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SOME LIFEBOAT STORIES:

WHITBY, YORKSHIRE 19 January 1881

After several days iof heavy snowfall, at 10.30 am on 19 January 1881 Captain Robert Gibson, Harbour Master at Whitby, received a telegram to say that a ship had sunk off Robin Hood's Bay and that her crew had taken to the ship's boat, but had been forced to drop anchor. They were unable to reach land because of very heavy seas. The severity of the wind and the seas at Whitby made it impossible for the Whitby Lifeboat to be launched and sailed around to Robin Hood's Bay so the Lifeboatmen decided to take the lifeboat the 6 miles overland to Robin Hood's Bay and launch from there. No mean feat over very narrow roads and across moorland some 500 feet above sea level in drifting snow up to 7 feet deep in places.

About 60 Whitby men were given shovels and began digging to clear the snow from the roads. Horses were hitched to the lifeboat carriage and the "Robert Whitworth" set out on her journey. Eventually some 200 men joined in the snow clearance work. Additional horses were obtained from farmers on the way, eventually numbering 18. Men from Robin Hood's Bay started from their end clearing the snow and after 2 hours the lifeboat descended the very steep hill into the village.

The crew of the lifeboat had been involved in the digging but, tired though they were, they then manned the boat and set out to rescue the stranded sailors. Before they could reach them 6 of the boat's oars and the stearing oar were smashed by a heavy wave and they had to return to shore. Whilst the oars were being replaced Cox Henry Freeman asked for volunteers to double bank the oars and the lifeboat set out with 18 men on board and after an hour and a half managed to reach the sailors in the small boat, landing them at Robin Hood's Bay at 4pm. The six rescued crew members (from the Whitby Brig "Visitor") all needed medical attention as did some of the lifeboat crew.

WHITBY, YORKSHIRE. 29 October 1914 - the "ROHILLA"

On 29 October 1914 the hospital ship "Rohilla" (7,400 tons) with 229 people on board left Queensferry for Dunkirk. At 4 am on the 30 th October she ran onto the rocks at Saltwick Nab, about a mile south of Whitby. Weather conditions were very bad and it was impossible to launch the Whitby No.1 Lifeboat and row her around to the wreck. Instead, the No 2 boat "John Fielden" which was kept afloat in the harbour was hauled over the beach to a position oposite the "Rohilla" and, despite the aweful conditions, was launched at 7am and eventually reached the wreck after great difficulty. 5 nurses and 12 men were rescued on this first trip, followed by a second trip when a further 18 men were rescued. During this second trip, though, the "John Fielden" was so badly damaged that she could not be used again.

The Upgang Lifeboat was then lowered down the vertical face of the cliffs but by this time the sea was so rough that it was decided that any attemp to reach the wreck would endin disaster.. Meanwhile telephone calls had been made to the Scarborough & the Teesmouth Lifeboat Stations asking for assistance. The Scarborough Lifeboat "Queensbury", towed by a steam trawler, arrived at Satwick Nab at 6pm but by then it was pitch dark and this combined with the severe weather and the fact that the wreck was surrounded by jagged rocks made it impossible for an attempt at rescue to be made. They waited nearby in case they could make such an attempt and the following morning they did so, after 18 hours at sea, but were driven back by the high seas. They had, then to give up the attempt and return home to Scarborough.

An attempt was made by the motorised Teesmouth Lifeboat "Bradford IV" to make the 22 mile journey to Saltwick, but she was badly damaged in the attempt and her crew had to be rescued by a tug.

On Saturday 31 October 1914 at 7am the "Robert & Mary Ellis" of Whitby was launched into Whitby harbour and Cox Thomas Langlands took her out to sea to await the arrival of the steam trawler "Mayfly" from Hartlepool which was to tow her to the wreck. Unfortunately they could get no closer than half a mile from the wreck and had to return to Whitby.

The Upgang Lifeboat "William Riley" was then launched at 9am but after an hour of battling with the seas Cox Robinson and his exhausted crew had to give up the attempt.

It was now quite clear that only a motor Lifeboat was going to be able to effect any further rescue attempt and the ""Henry Vernon" from Tynemouth (44 miles north) was called upon. At 4.15 pm on 31 October she set out from Tynemouth under Cox Robert Smith, with assistance from 2nd Cox James Brownlee and Captain H.E.Burton, Honorary Superintendent at Tynemouth.. They arrived at Whitby at 1 am on 1 November and at 6.30am set out with Whitby 2nd Cox Richard Eglon as Pilot and assisted by Lieutenant Basil Hall RN, District Inspector of Lifeboats. About 200 yards from the wreck the Lifeboat discharged a large quantity of oil into the water to cam the huge waves, then went in to attempt the rescue. They managed to get some 40 men on board the Lifeboat before both the "Rohilla" and it were hit by two huge waves. However, she managed to rescue an additional 10 men from the wreck - 50 in all.

In total, of the 229 people on board the "Rohilla", 84 were lost. Several of those involved in the rescue attempts received RNLI Medals - Gold to Cox Thomas Langlands of Whitby, Cox Robert Smith of Tynemouth & Captain Burton of Tynemouth; Silver to 2nd Cox Richard Eglon of Whitby, 2nd Cox James Brownlee of Tynemouth, Lieutenant Basil Hall & George Peart, who had repeatedly helped men who had managed to swim ashore from the wreck; RNLI Thanks on Vellum were awarded to Cox Pounder Robinson of Upgang & 2nd Cox T.Kelly of Upgang; monetary awards were made to all the Lifeboatmen involved and to the crews of the two trawlers which had acted as tugs.

For more information on the Rohilla and pictures of the ship go to Merchant Navy Officers Com by clicking this link