Littlestone RNLI remembers three crew lost 130 years ago today

Lifeboats News Release

Today we remember the Littlestone crew lost on March 9 1891 for their determination and courage while attempting to saves lives in the tremendous storms of that day.


Littlestone circa 1890

A severe gale was blowing through the English Channel. Coastguards and local fishermen were already dealing with a wreck at Dengemarsh in the West Bay and had managed to save eight of the crew already using a rocket line fired from a Lyle Gun to shoot a line across the wreck.

A more serious incident was taking place at No2 Coastguard Station at Lade. Two schooners Echo and Hugh Barclay had been sighted in trouble during a severe snow blizzard.

The eleven-strong crew of the Littlestone Lifeboat Sandal Magna, who were all coastguards, were alerted and in the terrible weather conditions knew they had a difficult task ahead of them but there was no lack of volunteers.

On the first attempt to launch the lifeboat was swept back ashore by the huge waves as though it was a toy boat. The second attempt was no better with the seas boiling and massive waves crashing onto the beach. The launchers pushed on.

On the fourth attempt the launchers managed to get the Sandal Magna afloat but after a short while the boat capsized in heavy seas throwing Coastguard Bennett from the boat. She righted herself quickly and Bennett was grabbed fast by his crew mates and hauled aboard.

Another huge wave crashed into the boat and this time swept out William O’Ryan who was rapidly swept out of sight of the others.

The Coxswain, Coastguard Clifton could no longer control the boat and the crew hung on for their lives. The next wave hit them hard and again, overturned the lifeboat which swept them all into the unforgiving seas.

Three of the courageous coastguards who were crewing the lifeboat drowned. William O’Ryan, Samuel Hart and Thomas Sullivan-chief boatman in charge of the station.

Unaware that things had gone badly the launch crew, last sighting the lifeboat on course to rescue, went to the station for shelter from the appalling weather so it was quite a while before the full extent of the tragedy was known.

The three lifeboat men were laid to rest in New Romney churchyard and the gravestones can still be visited to this day.

The remainder of the crew were Coxswain Clifton, 2nd Coxswain Walker and Coastguards Horton, Bennett, Furber, Guy, Jackson and Cowell.

The Mayors of Lydd and New Romney with their respective corporations presented the crew of the Sandal Magna with a certificate recognising their heroic efforts to save lives at sea.

William Furber, one of those who survived the tragedy, was appointed second coxswain in 1895 and coxswain the following year. He served in that role for nearly fourteen years. He went on to celebrate his 100th birthday on the 16th July 1949.

Each year volunteers from Littlestone Lifeboat Station honour those who died that day during the Remembrance service on 11 November.

130 years on the volunteer crew at Littlestone RNLI, today operating an Atlantic 85 lifeboat, continue to dedicate their time to saving lives at sea off the Kent coast.


Edward Carpenter – Wrecks and Rescues off the Romney Marsh Coast

R J Piddock – The Sandal Magna and her Noble Men

RNLI Media Contacts:

Gavin Munnings, Lifeboat Press Officer, Littlestone Lifeboat Station (07568) 719991

Paul Dunt, RNLI Regional Media Officer (07785) 296252


Littlestone crew funeral March 17 1891


Mayors certificate given to the crew of the Sandal Magna


Lyle Gun used to fire a line over a stricken vessel

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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 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.

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