THE lifeboat service of Newcastle dates back to 1847, in which year a large and cumbersome boat was built in Newcastle. It was ill-adapted for the purposes for which it was intended, and in addition to the more serious purposes for which it was built was frequently used by excursion parties for picnics up the river.
On one occasion, while proceeding to a wreck, it was seriously damaged, and was afterwards sold, being subsequently converted into a sailing vessel trading between Lake Macquarie and Newcastle. It was replaced by another, built in Sydney in 1866, but from some defect in the valves and mismanagement it came to grief.
Another boat was ordered from England on the most improved principles. but finding that one was not sufficient for the work, a second boat was ordered from the old country. The former of these was sold, and the latter (our present lifeboat) has from that date till the present done excellent service in her life-saving capacity. Owing, however, to the absence of any data concerning these earlier periods of the life boat service, it is impossible to give any particulars, but from what can be gleaned it appears that during the years 1859 and 1864 upwards of 70 lives were saved.
One of the earliest coxswains was Pilot Taylor, who appears to have been suceeded by Captain Lovett; and it was on March 19, 1864, while rescuing the crew of the barque Zone, Captain Lovett was drowned, and three of the lifeboat crew died from exhaustion. In December of that year Pilot Taylor was again in command of the lifeboat, and continued so for some years.
WHEN THE LIFEBOAT ARRIVED from England in 1887 a committee was formed for the management of the two lifeboats, both of which were in commission. Sheds were erected near Nobbys, where the boats were kept ready for any emergency. The first two boats were manned by volunteers, but as this system was found unsatisfactory a new order of things was introduced and the management of the boats was placed in the hands of the following gentlemen, viz :-
An advertisement was inserted in the local papers in this month inviting applications from persons willing to man the lifeboat. In response thereto, at a meeting held later on, the following volunteered for service :- Jas. Francois, John M'Quinn, Geo. Butts, John M'Carthy, John Doran, William Trelevan, Jas. Kirkaldy, Henry Morris, Charles Smith, John Rudy, Thomas Walker, Benjamin Chamberlain, George Pierce. Edward Wood, William Oliver, David M'Farlane, William Walters, John Prentice, Thomas Hadley, Henry Malone, Francois Raymond, Thomas Trelevan, Henry Ellis, Richard Hickey, Thomas Jacksson, Joseph Francis.
On May 15, 1869, another meeting was held, when the following subscribed their names to the terms and conditions, as follow :-
' We the undersigned, agree to man the lifeboat on these conditions:
To receive for each practice 10s each, and to have not less than two practices a month, preference being given to rough weather ; 35s each to be paid in endeavouring to save life and property in ordinary weather, and 50s each in bad weather; 1st coxswain to receive £12 per annum, and the 2nd coxswain £6 per annum, and also to share alike with the crew in practices.
The practices to be taken the first and last weeks of each month. In cases where the crew are called together by signal, and are not required after attending at the shed, to receive 10s each, the same as at practice.'
The men proceeded to elect 1st and 2nd coxswain with the following result:-lst coxswain, H. Spruce; 2nd, Thos. Jackson. The names of the crew were as follow:-Henry Spruce, Thomas Jackson, William Hickey, Robert Buhl, William Ahern, Edward Beeson, William Walters, Philip Phillips, Richard Hickey, Michael O'Brien, Henry Malone, William Trelevan, Richard Keeley, and William Johnson.
Boat No. 2
At a subsequent meeting the following volunteers assembled, and stated their willingness to take charge of No. 2 boat:
Louis Hartman, H. Stanford, H. Morris, H Wilson, M. Olsen, J. Robertson, Daniel Gourlay, Charles, Harvey, William Oliver, Robert Owensworth, David Johnson, A. Wilson, J. Ducker, and H. Bond.
Upon the retirement of Messrs. Spruce and Jackson, their places were filled by Messrs. William Ahern and Richard Hickey, both of whom are still hale and hearty, and residing in Newcastle (in 1897). Mr. Spruce is also carrying on business in this city.
In 1870 Pilot Taylor was again in charge, and during March of that year the crew succeeded in saving the crew of the ketch Ino, consisting of five hands. On December 10, same year, a vessel called the Rialto struck the breakwater, and went on to the beach, and the lifeboat saved the crew. On the 18th of the same month the schooner Isabel came to grief, and the lifeboat again did excellent service in taking the crew out of her. In April, 1880, the Lovett Peacock went ashore, the crew being saved by the lifeboat under Pilot Melville. In June of the same year six of the crew of the Santa Cruz were saved. In 1881 the schooner Maggie Taylor was wrecked, and the lifeboat again proved her usefulness by rescuing all hands. In 1882 the Jonathan, and May Newton (schooners) were each in trouble, and their respective crews brought ashore by the lifeboat.
July 4, 1884, was the date of the wreck of the Susan Gilmore, which comes well within the recollection of our readers, when the crew were brought ashore by the members of the Rocket Brigade. From that date to the present (1897) no serious wrecks have occurred in which there has been any special loss of life.
IN MARCH, 1886, the lifeboat rescued two men who were in danger outside the Heads, and on September 11, 1888 proceeded to the assistance of the ketch Bellbird, the master of which vessel had been lost overboard. The next rescue effected was that of five young men who were in a perilous posi- tion in a boat on the oyster bank, and on April 27th of the same year, two men were rescued from the same place and under similar conditions. On May 27th, 1888, a boat with two small boys in it drifted outside, and the services of the lifeboat were requisitioned with successful results.
Pilot Melville, new deputy harbourmaster, occupied the position of coxwain for about three years, followed for several months by Mr. Thomas Parker, who was succeeded by Pilot Dagwell, the latter gentleman retaining charge until June 1 1891, when the present coxswain, Mr. M'Kinnon, took charge. Since this time the boat has done some good work. On the 24th of June this year the crew of the schooner Ranger were saved, and on October 4 four men were taken from the ketch Jonathan. From November 13, 1891, to May 24, 1896. eight casualties took place, and the members of the lifeboat crew were instrumental in bringing ashore 45 lives, in addition to which the rocket brigade took ashore the crew of the barque Durisdeer.
Under the existing arrangements every man who joins the Pilot Department as a boatman agrees to form one of the lifeboat crew when wanted. Beyond the first and second coxswains she has no special crew, her complement of 14 men being made up of the pilot boatmen who may be available at the time the boat's services'' are called for.-
The crew list is as follows: - Coxwain, A. M Kinnon; second coxwain, B Gow, F. Martyn, , M'Leod, E. M'Grath, A. Tait; F. Zoppi, J. Olsen, D. M'Leod, A. Costa, G. Bradshaw, T. Woods, H. Martin, J. Henderson, W. Sparkes, W. Barker, K. M'Leod, J. Ross, W. Fraser, G. Fraser, G. Adams.