Remarkable story of largest rescue in RNLI history told in 200 Voices podcast
Five years before the Titanic, the biggest rescue in RNLI history resulted in 456 lives saved. Galen Bartholomew a descendant of two survivors, plunges listeners into towering seas as he tells the story in the latest 200 Voices episode The Finest 16 Hours.
On 17 March 1907, the White Star Line steamship the Suevic ran aground against the rocks of the Maenheere Reef, a quarter of a mile off Lizard Point in Cornwall. Sixty volunteer crew from Cadgwith, Coverack, The Lizard and Porthleven rowed back and forth for 16 hours to rescue the passengers and ship’s crew.
Not a single life was lost and the lifeboat volunteers’ incredible courage and perseverance saved 456 lives that day – the greatest number of people saved in any RNLI rescue and a remarkable record that still stands today.
From newspaper stories to official reports, Galen Bartholomew, whose great-aunt and great-grandmother had been survivors of the Suevic, reveals the moving details he is still uncovering – and shares his growing admiration for the RNLI volunteers, steamship crew and local people who ensured every single life was saved.
Six of the rescuers, including two Suevic crew members, were awarded Silver Medals by the RNLI to honour their actions that night. Galen says:
‘They had to climb down the side of the Suevic on rope ladders. And the official history states:
“They carried the children down the rope ladders and when the lifeboats, which were surging up and down, rose on the waves – dropped them into the arms of the lifeboatmen who tended them, until the mothers were lowered over the side and steadied by the men, were also skilfully dropped into the boats.”
‘It must have been a very frightening experience for everyone involved.’
But it wasn’t just the lifeboat crewmen who performed heroic actions that day, as Galen explained the important role the local community played in helping the rescue efforts:
‘We also should pay tribute to the Cornish folk, mainly women, who gave a warm welcome to those arriving on the beach following rescue. They had actually lit a fire on Cadgwith Beach to guide the lifeboats but also to provide light and heat, and the West Briton wrote:
“The bravery and self-sacrifice of the women of Cadgwith came in for much commendation. They worked like slaves turning the winch which drew the lifeboats ashore and one woman was most heroic, rushing into the sea to her waist and carrying the children ashore. The pluck displayed by the women was simply grand.”
The RNLI’s 200 Voices podcast is releasing a new episode every day for 200 days, in the run-up to the charity’s bicentenary on 4 March 2024, exploring captivating stories from the charity’s history and through to the current day.
The charity has been saving lives at sea since it was founded in 1824 and, in that time, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 144,000 lives. Funded by voluntary donations, and with lifeboats crewed by specially-trained volunteers, the RNLI is a truly unique rescue organisation with a remarkable 200-year story to tell – many highlights of which are shared through the podcast series.
Available across all podcast platforms and the RNLI’s website, listeners can hear from survivors, supporters, volunteers, lifeguards, celebrity ambassadors, historians and many more from across the UK and Ireland – and beyond.
To find out more about the RNLI’s bicentenary, visit www.RNLI.org/200.
Notes to Editor:
- Upcoming episode previews are available upon request.
- An audio trailer for 200 Voices can be downloaded here and a video trailer can be downloaded here.
- Find out more about the RNLI’s bicentenary at RNLI.org/200.
- Upcoming October episodes connected to the south west:
o RNLI Cornwall: Kurt Jackson
o Trapped Underwater: Frank Smith
o The Night Before Kitting Up: Ken Gollop
o Future Lifesaver: Finlay Hassall.
- Catch up on all previous episodes by visiting RNLI.org/200Voices .
RNLI media contacts
For more information about the 200 Voices podcast series and upcoming episodes, contact Claire Fitzpatrick-Smith, RNLI Regional Media Officer, on [email protected] or 07977 728 315.
Alternatively you can RNLI Press Office on [email protected] or 01202 336789.
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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