Past coxswain remembered 125 years after he made the ultimate sacrifice

Lifeboats News Release

Swanage lifeboat crew honoured past Swanage Lifeboat Coxswain, William Brown, who tragically lost his life when he was washed off the lifeboat whilst on service to the barque Brilliant in 1895.

Volunteers from Swanage Lifeboat Station honour late Coxswain William Brown attending a memorial at his grave.

RNLI/Roydon Woodford

Volunteers from Swanage Lifeboat Station honour late Coxswain William Brown

On the 12 January 1895, the Swanage crew were tasked to assist the barque Brilliant off Old Harry Rocks aboard the rowed lifeboat William Earle II. In the severe conditions, on what was the William Earle II lifeboat’s maiden call, two of the volunteer lifeboat crew were washed overboard, with only one being recovered.

In the wake of the disaster a local committee, the Swanage Branch of the RNLI, voted £275 be donated to a fund to aid his family.

To honour the past Coxswain this year, local crew and supporters gathered at his grave in Swanage to pay tribute to William Brown on the anniversary of the tragedy.

By coincidence, this same weekend 125 years later the Swanage inshore lifeboat was launched to assist two people reported to be cut off by the tide at Old Harry Rocks. Thankfully this rescue resulted in the safe recovery of the two casualties who were attempting to walk from Studland to Swanage.

Inshore lifeboat helmsman Matt Steeden said ‘we expected the casualties to be on the Studland side of Old Harry, but whilst conducting our search on the way to Old Harry, the casualties were identified in a cave to the south side of the Pinnacles.

With a dying light we make preparations to veer in to recover the casualties as there was swell running, however due to the large number for large boulders found on the way in we changed our approach and instead drove in avoiding the rocks. With volunteer crew member Alan Parmenter holding the lifeboat head to sea, crew member Alice Haw went to the cave to walk the casualties to the lifeboat so we could recover them before the tide came in.

These guys were lucky to have been found and recovered before they were completely swamped by the tide.’

The assistance of the all-weather lifeboat was also requested so that the casualties could be transferred and sheltered from the conditions, as the rough seas meant that waves were crashing over the inshore lifeboat as it made progress with the casualties onboard.

This rescue serves as timely reminder to always check your route and the conditions before setting out. Fortunately the casualties had a phone with them and were able to call for help once they realised they were unable to complete their planned journey.

Both lifeboats, along with the casualties, returned to station just before 5pm. With the casualties confirmed as safe and well they were free to return home.

Notes to Editors

  • Aerial photograph of the rescue from Swanage HMRC Coastguard
  • Image of the William Earle lifeboat
  • Image from the memorial (credit Roydon Woodford)

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Swanage inshore lifeboat recovering casualties stranded by the tide.

HMRC Coastguard (Swanage)

Swanage ILB on scene to recover stranded casualties
Swanage Lifeboat William Earle


Swanage Lifeboat William Earle
Grave of Swanage lifeboat Coxswain William Brown who lost his life on service on 12 January 1895.

RNLI/Roydon Woodford

Grave of Swanage lifeboat Coxswain William Brown who lost his life on service on 12 January 1895.

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