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The First Lifeboats

Mike Wilson, Local Author and Historian

From: Brief Sketches descriptive of Bridlington Quay and the most striking Objects of Interest in the Neighbourhood, published at Furby's 'Observer' Offices, King Street, in 1877.

Lifeboats are always objects of peculiar interest to a seaport community; and this town, having been for many years, one of the Coast Life-boat Stations, it may be reasonably expected, that we should furnish some information respecting the Life-boats stationed here.

In 1806, the first of the kind placed here was purchased of the inventor, Mr Greathead, of Newcastle, costing £300, which sum was raised by subscription.

In 1824, a second one superceded it, this being supplied by the Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, and a donation of £10, to the Institution, was thereupon voted by the Corporation of Hull.

In 1854, the third one was built for this station, by direction of the Royal National Life-boat Institution, the people of Manchester having contributed the funds for the purpose, principally through the assiduity of Mr Whitworth, the Rev. E. Hewlett and other friends of the cause.

This boat was named the Robert Whitworth. She was stated to possess several advantages over her predecessors which it is needless in these pages to repeat; practically, however, she was not exactly adapted to the full requirements of this locality. Her working capabilities, though well suited to some parts of the coast, were too exhaustive to her crew to be of the service required in this district. Shortly subsequent to 1864, a small life-boat the Harbinger was presented by the Count Battyany to the resident boatmen, whose wants and suggestions received the attention of the builder in her construction. Both boats performed their humane mission with considerable success on the memorable 10th February, 1871, a day to be noticed hereafter. Some of the results of that fatal day were witnessed by the Rev. Y. Lloyd Graeme, who, with a liberality most praiseworthy, at once took steps for the purpose of supplying another and more efficient boat, equipped with all necessary appliances, of a size between the two already in use. The practical knowledge of those whose lives would probably be hazarded in her, was duly considered in her formation.

She received the approrpiate name of the Sea Gull, in allusion to the case with which that bird floats over the waves. The Robert Whitworth, as already stated, not being considered quite suitable for this coast, several meetings were held, at which the seamen had a full op[ortunityof expressing their ideas and opinions on the subject. Captain Ward from the Royal National Life-boat Institution was present; and the result of those meetings was to exchange the Robert Whitworth for the John Abbott, which had been a further instance of the liberality of the people of Manchester, to the same benevolent institution. Her capabilities, as well as those of the Sea Gull, have yet to be tested by a storm; let us hope that such storm may be far distant, and that when it does come, these boats may be found equal to the occasion.

Stations of these three vessels are as follow: The Harbinger, on davits at the harbour side; the Sea Gull, in a building for the purpose, in Cliff Street; and the John Abbott, on the south side of the town near the South Pier; all being convenient in cases of emergency.

The carriages used in the transport of the boats are ingeniously adapted for the purpose. By an efficacious contrivance, the boat can be launched with her crew on board, who, with oars ready, are enabled to obtain headway, before the breakers have had sufficient time to beat the boat, broadside, on to the beach. The hauling up of the Life-boat is accomplished with equal facility.

Life-boat servies have been many times brought into requisition, and although, as was remarked by the Prince of Wales, whilst presiding at a late meeting of the Royal National Life-boat Institution, "Life is never rescued by the Life-boat, but at the risk of other life," yet, it may truly said, to the honour of our resident seamen, that with generous instincts, combined with "brave hearts and sinewy arms" they have never been wanted in vain, in the hour of need.