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Seven surprising gifts left to the RNLI

Whether it was Harry Houdini leaving his wife a code to try and communicate from beyond the grave, William Shakespeare leaving Anne Hathaway his ‘second best’ bed or Napoleon Bonaparte leaving his close friends the hair from his shaved head, the history of strange bequests in Wills dates back over two millennia.

The two ferraris left to the RNLI as a gift in a will parked up next to a Shannon class lifeboat.

Photo: H&H Classics

Although the RNLI has only been around since 1824, we have already received our fair share of surprising gifts from generous donors, demonstrating that where there’s a Will, there’s a way to save lives at sea.

1. Gold teeth

Whether worn by pharaohs, Bond villains or rappers, gold teeth have long been the go-to dental accessory for the rich and famous. However, unless Tutankhamun, Goldie or Lil Wayne have ever pulled a man from the water with their teeth, it is quite possible the gold gnashers left to the RNLI in a Will were the first in history to save lives at sea.

2. A round of drinks

What better way to thank a selfless RNLI crew than by buying them all a drink at the local bar? That’s exactly what one supporter did, leaving specific instructions in his Will for his money to be spent on a round of drinks for the members and helpers of the Penlee lifeboat crew.

3. 100-year-old bottle of Cognac

Speaking of alcohol, from the RNLI's early days right up until the late 1980s, lifeboats were stocked with certain spirits to help revive or sustain casualties. Coxswains were given strict instructions to keep an eye on the issued bottle! In the 1881 publication Treatment for Restoring the Apparently Drowned, the RNLI instructs: 'On the restoration of life, a teaspoonful of warm water should be given; and then, if the power of swallowing be returned, small quantities of wine, warm brandy and water, or coffee should be administrated.' It is fitting then that, in Mary Sennett’s Will, the RNLI and the WWF were left a bottle of 1914 F. Latour & Co Vieille Reserve Cognac with its original seal.

4. A pig farm

One generous donor left the RNLI a pig farm in their Will. After going to market, the proceeds from these little piggies helped bring people in trouble at sea all the way home.

5. Piggy banks

Oddly enough, the pig farm isn’t the only porcine bequest left to the RNLI. One supporter left a gift which, alongside a box of jewellery, also included a large collection of filled porcelain piggy banks.

6. A holiday home in the Canary Islands

When a donor left a holiday home in Tenerife, the eyes of wind-and-weather-beaten lifeboat volunteers everywhere may well have lit up at the prospect of some sunshine. However, the holiday home wasn’t for topping up the tans of the crews and their families, but for selling to fund more lifesaving rescues.

7. Two vintage Ferraris

Four wheels aren’t usually what come to mind when you think of saving lives at sea. However, Richard Colton left two rare Ferraris to the RNLI in his Will, and those eight wheels will help save lives at sea for many years to come. The 1960 Ferrari 250 GT and 1967 Ferrari 275 recently sold at auction for a staggering £8.5M. Part of the proceeds will fund the building of the Richard and Caroline Colton, a new Shannon-class lifeboat named after Richard and his late wife.

Even if you don’t have a vintage sports car, a rare bottle of brandy or teeth of precious metal, you can still make a huge difference to the RNLI by leaving a legacy in your Will. All legacies - whether big, small, livestock, alcohol or otherwise - are incredibly important to the RNLI and fund six out of every ten lifeboat launches. After taking care of your loved ones, please consider leaving a gift to the RNLI in your Will and helping to saves lives at sea for years to come. Thank you.