The Life-Boat

17 September 2020

By Göran R Buckhorn

Here is another article in The Dry Season Bottom-of-the-Barrel Series in which Göran R Buckhorn finds an old book on Life-Boats.

When I was working in the publishing business in Sweden in the 1990s, I regularly had to travel to Stockholm for meetings. At that time, Stockholm had a lot of good antiquarian booksellers, so I always made certain that I had the time to browse around in some of them before taking the train back home south. Of course, I looked for rowing books, but it was hard to find something I didn’t already have.

However, one time, I saw in the window of a bookseller in Drottninggatan a copy of Sir John Cameron Lamb’s book The Life-Boat And Its Work, published for the Royal National Life-Boat Institution by William Clowes and Sons, London, in 1911. I went inside to take a closer look. The book condition was very good +. It was a nice, clean tight copy, with no inscriptions, and it still had both the appeal and bequest forms in the back. It was not cheap, but I decided to buy it.

It’s really a very nice little book, which gives the story of lifeboats and how it all began – how special boats were built to rescue passengers and crews from shipwrecked vessels. There are several inventors and boat builders that claim to be the ones to have built the first lifeboat. Already in 1765, a Monsieur Bernières of France invented an unsinkable boat for nine people, but according to Lamb’s book, Bernières’s invention was never set to practical use.

Gentlemen from Tyneside and the Thames created models to suit the newly founded “Tyne Life-Boat Society” and the Royal National Life-Boat Institution. The most famous names were Lionel Lukin, William Wouldhave and Henry Greathead. The illustration above shows a drawing made from a model presented by Greathead to the Admiralty around the year 1800.

HTBS has previously published a couple of stories on lifeboats, here and here.

A version of this article has previously been published on HTBS on 8 November 2009.

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