Lifeboat station marks 140 years of saving those in peril on the sea

The first Eyemouth lifeboat
The first Eyemouth lifeboat

As Eyemouth lifeboat station marks 140 years of saving lives at sea, a Royal National Lifeboat Institution bronze medal awarded to a crew member in 1917 has been given to it.

In January 1876, the RNLI’s management committee approved the formation of a lifeboat station at Eyemouth and after the building and slipway had been completed at a cost of £512.

SBBN Eyemouth Lifeboat

SBBN Eyemouth Lifeboat

The first lifeboat, the James and Rachel Grindlay, was launched on October 10, 1876, five years before Black Friday and the loss of 129 Eyemouth fishermen off the Berwickshire coast.

The first lifeboat, an eight-oared righting lifeboat, measuring 30ft by 8ft, was built by Woolfe of Shadwell of London at a cost of £275, and its launching carriage cost a further £117.

Both lifeboat and its carriage were delivered by train, from London to Burnmouth railway station, and on arrival it was taken by carriage, pulled by six horses, in a grand procession through the streets of Eyemouth and then down to the beach.

William Nesbit was appointed coxswain, and the lifeboat was launched from the beach for the first time in front of 5,000 people.

Eyemouth inshore lifeboat

Eyemouth inshore lifeboat

The funding for the lifeboat had been provided out of a legacy from Mr T Grindlay, of Edinburgh, and, at the end of the inauguration ceremony for the new station, Mrs Grindlay christened the lifeboat the James and Rachel Grindlay.

The original station was replaced in 1908 with a new house, and new facilities were completed in 1992 and extended in 2010 at a cost of more than £200,000.

The station’s lifeboat has been placed in the town’s harbour afloat since the 1960s, with a pontoon berth added in 2008.

Over the years, Eyemouth lifeboats and their crews have launched hundreds of times and saved hundreds of lives.

Eyemouth Lifeboat Station

Eyemouth Lifeboat Station

One of the most dramatic was when they went to the rescue of the Norwegian schooner Livlig after it got into difficulties off the Berwickshire coast when it was caught in a severe south-easterly gale on Tuesday, March 6, 1917.

The schooner, laden with pit props, was seen from Eyemouth running under bare poles and was later seen to be in great distress off St Abbs Head, where the vessel was taking on water and on its beam end.

Its seven crew were seen hanging onto the rigging, one man having already been washed overboard and drowned when the gale took down the vessel’s main mast.

The Eyemouth lifeboat, the Anne Francis, a pulling and sailing lifeboat, under the command of coxswain William Miller, was launched into the teeth of the gale and breaking seas.

The crew of the Eyemouth lifeboat Anne Francis which went to the rescue of a Norwegian schooner in 1917, were awarded the RNLI bronze medal

The crew of the Eyemouth lifeboat Anne Francis which went to the rescue of a Norwegian schooner in 1917, were awarded the RNLI bronze medal

It took the crew over an hour to get alongside the Livlig as they struggled against the terrible conditions.

When the lifeboat reached the Livlig, the vessel was on its beam end but righted as the lifeboat approached, its crew in a desperate state, still clinging to the rigging and exhausted.

With great skill and courage, the lifeboat crew established a breeches buoy between both boats and with that, they saved all seven crew from the Livlig.

Coxswain Miller then faced a difficult decision.

The prevailing conditions would have meant risking further peril trying to enter Eyemouth, so Miller decided to head north and towards the Firth of Forth.

Heavy seas repeatedly swept clean over the lifeboat, and everyone on board suffered greatly from exposure on their passage. But, the crew, numbed by the cold, kept going, and by 9.30pm arrived in Granton.

Both the shipwrecked men and lifeboat crew were met and taken to the sailors’ home in Leith for rest and medical care.

The lifeboat crew returned to Eyemouth by train the following day, and when the weather moderated, returned to Granton and sailed the Anne Francis home.

The body of a seaman wearing oilskins and lifebelt bearing the name of the Livlig was found on the beach at Seacliffe, near Dunbar, the day after the rescue.

It was that of the crewman who had been swept overboard.

For his truly outstanding seamanship and leadership, the RNLI awarded William Miller a bronze medal.

His crew – George Lowrie, Alex Rae, Andrew Craig, William Johnstone, Robert Crombie, A Dougal, J Burgon, Robert Lough, James Dickson, John Gillie and D Young – were all given monetary awards for the part they played in the protracted rescue.

The bronze medal awarded to Miller has now been passed into the care of Eyemouth lifeboat station by his great-great-grandson John Miller.

“Never has the saying ‘boats were made of wood and men were made of steel’ been more apt than in the case of this rescue,” said a spokesperson for Eyemouth lifeboat station.

“Eyemouth lifeboat station and its crew are honoured to be the custodians of William Miller’s bronze medal and all it stands for.”

The Eyemouth RNLI lifeboat station crew continues to save lives at sea, operating two slightly more modern boats, a Trent class lifeboat, along with an IB1 inshore lifeboat. Since June 23 this year, the boats have been called on 10 times.