Seafaring treasure to raise vital funds for RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

A 19th century silver casket, awarded to one of the North East’s most famous sons, is among artefacts set to raise hundreds of pounds for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) when they go to auction this week.

Courtesy of Newcastle Libraries

John Foster Spence

The casket was presented in 1894 to John Foster Spence by the Borough of Tynemouth, “with the Honorary Freedom of The Borough, in Recognition of His Many Eminent Services.”

It is being placed for auction on Thursday (28 October) by 90-year-old Jean Marsden from Sheffield, a descendant of John Foster Spence, at Sheffield Auction Gallery, with all proceeds going to support the lifesaving charity.

John Foster Spence (1818-1901) was a philanthropist who spent most of his life serving the community where he'd been born, becoming a Councillor, Mayor, Alderman and Magistrate. During six decades of public service he represented the Royal Humane Society, campaigned for the abolition of slavery and was a driving force behind the formation of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade in 1864, earning the title "The Grand Old Man of Shields". [1]

Also up for auction are a Naval dress sword and memorabilia belonging to Jean’s uncle, also called John Foster Spence, and the great-grandson of the Alderman.

‘The sea was my uncle’s life - from becoming a Cadet at the age of 15, serving in World War Two and finally joining the Royal Navy Recruitment Office. He also escorted Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on their first overseas tour of Australia. He would be later warded the BEM and mentioned in Dispatches.

‘John also spent many hours in the water after his ship was torpedoed and on another occasion saw his brother Robin’s ship sunk in the Channel. He too was mercifully saved. John would have known what it was to be saved by brave rescuers and always supported the RNLI. With this in mind I thought how lovely if the casket and naval sword could raise funds for the RNLI in these difficult times’.

Ben Black, Regional Fundraising Lead, added: ‘We’re incredibly grateful to Jean for donating the proceeds from these amazing items. A seafaring tradition clearly runs deep in her family and she is rightly proud of her ancestors.

‘The RNLI relies upon public donations and legacies to keep our volunteers afloat and provide them with the kit and equipment to save lives at sea. With face to face fundraising still affected by the pandemic, the generosity of people like Jean is more important than ever.’

Notes to Editors

[1] Historical information provided by Michael Coates

Photo of John Foster Spence courtesy of Newcastle Libraries

Photo of casket courtesy of Sheffield Auction Gallery

RNLI media contacts

For more information please telephone Clare Hopps, RNLI Regional Media Officer on 07824 518641 or Clare_Hopps@rnli.org.uk or RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.


Sheffield Auction Gallery

The sliver casket

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 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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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

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