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RNLI in appeal for missing gold medal awarded to Penlee coxswain

Lifeboats News Release

The RNLI is saddened to announce that the historic gold medal awarded posthumously to the coxswain of the Penlee lifeboat the Solomon Browne is missing and is appealing to the public for any information that will help its return.

The gold gallantry medal, which is the highest award for bravery issued by the RNLI, is one of the most precious artefacts in the RNLI’s heritage collection. It was recently found to be missing from a secure heritage store at the charity’s head office in Poole. Despite an extensive search the medal has not been found and Police have been notified of a suspected theft.

The gold medal was awarded posthumously to William Trevelyan Richards, Coxswain of the Penlee Lifeboat the Solomon Browne, which sank after going to the aid of the coaster Union Star on the night of 19 December 1981. All eight volunteer crew members were lost in the disaster, and the whole crew were awarded gallantry medals by the RNLI in recognition of their selfless bravery and sacrifice.

George Rawlinson, Operations Director of the RNLI, says: ‘We are devastated by the loss of this important part of our heritage. Not only is the medal of historical significance to the RNLI, it also has huge emotional importance, particularly to the families of the crew members who perished and the local community in Newlyn. The medal represents the great courage, commitment and ultimate sacrifice made by the Penlee lifeboat crew. To us, it is irreplaceable – our primary concern is to secure the return of the medal.’

The medal was stored in a facility with multiple layers of security. A thorough search of the heritage collection and an internal investigation has been carried out. The RNLI is now working closely with the Police and those affected by the medal’s loss.

David Welton, RNLI Heritage Manager, says: ‘Everybody in the RNLI family is deeply concerned by this incident and we would like to reassure people that we are doing everything possible to retrieve this precious object. Anybody with any information about the medal’s location is urged to contact Dorset Police quoting incident number 02:136, or to contact the RNLI direct.’

Dorset Police can be contacted at, via email at or by calling 101, quoting incident number 02:136. Information can also be reported to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or via  

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 in the United Kingdom or +44 1202 663234 if calling from outside the UK.

In its 192-year history, the RNLI has awarded 151 gold medals to its lifeboat crews. Only one – William Trevelyan Richards – was awarded posthumously. The medal has been compared to the UK’s Victoria Cross in its significance and recognition.

Notes to editors

An image of an RNLI Gold Medal is attached (note the image is not the medal awarded to William Trevelyan Richards).

An image of Trevelyan Richards is also attached.

RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Emma Haines, RNLI Public Relations Manager, on 07786 668847 or or the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

Key facts about the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen, Carrybridge and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.

The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 or by email.


The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number 20003326 in the Republic of Ireland