Honouring the Solomon Browne

Forty years ago, the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne and its courageous crew were lost at sea. We will never forget them, their years of service, and the lives they saved.

The spirit of lifesaving – that drive to save every one – goes on at Penlee, where Patch and his crew are still on call when needed most.

‘They’d probably call us soft,’ says current Penlee Coxswain Patch Harvey. 

‘We’ve got the Severn class lifeboat – all singing, all dancing, with 2,500 horsepower and 25 knots. And they had a wooden boat that did 8 knots.’ 

‘They’ are the crew of the Solomon Browne, wrecked on service in horrendous conditions on 19 December 1981. Read more about the Penlee lifeboat disaster. 

Penlee Coxswain Patch Harvey smiles at the camera

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Penlee Coxswain Patch Harvey

Silence after decades of service 

‘Penlee lifeboat, Penlee lifeboat, Falmouth Coastguard, over … Penlee lifeboat, Penlee lifeboat, Falmouth Coastguard, over … ’ 

Those first seconds of radio silence, when the Coastguard lost contact with the lifeboat crew, feel like the longest stretch of time in RNLI history. 

But the Watson class lifeboat Solomon Browne had carried out 21 years of lifesaving before that fateful night in 1981. 

We rightly commemorate what happened that night. It was the ultimate sacrifice, and a devastating blow to a tight-knit Cornish community – its impact still felt to this day. We must also remember the successful rescues, the lives saved, the homecomings from wild Atlantic seas. Because those are the moments Trevelyan Richards and his crew lived for. 

In 21 years’ service off the south coast of Cornwall, the Solomon Browne’s crews were involved in epic missions that have become part of maritime lore. 

In August 1979, the high-profile Fastnet yacht race was hit by a force 10 storm. Solomon Browne was one of 13 RNLI lifeboats to take part in the rescue operation. Fifteen sailors drowned, and 136 were rescued, including those onboard the yacht Gan, who were brought to shore by Penlee lifeboat crew.

Penlee’s Watson motor lifeboat, Solomon Browne

Photo: Norman Fitkin

In more than 21 years, Solomon Browne’s crews launched 247 times

'We've got a fantastic crew'

‘We’ve got a fantastic crew, a lovely new lifeboat station, and two amazing boats,’ says Patch. ‘We’re quite a busy station, camaraderie among the crew is good, and it’s a nice place to be. 

‘The Solomon Browne crew would call us soft, yes, but I think they would be very proud of today’s crew and station too.’

The RNLI memorial sculpture, listing the names of more than 600 crew members

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

The RNLI memorial sculpture at the RNLI Support Centre in Poole, Dorset

200 years of bravery and selflessness

The Penlee crew lost that day are among more than 600 crew who have paid the ultimate price since the RNLI was formed in 1824, nearly 200 years ago. Their names are inscribed on the RNLI memorial sculpture at the RNLI Support Centre in Poole, Dorset. See the full list of names of those commemorated

We honour their memory and thank them for all their services to save others in peril at sea.

Sign the book of remembrance

The RNLI have set up a book of remembrance where you can read tributes to those lost in the lifeboat disaster and write one of your own. You can also share photos and videos as part of your entry into the book. Visit RNLI.org/Penlee40Book to add your memories and read those of others today.