RNLI Penlee Lifeboat Station has a remarkable history of bravery with the lifeboat crews being presented with 44 awards for gallantry during its 200 year history. The station has also witnessed tragedy with nine lifeboat volunteers losing their lives saving others at sea.
A lifeboat station was established in Penzance and has been saving lives since 1803 (the first in Cornwall and the thirteenth in the UK). There have been lifeboats stationed in Penzance, Newlyn or Penlee ever since (excluding 1828-1851 when the station lapsed). The Penzance RNLI branch was formed on 19th May 1824 – to coincide with the formation of the “National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck” formed in March 1824.
The Penzance Station remained operational (in several locations around Penzance) until 1917. In 1908 an additional lifeboat station was opened at Newlyn but this was only maintained until 1913 when it was closed. The closing of the Newlyn station saw the opening of the Penlee station in 1913 at Penlee Point. The Penzance RNLI Branch name was changed to the Penlee RNLI Branch, as it remains today. In 1983 The new Arun class lifeboat, the RNLB Mabel Alice, was placed on service on 8 May afloat in Newlyn Harbour. A new assembly building was built providing limited crew facilities. In 2003 the RNLB Ivan Ellen (Severn Class) took over from the RNLB Mabel Alice. Also in 2003 RNLB Paul Alexander (Atlantic 75) added to the compliment at Penlee. In 2016 the RNLB Paul Alexander was replaced with an Atlantic 85 Inshore lifeboat RNLB Mollie and Ivor Dent.
There has been a lifeboat stationed in the Penzance district since 1803, when a station was opened at Penzance. This remained until 1917 although it lapsed between 1828-1851. In 1908 a lifeboat station was opened at Newlyn but was only maintained there until 1913 when it was closed. The closing of the Newlyn station saw the opening of the Penlee station in 1913.
1824 Silver Medals awarded to William Rowe and John Freeman for the rescue of the crew of eight including one woman of the Brig Olive wrecked at Halzephron, Mounts Bay in a hurricane on 27 April 1824.
1849 Silver Medal awarded to William A Selly for the rescue of the crew of seven of the Schooner Kitty wrecked near Penzance on 26 December 1848. When the crew of the casualty were seen hanging from the remains of her bulkheads, her foremast having gone, Mr Selly and four other fishermen launched a boat and rescued the master and six crew.
1851 Gold Medals awarded to Captain George Davies RN and Mr Thomas Randall Forward (Commander of the Revenue Cutter Sylvia) and Silver Medals awarded to James Burne, Thomas Kerley, Robert Eastaway, William Selly, Charles Carr, James Richards, William Surry, Henry Jones, James Ward and Henry Richards for the rescue of the master, his wife and one of the crew from the brig New Commercial, wrecked at Brissons Rock, four miles north of Lands End in thick fog and high seas on 12 January 1851. In atrocious weather conditions an unsuccessful attempt was made to take off two survivors by the Sylvia before Captain Davies arrived on scene with rocket apparatus. Using this he managed to fire a line which the two survivors secured and by this means was hauled aboard, the third person was picked up by another boat.
1851 Silver Medal awarded to Mr R Pearce, Lloyd’s Agent of Penzance, for his repeated services in saving life from shipwreck.
1865 Silver Medal awarded to Captain T H Fellowes RN for the rescue of the crew of eight men of the Brig Willie Ridley of Plymouth that was in distress during stormy weather and very heavy sea on 29 January 1865. After several unsuccessful attempts Captain Fellows took the boat to Newlyn where she launched once more and after some hard rowing, got alongside the casualty and in spite of the weather conditions the master and crew were taken off over the main boom.
1866 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain Thomas Carbis for the rescuing the crew of nine from the ss Bessie of Hayle that was wrecked on Hayle Bar during a heavy north-easterly gale on 11 January 1866. In the mountainous seas the St Ives lifeboat Moses had insufficient power to reach the casualty, so a telegram was sent to Penzance seeking help. After a journey of 50 miles around Lands End the lifeboat arrived at St Ives rendezvous with Moses and both lifeboats set off. After a long struggle the master and eight crew were landed safely ashore.
1867 Silver Medal awarded to Samuel Higgs Jnr for three services in Mounts Bay in an east-south-easterly gale and very heavy sea 5 January 1867. After a distress signal was seen the lifeboat launched and found the Brixham schooner Salome drifting rapidly towards shore, five men and a boy were taken off just before the casualty stuck the rocks and broke up. More signals were seen in the pitch dark evening with a hurricane now blowing and in heavy rain the lifeboat launched again and returned within an hour having rescued the crew of five from the Looe schooner Selina Ann. The third time the lifeboat launched was to the Teignmouth schooner Hairess when she rescued six people.
1869 Silver Medals awarded to Coxswain T Carbis, Second Coxswain Higgans, Captain R B Cay RN, Mr W Blackmore and Mr Samuel Higgs Jnr, for a service to the Barque North Britain that was driven ashore in a gale on 6 December 1868. It took just over an hour for the Penzance lifeboat reached the casualty but a great sea struck, and capsized her trapping Coxswain Carbis. He was recovered and with Captain Cay’s help taken back to the shore. A fresh crew was put aboard the lifeboat and pulling through tremendous wind and sea reached the wreck and rescue eight men before the masts went and the vessel broke up.
1873 Silver Medals awarded to Captain Howorth RN, Nicholas B Downing, the Honorary Secretary, and to W Blackmore for two services; the first on 26 January 1873 when the lifeboat launched into a southerly gale and high seas to the Norwegian brig Otto that was driven ashore in Penzance Bay and reaching the wreck rescued eight crew. The second service was on 2 February 1873 when the lifeboat launched into very high seas to the French vessel La Marie Emilie that ran ashore with seas rolling over her. The lifeboat was twice driven back and after two more attempts, on the third, managed to save all four of her crew.The Norwegian Government, by a royal resolution, decreed to the same persons the Silver Medal for civic deeds (Borgerdaad) for the service to the Otto.
1879 The French Government gave a Gold Medal to Coastguard William Gould and thanked the lifeboat crew in connection with the rescue of five of the crew of the French brig Ponthieu on 17 May.
1897 Silver Medal awarded to Mr H Trewhella on his retirement in acknowledgement of his long and gallant services in saving life from shipwreck.
1911 Lifeboat house and slipway constructed at Penlee at a cost of £2,850.
1917 Penzance old lifeboat house sold to Town Council for £200.
1931 Centenary Vellum presented by Mrs Molyneux Favell on 15 August at the inaugural ceremony of the new lifeboat and received by Alderman Charles Tregaga, JP, CC.
1936 Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain Frank Blewett for the rescue of the crew of nine of the steamer Taycraig driven onto rocks in Mounts Bay in a gale on 27 January 1936. The lifeboat arrived on scene to find the casualty with seas breaking over her and partly submerged; the nine crew together on the forecastle. Coxswain Blewett veered the lifeboat down and with her rising and falling violently, took off all the crew, one at a time.
1947 Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain E F Madron and a Bronze Medal to Motor Mechanic J B Drew for their services on 23 April when, in a south-westerly gale with a very rough sea the lifeboat rescued a skeleton crew from the obsolete battleship Warspite which was wrecked at Cuddens Point, Mounts Bay, while being towed to a shipbreakers yard. When the lifeboat arrived on scene she found the casualty with seas breaking around the turret. Coxswain Madron took the lifeboat into a narrow channel between the wreck and the rocks manoeuvring alongside so the eight crew could jump one at a time into the boat.
1954 An Anniversary Vellum commemorating the 150 years service of the station was presented on 12 March by Lady Tedder to Coxswain E Madron. The Warspite was again in the news; two salvage officers in charge of her demolition set out to the wreck in an amphibious DUKW driven by another man and, owing to engine failure were driven onto the rocks and were rescued by a shore boat.
1957 Penlee Honorary Secretary, Mr Barrie B Bennetts MBE, appointed Honorary Life Governor. Mr Bennetts was Honorary Secretary for 44 years. Coxswain Edwin F Madron was the subject of ‘This Is Your Life’ in 1957 when he was surprised with the ‘big red book’ by Eamonn Andrews at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, London.
1958 Mr Barrie Bennetts, who had received the highest award the Institution can make to a voluntary worker, that of appointment as honorary life governor, died on 26 July at the age of 75. He had been honorary secretary of the Penlee station branch from 1913 until 1957 when he retired.
1961 Shore helper James Pentreath was killed and another helper Mr R W Blewett injured when the Penlee lifeboat was being re-housed on 30 December 1961. The accident occurred after the Penlee lifeboat had launched to convey a man suffering with appendicitis on board the tanker Varicella to a waiting ambulance at Newlyn. On the lifeboats return to station, as she was about to be hauled up into the keelway of the slip a heavy swell carried the lifeboat broadside for about 10ft pulling the winch wire with her, striking the two shore helpers on the legs, and causing them to fall onto the rocks before falling into the water. The other helpers quickly reached the two men and hauled them on to the rocks but it was found that Mr Pentreath had died and Mr Blewett had a number of ribs broken. Mr Blewett was taken to hospital where he made a good recovery.
1975 The Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain William Richards in recognition of the courage, determination and skill displayed by him when the lifeboat launched in the hours of darkness on 25 January 1975 into a strong west-north-westerly gale gusting to hurricane force, a very rough sea and heavy rain squalls to the assistance of the crew of the motor vessel Lovat, 18½ miles south of Mousehole Island. One of the helicopters co-operating in the search rescued two survivors but 11 lives were lost. The unhappy task of recovering the bodies fell to the lifeboat.
1979 A special framed certificate awarded to the coxswain and crew for display at the station in recognition of their services in connection with numerous yachts in difficulties during the Fastnet Race on 16 August.
1980 A Framed Letter of Thanks signed by the Chairman, The Duke of Atholl, awarded to Coxswain William Richards in recognition of the determination and seamanship he displayed when the Belgian trawler Normauwil stranded near the north arm of Newlyn Harbour on 19 March, was towed clear of danger by the lifeboat in a strong south easterly wind and a rough sea.
1981 On 19 December the lifeboat Solomon Browne was launched in hurricane conditions to go to the aid of the coaster Union Star that had engine failure and was being swept towards the southern coast of Cornwall. The coxswain repeatedly took the lifeboat alongside the coaster to try and rescue the eight people on board, before managing to take four people off. A helicopter was unable to get a line to the people on the coaster. The lifeboat made a further attempt to rescue the remaining four when radio contact was lost. It was subsequently discovered that the lifeboat had been completely wrecked with the loss of her crew of eight. The coaster was also lost. There were no survivors. Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards was awarded the Institutions Gold Medal for the manner in which four people were taken off the coaster. The remainder of the crew, Second Coxswain/Mechanic James Stephen Madron, Assistant Mechanic Nigel Brockman, Emergency Mechanic John Robert Blewett, crew members Charles Thomas Greenhaugh, Kevin Smith, Barrie Robertson Torrie and Gary Lee Wallis were awarded Bronze Medals. The Medals were presented to the widows and parents by HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester at the Royal Festival Hall, London on 11 May 1982. The Institution paid pensions to the dependants of the lifeboat crew in accordance with its usual practice and a local appeal raised over £3 million. click here for further information
1982 On 2 June the Chairman of the Institution, The Duke of Atholl, visited Mousehole with the Director, Rear Admiral W Graham, and the Divisional Inspector of Lifeboats, Mr L Vipond, to present seven of the Vellums recording the bravery awards to the families of the men who died on the service to the coaster Union Star on 19 December 1981. The presentations were made privately in their homes. Presentation of the Vellum to Mrs Lyn Torrie was arranged for a later date.
1983 The new Arun class lifeboat Mabel Alice was placed on service at 0001 on Sunday, 8 May and lies afloat in Newlyn Harbour.Assembly building constructed. This provided a workshop/store, souvenir outlet and improved crew facilities.
1985 The Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum accorded to Coxswain Kenneth Thomas in recognition of the skill and perseverance displayed by him when the lifeboat escorted the French trawler St Simeon in a strong east-south-easterly gale and very rough sea on 15 February.
1985 Following the Penlee lifeboat disaster in 1981 Penzance Town Council decided to create a Memorial Garden. It was decided on 9 May 1985 in the presence of the Mayor of Penzance, Mrs Margaret Beckerleg, Senior Officials of the RNLI, members of the families of those lost in the disaster, members of the Penlee and Penzance Branch of the RNLI and neighbouring branches, members of the Port Talbot Branch, those responsible for building the garden and other members of the community. The project was the inspiration of the late Councillor Clarry Ash, father-in-law of one of the crew. Mrs M E Harvey of Newlyn generously gave the land adjacent to the boathouse at Penlee Point to the Town Council. The garden was designed by Mr S Lee, BSc, Senior Architect of British Airways and was built by the Springboard Youth Training Scheme. Materials for the garden was given by local people and builders. The centrepiece of the garden is the splendid stainless steel memorial plaque in colour given by the Port Talbot Branch of the RNLI. Penzance Town Council and Mousehole Royal British Legion donated further memorial plaques. The Dedication was conducted by the Rev R H Cadman, the Branch Honorary Chaplain and other local Clergymen.A flagstaff made from the wreckage of the Solomon Browne using pieces of each type of wood from which the lifeboat was constructed was, with her flag, presented to the Dean and Chapter of Truro Cathedral by the Institution as a memorial to the eight lifeboat crew members who gave their lives, and in appreciation of the support given by the Bishop and cathedral authorities to the Penlee families and the Institution at the time of the disaster.
1993 Coxswain Kenny Thomas retired and Coxswain/Mechanic Neil Brockman took over at the age of 28.
1995 Bronze Medal awarded to Coxswain/Mechanic Neil Brockman in recognition of his fine seamanship, leadership and meritorious conduct when, jointly with the Sennen Cove lifeboat, the Penlee lifeboat Mabel Alice assisted in the rescue of five people and saving the fishing vessel Julian Paul which had fouled her propeller to the west of Longships. The casualty was taken in tow in very rough seas and storm force winds and brought into Newlyn at 1 am on 7 December 1994. Coxswain/Mechanic Terry George of the Sennen Cove lifeboat was also awarded the Bronze Medal.
2000 A framed Letter of Thanks signed by the chairman of the Institution, Mr David Acland, presented to Coxswain Mechanic Neil Brockman in recognition of the seamanship, judgement and leadership displayed by him when he took the lifeboat alongside the French tanker Gwel a Vo no fewer than 17 times at night in rough seas and five metre swells on 21 December 1999. This enabled three lifeboat men and stretchers to be transferred to the tanker to treat an injured man. Once the man had been placed in a stretcher, he and the crew were recovered onto the lifeboat and the man was landed at Newlyn and transferred to hospital.
2001 Marazion inshore lifeboat station closed on 31 October 2001. Penlee Station to provide all operational cover in the area.At the Executive Committee meeting held on 28 November it was resolved that a B class inshore lifeboat be established at Penlee with immediate effect.
2002 The Trustee Meeting held on 27 November decided that Penlee Lifeboat Station be awarded a Vellum to commemorate the completion of 200 years service in 2003.
2003 The RNLB Ivan Ellen (Severn Class) took over from the RNLB Mabel Alice also in 2003 RNLB Paul Alexander (Atlantic 75) added to the compliment at Penlee.
2009 Coxswain Neil Brockman retired after 30 years service (16 as Coxswain) and Patrick ‘Patch’ Harvey took over as Coxswain.
2015 Appeal launched to raise £200,000 towards the build cost for new crew accommodation at the station
2016 RNLB Mollie and Ivor Dent B-893 (Atlantic 85) arrives at Penlee station.
2019 New crew accommodation building constructed on site of old 1982 building at Newlyn harbour.
The Institution has awarded 41 medals, three Gold, 27 Silver and 11 Bronze for gallantry to men of Penzance and Penlee. The most recent award was made in 1995.
On 31st August 2016 the RNLI announced that the Gold Medal posthumously awarded to Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards for the service on 19th December 1981, had been taken from the secure storage at Poole HQ and reported to the Police as suspected stolen.
RNLB Ivan Ellen
RNLB ON-1265 Ivan Ellen – Severn Class.
The Severn has a sheerline that sweeps down for ease of survivor recovery. She is inherently self-righting and should it be knocked over in extreme weather, it will automatically right itself within a few seconds. Her propellers and rudders lie in partial tunnels set into the hull that, along with the two bilge keels, provide excellent protection from damage in shallow water. In addition to her twin engines, the Severn is fitted with a hydraulic-powered bow thruster for improved manoeuvrability. The comprehensive electronics include VHF and MF radios with DSC functionality, VHF direction finder, DGPS with electronic chart system and radar. The Severn carries a small Y boat, which is an inflatable daughter boat complete with a 15hp outboard engine. This small craft can be launched with a crane and is used in moderate conditions to access areas where the lifeboat cannot reach. Comprehensive first aid equipment includes stretchers, oxygen and Entonox. Other equipment includes a portable salvage pump carried in a watertight container. The last Severn class lifeboat was built in 2004. The lifeboats undergo a regular condition-based maintenance regime to check their condition.
Date introduced: 1995
On station: March 2003
Launch type: Afloat
Number in fleet: 35 at stations plus 9 in the relief fleet
Last built: 2004
Crew: Nominal 7
Displacement: 42 tonnes
Max speed: 25 knots
Fuel capacity: 5,600 litres
Operating range/endurance: 250 nautical miles
Hull: fibre-reinforced composite with single-skin section below the chine and 100mm thick foam-cored sandwich
Above deck and superstructure: 25mm foam-cored sandwich
Engines: 2 x Caterpillar 3412 TA marine diesel; 1,250hp each at 2,300rpm
Survivor capacity: Self-righting – 28 – Non self-righting – 124
Funded by: Mr Harold Ivan Leach
RNLB Mollie & Ivor Dent
RNLB Mollie & Ivor Dent – Atlantic 85.
The Atlantic 85 carries a full suite of communication and electronic navigation aids, including VHF radio, VHF direction finding, intercom, DGPS and electronic chart, radar and hand-held VHF, as well as a searchlight, night-vision equipment and illuminating paraflares for night-time operations. In the event of a capsize, a crew member activates a gas bottle to inflate the self-righting bag and the lifeboat turns upright in a few seconds.
Date introduced to RNLI: 2005
On station: August 2016
Launch type: Versidock
Number in fleet: 39 at station plus 11 in relief fleet
Displacement/load: 1.8 tonnes
Max speed: 35 knots
Fuel capacity: 210 litres
Operational Range/endurance: 2.5 hours
Construction: Hull – carbon fibre and foam core laminate, structure includes epoxy glass and foam sandwich layup, with marine plywood stiffening & Inflatable collar – hypalon-coated nylon
Engines: 2 x Yamaha; 4-stroke; 115hp each
Survivor capacity: 20
Funded by: The late Mollie Dent from Newbury, Berkshire