavy and squally from W. and W.N.W. After being out a short time she was returning home, when she was upset by a sudden squall. The painter fouled on as buoy, which prevented her from righting, eight men including the captain were drowned. The two saved owed their preservation to adhering to the seats of the boat. The accident occurred in the South Channel off the Horse Bank. This melancholy event has cast a deep gloom over the entire village.

Oct 15th 1852

Messers H. C. CHAPMAN and Co of Liverpool agents for Lloyds, have written a letter to Capt HALSTEAD, Secretary to Lloyds containing some information respecting the Lytham “patent lifeboat.”

They state the capsizing of the boat resulting in such a serious and melancholy loss of life, was an event fully expected and that the boat had been pronounced “dangerous and inefficient if required to take numerous crew from a wreck”. They added that, “such a boat might be well enough in the hands of the smart and skilful boatmen of Kent and Yarmouth, and the east coast pilots, and fisherman accustomed to cobles, but in the charge of half and half boatmen such boats are dangerous - they have too much top hamper and must be crank.”

In a latter on the same subject to Mr Thos COURT, Secretary to the Underwriter’s Association, Mr CHAPMAN says, “It is much to be feared that the benevolent intentions of the national shipwreck institutions will be frustrated if they place “Breechings Prize Model Boats” at all their stations, especially on this coast, they are totally unsuited for this locality, they will not inspire confidence amongst the boatrmen, in fact they are more calculated to sacrifice lives than save them, instead of the society being instrumental in saving life of shipwrecked mariners they are more likely to become marine undertakers to the boatmen on this coast. The Dock Committee deserve credit for declining to substitute these prize models for their own efficient boats, built by COSTAIN of Liverpool.”

Oct 22nd 1852


Opinion given by William ROCKLIFF, Captain of the Southport lifeboat as to the fatal qualifications of the prize lifeboat.

"The capsizing of the Lytham lifeboat resulting in such serious and melancholy loss of life, was an event fully expected. Some three weeks ago the trustees of the Southport lifeboat had the crew mustered for exercise and we proceeded to Lytham, there to examine the patent lifeboat, as the Mater of the Southport lifeboat, an old-man-of-war’s man named ROCKLIFF pronounced her to be unsafe in the sea and tideways of this coast. On landing we found a very superior boat-house built at the expense of the Lord of the manor Mr Talbot CLIFTON of Lytham Hall, inside everything was in keeping no expense having been spared. Lieut KELLOCK, Superintendent of the Southport boat, coincided with us in pronouncing the patent lifeboat dangerous and inefficient, if required to take numerous crew from a wreck. Such a boat might be well enough in the hands of a smart, skilful boatmen of the Kent, Yarmouth and east coast pilots and fishermen accustomed to cobles, but in the charge of half and half boatmen such boats are more dangerous, they have too much top hamper and must be crank. The Lytham men laid great stress on the boat righting herself quickly if she capsized. This ‘riled’ old ROCKLIFF, he could not contain himself any longer, and clearing his mouth of his quid, he exclaimed in good broad Lancashire,

“Capsizing and rightind be d----d, we want a boat as won’t capsize, if so be ourn capsizes, its goodbye to all hands, and I tells you, that there boat will down you all, the first time you go out with any sea on, she will for sure.”

These prophetic words of this practical seaman and pilot have, as the results prove, been too soon verified. We shall not be surprised at more accidents of this kind happening, if a particular model is fixed upon, and supposed to be adapted to every sea coast. Trials unfortunately are not made in gales of wind and heavy seas. A calm river or dock basin is generally chosen for the experiment, just as we read of steamers being tried in the Long Reach, by the measured mile. On these occasions it appears the only machinery that is practically tried is, the stomachs of the invited guests and the quality of the champagne. A good dusting to Heligoland and back in a sharp gale, would enable practical men to pronounce some opinions of the capabilities of the vessel, but after a pleasant airing down the Thames, and a splendid banquet, what can people do otherwise than observe ‘Baillie Nicol Jarvie’s Maxim’ not to accept a man’s hospitality, and abuse the scoundrel behind his back’. We wish the excellent society that is establishing lifeboats around the coast would institute an inquiry, and examine the Southport lifeboat, in which the crew have unbounded confidence.”


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