Fraserburgh RNLI coxswain opens exhibition to RNLI silver medal heroine
Fraserburgh Lifeboat Coxswain Vic Sutherland opened an exhibition at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses recently to commemorate the bravery of a local woman who was awarded the RNLI Silver Medal for saving 15 sailors from shipwreck in 1884.
It was a cold October’s morning in 1884 when the steamer the William Hope ran aground in New Aberdour Bay during a horrendous storm.
A 40 year old mother of nine Jane Whyte who lived in a small cottage nearby on the beach waded into the raging sea to rescue 15 sailors.
For her brave action she was awarded the RNLI Silver medal.
An exhibition telling the story of Jane Whyte’s brave deed is now on show at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh, around eight miles from the scene of the rescue, and the recent opening was attended by some of her descendants.
Museum of Scottish Lighthouses manager Lynda McGuigan welcomed the descendants of Jane Whyte, members of the New Aberdour Community council and the Jane Whyte Committee to the opening of the exhibition on Sunday the 30th of June 2019.
Many of the guests present had just attended a ceremony to unveil a bench at the Jane Whyte Memorial on the site of her derelict cottage on New Aberdour Beach.
At the museum Ms McGuigan thanked Jane Whyte’s descendant Robbie Kelman and members of the family for the donations they had brought to the museum including the RNLI Silver Medal. She thanked several others who had helped in the preparation for the exhibition and then introduced the museum’s Collections Manager Michael Strachan.
Michael, whose job it was to arrange the exhibition, spoke about meeting Robbie the previous October, how strong the Jane Whyte story was, and how they came up with the title for the exhibition. Michael said: 'Greater Love Hath No Woman'.
'Back then, women weren’t expected to perform the kind of heroics which Jane did'.
He remembered speaking to Robbie, whose idea it was to hold the exhibition, and they said: back in Jane Whyte’s time, men were the heroes, and women were grateful'.
This was one example of a woman doing what men were expected to do and it was very important to get that across.
Michael also spoke about the other two cases which are featured in the exhibition “The Veteran Shipwreck in Fraserburgh in 1874” and “Professional Life Savers” which although not specifically about Jane add to her story and enhance it.
Robbie Kelman thanked Lynda and her team and said what a thrill it was to see the exhibition at the Museum.
Lynda spoke about making a permanent display to Jane Whyte which would be then be seen by the 30,000 visitors a year who visit the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
She then asked Vic Sutherland to open the exhibition saying that as Jane was one of the few women to be awarded an RNLI Silver Medal it was entirely appropriate to ask Vic as Coxswain of RNLI Fraserburgh Lifeboat to do the honours.
In his opening speech Vic said that he had spent the last 30 years working up and down this North East coast, first as a fisherman and then for the last fifteen years in command of Fraserburgh Lifeboat and knew first hand how hazardous it could be.
'I can only take my hat off to Jane Whyte for the courage that she showed to go into the water and rescue these 15 men' said Vic.
'(New) Aberdour Bay is a very treacherous place and won’t take any prisoners. She showed a huge commitment to saving lives and displayed a great deal of bravery to go into the sea to save the 15 sailors'.
'It wasn’t until the 1960s that the RNLI began to recruit women as volunteers, and Fraserburgh Lifeboat has had several over the years.' he added
'Jane Whyte’s story of saving lives at sea may inspire more women to come forward and add to the one female volunteer we have on the Fraserburgh Lifeboat crew at the moment.'
Vic then said how much of an honour and a privilege it had been to be asked to the occasion and declared the exhibition open.
The exhibition “Greater Love Hath No Woman” featuring Jane Whyte’s act of bravery is now on at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh and will run over the summer season.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.