Lifesaving by Coastguardsmen

The Lifeboats owned and managed by the Royal National Life-boat Institution are stationed at almost every point of our extensive seaboard where loss of life through shipwreck is most to be feared; while the services performed by their crews every year, unostentatiously, and in the ordinary course of duty, are such as would do honour to any age or nation.

The sister service, on the other hand, since the year 1855, when Government took the various life-saving apparatuses under its control, has been owned and managed by the Board of Trade, though the practical working of the apparatus is entrusted to the Coastguard.

Rocket Apparatus
The idea of communicating with a wreck from the shore, by means of throwing a rope over it, originated with Captain Manby, F.R.S., on witnessing a shipwreck in 1807, and took practical shape in the following year, when by means of a mortar, a line was successfully thrown over a vessel and seven lives saved. In the same year another brain working independently, hit on the idea of a rocket, Mr. Trengrouse, of Helston also proposed the use of a kite and lead line. His rocket however proved too small, and the first person to use the idea with success was Mr. John Dennett, of Newport, Isle of Wight. In the year 1826 four places in the Isle of Wight were supplied with Dennett’s rockets, while by 1853 the number had increased to 120. The mortar still continued in favour, but as time went on, however, the superiority of the rocket became manifest when Colonel Boxer devised a double rocket contained in a single case by means of which the range was enormously extended .There are now 297 stations around the coast of Great Britain supplied with the rocket life-saving apparatus, and that during the last thirty years, these have been the means of rescuing over 7,000 lives.

Sixteen hours on the stretch throughout the winter nights in snow, sleet, wind and rain, without shelter or protection of any kind, with the chance of being shot, tied down to the rocks or pitched over the cliffs by the smugglers was certainly no child’s play, wrote Lt. North. To assist the Coastguard on one of those long night watches they were permitted to supply themselves with one-legged stools, called rump-stools or donkeys. By sticking the leg into sand or shingle at a slight inclination a balance was achieved by sitting on its stool top, with the user’s legs forming a prop.

It required something more than free quarters and regular pay to induce men to do such work, and the incentive was that of rewards for seizures . This occasionally amounted to a considerable sum of money, and instances were known when the smallest share, that of a boatman, amounted to about £90, representing nearly two years wages. A "Full Seizure" was granted only when the vessel, goods and a fair proportion of a number engaged in the run were all captured., in fact, if the smugglers escaped, only half the reward was made. Each smuggler was worth £20 "blood money", but in spite of these inducements collusion with the smugglers was by no means a rare offence. The temptations were certainly very great, to poor men with large families, for the smugglers had large sums of money at their disposal, and it was an easy matter for a Coastguard to connive at a run without exciting suspicion.

Reference: ‘The Navy and Army Illustrated’ July 6th. 1901

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