Page Contents


Early History - details from 1770 to 1820 to build a lighthouse to prevent shipwrecks at the southern end of the Isle of Man

The Wreck of HMS Racehorse - details of the rescue of 100 Navy seamen by men from Castletown on 15th December 1822

The Birth of the Lifeboat Service - Sir William Hillary and his actions to form a National lifeboat rescue service during years 1823 to 1825

Castletown Lifeboat Station formation - 1826 and the first 4 recorded services by the lifeboat

Earl of Roden Service - Silver Medal winning service by Castletown lifeboat in 1828 which saves over 60 lives

Looting of Wrecks the problems of 1830's; rescues in the period up to 1852 and slow collapse of the Lifeboat organisation

1856 - 1865 A Peake self - righting lifeboat The re-established Station under the modern RNLI


1885 - 1896 RNLB "HOPE"

1896 - 1922. RNLB "THOMAS BLACK" Castletowns final lifeboat and events upto the Stations closure in 1922

The Early history

The southern tip of the Isle of Man has long been a dangerous place to shipping with powerful tidal currents which sweep around its tip and a coastline dominated by 300 foot cliffs.

During the days of sail the number of wrecks seems almost unbelievable. In one year, 1795, no less than nine ships, some of considerable size were wrecked between the Calf and Langness. Between 1822 and 1842 at least 52 vessels were reported as wrecked between the Calf and Derbyhaven Bay. In eight wrecks noted by the Advocate Robert Kelly in his list of 1842, 92 lives were lost., the worst example being the loss of the Brig "Robert" at Langness Point in 1823 with 43 lives.

It is impossible to write of the early life boats of the Isle of Man without mention of Sir William Hillary, the founder of the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, later to become the Royal National Lifeboat Institution; the "RNLI". The name is synonymous with Douglas Bay and the Isle of Man, for it is in Douglas Bay that his attention was drawn to the plight of seafarers drowning within yards of the safety of the shore and within the sight of hapless bystanders.

However, Sir William was not the first to realise the importance of having a means of rescue form shipwreck. The Duke of Atholl, Governor of the Isle of Man was aware of the Great Herring fleet disaster of September, 1787 when between fifty and sixty boats with at least 161 dead were wrecked at the entrance of Douglas Harbour ( effectively the current inner harbour at Douglas ) whilst attempting gain safety from a south easterly storm.

The Duke been long involved with the safe navigation of vessels around the southern shore of the Island and the Calf of Man in particular. In 1771 a number of gentlemen, officers of the Crown and merchants of Castletown had given consideration to the erection of a proper lighthouse in a southern position 'most advantageous to Navigators of the channels'. Debate was whether that should on Langness or the Calf of Man and had written to the Duke to that effect.

There is an early reference in 1771 to two small coal burning lighthouses , one opposite the Burroo and another situated at the highest point of the island at Bushells House. However how long they had been there, or whom built them is not known, but if they did indeed exist their light would have not been visible from any great distance and their use would be entirely local.

During that year a John Quayle wrote to the Duke with a proposal to build a lighthouse on Langness as a private venture, if ship owners agreed to a levy for light dues. However most Liverpool owners did not favour Langness at all and preferred the Calf because of its more favourable height. The Duke agreed that the Calf was the more favourable site however it was another twenty five years before there was any action.

In 1797 a Mr Colquhorn wrote a memorandum to the Duke for consideration by the Public in which he put the case for a lighthouse on the Calf again on the grounds of its better elevation and greater coverage of surrounding sea with views from the east , south to North Wales, west to Ireland and north up to the Mull of Galloway. He advocated a double light so that it would be easily distinguish from those on surrounding coasts. However his plea lapsed and yet more time went by before the cause was taken up again. In 1800 the Duke ordered a copy of the Henry Greathead lifeboat the "Original" which had been built in 1789 for use at South Sheilds.It was 30ft 10 ins long and powered by 8 oars and was delivered to Douglas via Liverpool three years later in July 1803 .The Duke was a member of the Humane Society, which was then backing the development and provisions of lifeboats and since he frequently travelled to the Island with his family, it must have proved comforting to know assistance would be at hand should a mishap be fall them.

In 1813 a Captain Cotton wrote to the Duke of Athol to inform him that the first step would be for the shipping trade to inform Trinity House of the need for a lighthouse. It was another two years before the Commissioners of Northern Lights wrote to the Duke stating that their attention had been drawn to the great hazard to shipping several times and were prepared to remedy the defect. They had sufficient funds and engineers to construct a suitable lighthouse without having to rely on light dues from shipping and would await the Dukes views. It took a further two years before the Duke offered ten acres of land on a yearly rental of ten pounds. Work proceeded a pace from June 1817 and ten months later on 1st February 1818 the lights of two lighthouses were lit. These were built so that the line of their lights pointed to the Chickens Rock approximately a mile offs hore.

Meanwhile the Dukes' Lifeboat had lasted eleven years before it was broke from its moorings one night in mid December 1814 during a south east gale and was dashed to pieces at Douglas Head. This was symptomatic of the lack of support devoted to lifeboats throughout Britain were services had been set up on an ad hoc bases by local philanthropic backers or economically motivated agencies such as docks and harbour authorities. Unfortunately neither the Government of the United Kingdom nor the Isle of Man were prepared to accept responsibility. After all Britain was involved in a long war with France and Napoleon. It was against this background that Sir William Hillary, the son of a Yorkshire Quaker who had married a Manx lady in 1813, found himself in the early 1820's when he first started to form the idea of a nationally organised body for the saving of life form the sea.

The life and times of Sir William are well covered in Robert Kellys' book "For those in Peril" and the early formation of the RNIPLS in Grahame Farrs' "The Early Manx Lifeboats".

However, the events which overtook Sir William on the 6th October 1822, when he was involved in his first sea rescue where he successfully took charge of one of several boats which rescued the Government cutter "Vigilant" from the rocks of St Marys Isle and in the saving of at least ten other vessels with no less than 84 lives, were to have a profound effect on the inhabitants of Castletown a couple of months later.

The Wreck of HMS Racehorse

On 14th december, H M S " Racehorse",an 18-gun brig under the command of Captain W B Suckling, left Milford Haven "in gallant trim" with orders to proceed to Douglas and convoy the crippled but then partially repaired cutter "Vigilant" back to England. She was 3 85 tons and it appeared a routine mission which would get the crew back in home port in time for Christmas. The weather was good, the sky clear and a fair breeze promised a speedy passage.

She made the Calf of Man lights at 5am and the loom of the south of the Isle of Man and another set of lights shortly afterwards. The pilot notified the Captain that the lights of Douglas pierhead were visible when in fact he had mistaken them for the lights of Castletown. Captain Suckling failed to realise to little time had elapsed between the sightings of the lights and in the dark gave orders to haul to the wind with the brigs head offshore and to reef the top sails as they made for what they presumed was Douglas.

Suddenly the "Racehorse " gave a violent lurch and then stopped, struck on the 'Skerranes' , rocks at the southern tip of Langness. Immediately the brigs small cutter was ordered to launch with the intention of streaming out an anchor onto deeper water so that the brig could swing on it and draw herself into deeper water. The cutter was got out with great difficulty owing to the high sea that was running, but as this was attempted it was realised the ship was badly holed ,taking water fast and would not survive.

Hope lay in rescue . Distress rockets and the cannons were fired and blue flares ignited on deck but Captain Suckling doubted whether they would attract anyone in Castletown over a mile away. He ordered the second larger cutter over the side with Lieutenant Mallack and seventeen of the crew to man the oars. Their orders to row to Castletown and seek help. Soon after the ships galley set out manned by Mr Curtis , the purser, Mr Edwards, a midshipmen and more crew to row into the gully at Fort Island, from where the men could land, and proceed to Castletown for help. Both boats reached land at about the same time.

In the meantime the flood tide continued to rise and heavy seas were sweeping right over the brig. With all hopes of saving the vessel now gone efforts were concentrated on saving the remainder of the crew as a storm began to break.

Those who had got ashore had managed to rouse the town and local boatmen had mustered five boats whilst casting their eyes to the skies which showed a storm coming. It was now a race against time for approaching the point of Langness the rescuers found such a state of turbulance around the brig that all but one boat were forced to turn back for their own safety.

The crew of this boat pressed onwards refusing to acknowledge defeat either it was daring or recklessness that drove them on to their goal, but the boat plunged through the surf around the brig and got close enough to enable some of the crew to jump aboard. The boatmen pushed away and reached the sho re unscathed where the naval seamen scrambled ashore.

Then the boat turned back into the raging sea and managed to once more get alongside the "Racehorse" were yet more crew leapt for their lives into the boat which then returned ashore. A third and a fourth time the crew of the shore boat turned back into the seas and managed to get alongside the brig cheating tragedy many times to save the majority of the crew.

It was on the fifth and final trip back to the brig that misfortune struck hard. The boat had managed to get alongside the "Racehorse" and the last of the crew and Captain Suckling had got aboard, they pushed off away from the wreck and a large wave crashed over the boat. It had happened before and she had somehow weathered it, but this time she was swamped and sank quickly. In a moment the men were treading water in affrighting white turbulence around the rocks. There were cries of help , then no more.......

Somehow Captain Suckling and First Lieutenant Falknor found them selves on the shingle beach ; both barely alive and insensible. Several of the rescuers were also tossed ashore but six members of the "Racehorse" crew and three of the Castletown rescuers had died; 100 lives had been saved by their actions..

It was a numbing tragedy. The local dead were Robert Quayle, Thomas Hall and Norris Bridson. They left behind two widows, a sister and twelve children. Sir William soon heard of the news and convinced him that there was an implicit responsibility on socie ty to ensure that those who answer the call of that greater commitment should be amply protected.

A public subscription was opened for the families and the Governor of the Island gave instructions for the immediate payment of 3 shillings 6 pence per week to the two widows and 2 shillings to the dependent sister. Later the Admiralty donated 84 pounds as pensions for the dependants.

The Birth of the RNLI

That Christmas Sir William gave shape to the idea which led in February 1823 to a document of historic importance and the fore runner of the notion of a National Lifeboat Service, it was 'An Appeal to the British Nation on the Humanity and Policy of forming a National Institution for the preservation of Lives and Property from Shipwreck' and it was sent to the Admiralty.

The months pasted by and nothing was heard. A minute of the Admiralty Digest of that year revealed the official attitude. Someone had written on the original letter "I Have wrung over this and I think what it advocates is worthy at least of consideration and should not be at once negatived...." and also "I should not deem it at all necessary for the Admiralty to take any immediate lead with respect to it."

Sir William made a second Appeal during November of that year to circulate every principal maritime power in Europe and America. Perseverance paid off with his funding of three more editions and on 12 February 1824, at the City of London Tavern a preliminary meeting was held under the chair of the liberal M P for Southwark, London, Thomas Wilson into the formation of a national lifeboat institute.

Wilson had convinced Sir William that such an institution stood a greater chance of being formed not by the intervention of the Admiralty which was slow to adopt new ideas but rather by direct appeal to the general public and the nobility of the land for the financial support that was to be needed. Later, perhaps the Government would be approached when it had been shown that such an institution was invaluable.

A second meeting was held on the 25th February to form the proposed institute but at that meeting it was agreed to defer the inaugural meeting to 4th March. On that date at the Tavern in Bishopgate Street, the founders confirmed their patronage's and tabled resolutions dealing with the formation and future operation of the institution under the chairmanship of the then Archbishop of Canterbury. The association was called "The National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck"; King George IV was the first patron, the then Prime Minister its first president and the Dukes of Sussex, York, Clarence, Cambridge and Gloucester, vice-presidents. Among those who attended the meeting were the Archbishop of York , the bishops of London, Durham, Bath and Wells, William Wilberforce, the campaigner against the slave trade and several parliamentarians.

Since Sir William had his permanent home in the Isle of Man and was out of immediate contact with the new London headquarters, he was not elected as the first chairman. However before the inaugural meeting closed a unanimous vote of thanks was conferred on him for his efforts in bring the subject to the public attention.

He returned to the Isle of Man and on 22 June 1824 wrote a proposal for the formation of an Isle of Man District Association to the newly formed Institution with lifeboats and mortars proposed to be placed at Douglas, Castletown, Peel, Ramsey, and jointly Port Erin / Port St Mary. This was over optimistic and the Committee of the Institution was finding contributions hard to come by. However he got his way on one point and the first lifeboat ordered by the Institution was given into his charge for the Isle of Man.

During October 1824 an editorial in 'The Sun' announced that the Institution had presented Sir William with a 22ft long boat for use in the Isle of Man together with two sets of Captain Manbys line throwing mortars. It also noted that two more boats had been offered to be built for use in the Island if the inhabitants will bear half the cost.

What Sir William failed to point out to the Institution was that there was another lifeboat already being built for Douglas paid for by subscriptions raised in the wake of the "Vigilant" rescue and the loss of the "Racehorse". The Greathead lifeboat built in Sunderland arrived in Douglas in November 1824 and was named "True Blue".

Castletown Lifeboat Station formation

On 13th December 1825 a meeting was held under the chairmanship of the High Bailiff J Quirk to arrange a public meeting to implement a District Association of the RNIPLS. Under a month later, on 6th January 1826, it was founded at a packed Castletown Court House in Castle Rushen.

At that meeting were all the members of Tynwald, most of the judiciary and a large number of Naval and Military officers and gentlemen with the Lieutenant Governor Cornelius Smelt presiding as chairman. Sir William proposed, and Robert Steuart, Receiver- General, seconded, the principal motion. - 'That this meeting, having taken into consideration the extremely dangerou s nature of the coasts of the Isle of Man, and the frequency of shipwreck thereon, .... that immediate measures should be taken, ... to avert that dreadful calamity within the jurisdiction of the Island.' Other resolutions concerned the title of the association, and its government, subscriptions, the members of the Committee, and other matters. Sir William was unanimously elected as President.

At a General Meeting of the new Association , held in March, a local committee for Castletown district wa s made. George Quirk, Water Bailiff, as Chairman, Captain Quilliam, RN,HK, as Deputy Chairmen; Robert Cuninghame, HK, Treasurer; and R Kelly, High Bailiff, Hon. Secretary, together with a committee of fourteen. At the same meeting officials were appointed for a Douglas committee and also for one for Ramsey District.

Also in mid March a new lifeboat arrived, the first Castletown lifeboat.

This was the second of Sir William Hillarys' Plenty type lifeboats to be set up in the Island. She arrived on board H.M. Cutter "Bramble".

She was 22' 6" long by 6' 5" beam, pulling 6 oars built by William Plenty at Newbury, Berkshire for the sum of 130 pounds . No plans or models exist of early Plenty lifeboats but one contemporary painting exists of a boat built for Skegness does. The essential features were the large internal aircases, thick cork sheathing on the outside lower hull and a missing strake just under the rails to facilitate the rolling out of water.

On 18th May the foundation stone for the Castletown lifeboathouse was laid by the Lieutenant Governor. The boathouse was built on a site just outside the walls of Castle Rushen overlooking the inner basin by the 'Gluepot' Hotel, by a Mr Brine for the sum of 25 pounds 8shillings and 1pence .

The first two services came on the same day, the 11th February, 1827 to two vessel in difficulties in Derbyhaven Bay. The vessels were the " John & William " of Douglas, and the " Jane " of Port St Mary.Unfortunately, no report of what assistance was given in newspaper reports of the time.

At a Meeting of the local Committee, under the Chairmanship of J Quillam , held on the 27th of that month, it was resolved that the sum of two pounds severn shillings and sixpence to the crew, Robert Corrin, Thomas Corrin, Thomas Shimin, John Cangherty, James Kelly, Samuel Skeally, John Brew, John Hyde, Thomas Fargher - viz. 5s each. Samuel Skeally was appointed coxswain of the Lifeboat.

The third service of the winter for the new Lifeboat occurred on 3 April 1827 when according to the newspaper, The Sun, she went to a wreck near Santon Head . Early on that Thursday morning accounts were received of a brig in distress northwar of Derbyhaven and drifting towards Santon Head . The Lifeboat was conveyed on her carriage by horses to Derbyhaven were she was launched. It took an hour for the lifeboat to reach Santon Head, they found the upper parts of the masts of the vessel above the water about 150 yards from the steep and inaccessable point surrounded with a dangerous surf ; but unfortunately , the search to discover any of the crew proved in vain. Then being unable to return to Derbyhaven due to the set of the tide and the southerly gale, they took two sails from the wreck ( marked " Dadshan, sail maker, Whitehaven ") and at eight o'clock at night reached Douglas harbour , after having been ten hours at sea. The crew were accommodated by Douglas Lifeboat Committee and on Saturday the crew returned the Lifeboat to Castletown.

Early on the following Thursday morning a boat without anybody on board had been observed to drift across Douglas bay from the south. A messenger was sent from Douglas along the coast and returned later with the observation that the Castletown Lifeboat was already at the scene. The brig was thought to be a loaded collier from Whitehaven but an identity was never established.

Earl of Roden Service

The next service was her first recorded effective service. On the night of 7 th December 1828 she took part in a rescue off Derbyhaven where the Liverpool steam packet "Earl of Roden" had stranded on rocks. The lifeboat was launched at one o'clock on the morning of the 8th in a heavy sea, the night being dark and stormy. George Quirk, the Water Bailiff; Thomas Brine, Lloyd's agent; and William Henry Carrington, Comptroller of Customs, supplemented the lifeboat crew. Unfortunately the surf prevented them from getting closer than forty yards from the casualty. Some sixty passengers where on board, mostly Irish labourers, and they had 'become turbulent' so the master and crew had great difficulty in preventing them from jumping overboard. One or two of them had firearms which they were firing into the air and making a great outcry. The gentlemen in the lifeboat managed to persuade the passengers that the tide was falling and the vessel would undoubtedly hold together until low water, assuring them that the lifeboat would remain in attendance. By six o'clock all were landed safely.

The lifeboats' crew received cash rewards and the three volunteers, George Quirk Thomas Brine and William Henry Carrington, the Silver medal of the Institution. The "Earl of Roden" was refloated on 22 December.

The Manks Advertiser gave the following graphic account on the 15th December 1829 of Lifeboat assistance to the brig "Eleanor".

' The brig Eleanor of Liverpool, James Inch, master, sailed from Liverpool on Friday last [ 11th December ] with a cargo of salt , bound for Brazil. She was at night overtaken by a violent gale from the S.W., and sprung a leak while lying to about three o 'clock on Saturday morning. All hands at the pumps, found the water so fast increasing that the pumps were literally choaked, and did their best to bear up for the nearest port.Thay made the Calf, distant about four leagues N.N.E. Bearing on to the eastward to reach Douglas harbour, they were arrested by a heavy seawhich overwhelned them half mast high, washed the second mate and two of the crew overboard but theybeing in the lurch of the brig, regained her. The sea was tremendous, bearing away the bulwarks , round house, boats, galley, spars etc and cast the brig on her beam ends. In a few minutes however she righted; but the leak having again increased to an alarming extent, she became unmanageable, and the captain for safety ran the vessel on a sandy beach in Castletown Bay. This expedient was most providentially pointed out to him by the crews of the Lifeboat and two others who went to their aid. When the brig struck she had six feet water in her hold. All the crew were saved but it is feared that the wreck can never be got off. '

At Castletown, where support had dwindled, a new committee was set up in 1835.

However details of the new committe are not known and the history of the Castletown Lifeboat is vague during this period but it seems that there was little interest in the ideals for which Sir William Hillary had set up a Lifeboat service.

February 1837 a schooner, the " William Mclay " of Wick was wrecked on Langness Point during thick fog. The crew was saved the next day by a boat from Castletown. However it is not known whether this was the Lifeboat.

The following year during March, the brig, " Industry " form Whitehaven was driven ashore in Castletown Bay with the loss of five of her crew.

Looting of Wrecks

In reports of the time, the practice of looting the wreck seems to have come before that of saving of lives.

' At daybreak, the unfortunate crew were discovered in their perilous situation by some people who live on the Point of Langness. Our unfortunate fellow creatures, who were clinging to whatever they imagined secure, could see two men and two women busily securing part of the wreck that had washed ashore.; and they could also witness the departure of a man on horseback, going , as they fondly hoped, to give alarm. The inhabitants of Castletown and its vicinity know how this messenger acted. Where the lifeboat , and the oars belonging to her, were kept, the gentlemen connected with the " Society for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck " ought to have been aware. She could not be got ready, and therefore those individuals who were anxious to render assistance were compelled to seek a life-preserving boat wherever they could find.'

In the end a boat was obtained and Mr Brine jnr., ( the son of T Brine, the Lloyd's agent ) and five others set of for the " Industry". Before they arrived, they saw the master of the vessel drop from the rock he was clinging to into the foaming seas and was lost. They did manage to save two other crewmen named Robert Gelling and J Dreury were were in a very exhausted state but later recovered.

In an ealier episode of the plundering of wrecks, that of the cargo of the brig " John Fairfield" in November 1834; armed soldiers had to be posted along the shore line. Such was the frenzy of looters to take a part of the vessel 50,000 pound cargo of blankets, linen, calicoes, lamps, fowling guns etc that one of them was fatally shot by the guards of the wreck.

In that incident, Mr T Brine, the Lloyds agent who took charge of the wreck appointed one John Kelly to use his small boat to help guard the wreck from a number of boats which attempted to get alongside it. It is likely that this was the same John Kelly who was a crewman on the Lifeboat. ( see the wreck of the " Arion " below )

The Manx Sun reported that on the 20th April 1844, the " Success" from Arklow to Whitehaven in ballast was driven ashore in Castletown Bay; the crew were saved with difficulty by the Lifeboat. The vessel has become a total wreck.

In March 1845 Sir William Hillary attended his last public function and died two years later.

In early July 1846, the Lifeboat was called out when the schooner " Arion " of Workington struck the rocks at Langness Point.

The Manx Sun reported that at 11 pm one evening a gun and light could be seen through a heavy fog from a position near Langness Point. The veteran crew members, John Kelly and Mark Fell got immediate help and launched the Lifeboat when a number of young men had volunteered their services. They then rowed through the heavy swell to the light which was within a few yards of the breakers. When the vessel was hailed it proved to be the "Arion" of Workington, 83 tons registered, James Gambls, master, in ballast bound for Dublin.

Her crew had not seen Langness in the fog and had lost their way. On seeing a rocky shore very near, they dropped both anchors and made distress signals which were fortunately seen, however she had struck the rocks once before the Lifeboat arrived. Immediately some of the Lifeboat crew went on board to act as pilots. Thus the "Arion" made sail after slipping her anchors and was worked into the Bay until high water when she was safely brought into Castletown Harbour.

The Manx Sun of 26th December 1846, reported that the Lifeboat was called upon when the " Barbara " of Conway struck the Lhea Reo reef in the middle of Castletown Bay.

The vessel had been bound for Douglas but during the night they had failed to spot the Douglas Head lighthouse and had sailed into Castletown Bay in error. They struck the Lhea Reo rocks and began to take water quickly. The vessel lit distress flares and the Lifeboat was soon launched. Some of the Lifeboat crew boarded the vessel and with great difficulty managed to bring her into the harbour channel. Whilst trying to warp the vessel into the quay, it drifted ashore on the east side of the harbour where it remained until the next tide. The damage was bad enough that the vessel was under water on each tide.

On Sunday morning 5th March 1848 the 40ft long smack "Stag" of Douglas, bound from Douglas to Runcorn put into Castletown for shelter. She cast her anchor in the Bay, but soon the wind increased and within a short time the anchor chain of the smack parted. Unable to make headway in the open sea the crew ran her onto the rocks just outside the new pier. People on shore, seeing the danger the crew was in, launched the Lifeboat, faced by boiling surf, and succeeded in rescuing the crew. As the tide flowed she drifted into the harbour, where is became wrecked.This is the last known service of the first Castletown lifeboat.

By 1852 the Northumberland Report, stated that all four Lifeboat stations, including Castletown (the others being Douglas, Peel and Ramsey), which Hillary had set up had closed down as their boats had decayed beyond repair.

1856 - 1865 A Peake self - righting lifeboat Details of each service by the Peake self righter

A new generation of Manx lifeboats began with the re-establishment of the Castletown station in August 1856. In the previous November, Captain Ward, RN, Inspector for the newly titled RNLI visited the town following reports of many wrecks in the vicinity. The Governor of the Island told him 'a lifeboat is more needed at this end than at other parts'. The first lifeboat was a Peake self-righter, 27 ft long, weighing 2 tons and pulling 8 oars, built by Forrestt at Limehouse, London, in 1853 for the Newcastle, Co. Down station at a cost of 135 pounds sterling. With her carriage she was moved to Castletown at the end of July Mr James Burman was appointed the Hon. Secretary to the station.

Service record:


Name of Casualty

Cause of Service

15 Nov 1858 Lugger "Queen of the Isles" Adverse conditions Saved 4
30 Aug 1858 Smack "Jabez" of Greenock Adverse conditions - WSW storm Saved 3
30 Aug 1859 Brig "Opreisingen" of Arendal Ran aground under King Williams College / Hango Hill, Castletown Bay Saved 3
19 Nov 1859 Brig "Ohio" of Stettin Dragged anchors and ran aground at Kentraugh Saved 4
9 Feb 1861 Lugger "Nimrod" of Castletown   Saved 3
23 Nov 1861 Schooner "Eliza Ann" of Dublin Adverse conditions - in difficulties in Derbyhaven Bay Saved 5
22 May 1864 Schooner "Water Lily" of Pwllheli Adverse conditions- schooner sank off Fort Island shortly after her crew were rescued Saved 5

In 1861 there was a magnificent service rendered to the schooner "Eliza Ann" of Dublin on the 23rd November.

The weather, as reported in Douglas, was showing the island was in the centre of a deep depression of 989 Mb, with a minimum temperature of -1 c , a maximum temperature of 1.5 c gale force winds from the south west which then went round to the north east and showery.

The Monas Herald of the 27th reported this vivid account....

"Castletown Bay presented a fearful but magnificent spectacle during the storm; the waves rolled in like mountains, enveloping the rocks and the strand in foam. A vessel was seen in the offing driving before the sea, and would probably be the vessel which was seen off Douglas in distress. About three o'clock in the afternoon a messenger arrived from Derbyhaven for the Lifeboat, a schooner which had taken shelter in that bay in the morning having exhibited a flag of distress. The Lifeboat was quickly dispatched, under the superintendence of the Rev. E. Ferrier, Government chaplain, who accompanied the boat to Derbyhaven ( the Rev. gentleman always takes a lively interest in the such matters). The gale raged at this time with such violence that it was impossible for human agency to row any description of boat against it; hence the Life boat was taken to the head of the Fort Island, where the crew dropped anchor, and drifted down towards the schooner. When they got alongside the schooner they found the crew ( poor fellows !) about to commit themselves to the small boat, having launched it and put a few things into it. Had they put off from the schooner they must inevitably have perished, as it would have been impossible for a boat to have lived in the sea on such a rock-bound coast as lay to leeward. The vessel rode out the gale, as it moderated after high water."

On the same night another schooner called "Eliza" from Newry was forced ashore at Groudle with the loss of her mate and two crew ; the master and ships boy being able to save themselves.

It was reported at the same time that Douglas was with out a Lifeboat ( the station having closed down in 1851 ) and that had one been available that the loss of lives at Groudle could possibly have been avoided . Elsewhere round the island that many vessels were sheltering off Ramsey where four smacks were driven ashore and a schooner smashed in to another smack resulting in the loss of one.

Also during 1861 Mr J Burman resigned as Hon. Secrretary and Mr H C Gill appointed in his place.

In 1863 William Callow was appointed Coxswain of the lifeboat.

In 1865 the lifeboat is reported as having dry rot and was withdrawn from service. She had made 8 service calls, 7 of which were effective in saving 26 lives.


Once the Peake lifeboat was found to have had dry rot, the RNLI were quick to act. A Prowse 'Medium' boat was sent to the station. She was built of mahogany by Forrestt, Limehouse, London in 1865 for the sum of 253 pounds sterling. She was 32 ft. long by 7 ft 6 ins beam and pulled 10 oars.

The cost of the boat was from collections made by commercial travellers primarily around the Midlands and the North West of England and chiefly by Messrs R Affleck of Manchester and W Bishop of Boston.

The boat was named "Commercial Traveller No.2" in the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield. Firstly the lifeboat and carriage were taken through the streets of Sheffield and thence to the gardens were it was exhibited to thousands of spectators. After a brief address from the mayor, and a prayer of blessing from the Rev. Canon D D Sale, Mr Bishop formally presented the lifeboat to the Institution. Afterwards the boat was named by the daughter of the Mayor of the city, Miss Jessop.. During the evening a banquet was held to celebrate the event and also to help raise funds for another lifeboat to be named "Sheffield". ( This boat was another Prowse lifeboat which was stationed at Runswick, N Yorkshire, in 1866 )

The new lifeboats first effective service was to wait over two years until 1868. On January 18th she went to the aid of the schooner "Maria" of Newport, Monmouthshire.

Service record: Details of each service by RNLB Commercial Traveller No. 2


Name of Casualty

Cause of Service

18 Jan 1868 Schooner "Maria" of Newport Adverse conditions - dismasted and dragging anchors in Derbyhaven Bay Saved 5
4 Dec 1868 Schooner "Vision" of Drogheda SW gale ran aground at Strand Hall, Carrick Bay Saved 5
16 Oct 1868 Smack "Amelia" of Castletown   saved 2
28 March 1872 Schooner "Ellen Ann" Ran aground at Pooilvash, Scarlett  
29 Nov 1872 Schooner "Annie Geldert" Ran aground at Fort Island  
12 Nov 1876 Schooner "Gleaner" of Preston   saved 3
28 May 1877 Barque "Junak" of Split driven ashore Castletown Bay in SW gale saved 14
28 May 1877 Schooners "Jilt", "Dart" and "Hart" oberseved in difficulties  
13 Sept 1877 Brigantine "Blanche et Louis" of Nantes Adverse conditions - imminent danger of grounding landed 4
13 Sept 1877 Schooner "Maggie Kelso" of Adrossan Ran aground outside Castletown harbour saved 3
23 Oct 1881 Schooner "Gleaner" of Preston Lost her rudder during a gale saved 3
1 Oct 1882 Brigantine "Eugenie Auguste" of Castletown Adverse conditions landed 5

During 1874 John S Kegg resigned has Hon. Secretary and George Harrington Quayle was appointed in his place.

In 1875 the twin lighthouses on the Calf of Man were closed down after 57 years service in and replaced a new lighthouse had been built on the Chickens Rock.

The new lighthouse had been commenced in 1869 to a design by R L Stevenson. The granite for its construction was quarried at Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbrightshire and then shipped to Port St Mary were stonemasons carefully shaped every block to dovetail one piece into another. Layer by layer the light was built on land and then shipped layer by layer out to the Rock. The foundations are 15 feet down into solid stone and the tower rises 143 feet high.

In 1885 the "Commercial Traveller" was broken up. During twenty years services she had made 18 launches, 9 of which had proved effective in saving 44 lives.

1885 -1896 . RNLB "HOPE"

In that same year a new Standard type self-righter was put on station. She was named "Hope", the bequest of a Mrs S.H.Bradshaw of Reading. The boat was 34 foot long, 8 feet in beam and pulled 10 oars. It had been built by the Woolfe yard at Shadwell for the sum of 3300 pounds sterling.

Her first effective service was on 2nd October 1885 to the schooner "John Perry" of Beaumaris when three lives were saved.

Service record: Details of each service by RNLB Hope


Name of Casualty

Cause of Service

2 Oct 1885 Schooner "John Perry" Adverse conditions Saved 3
8 Dec 1886 Schooner "Julia" and the smack "Swift" Adverse conditions - WSW storm Saved 8
3 Jan 1888 Schooner "Lyra" Aground on Carrick Rock ; for the full newspaper report go to the Lyra page which also has an photograph of the RNLB "Hope" after attending the wreck.  
6 Feb 1889 Schooner "Madryn" Adverse conditions off Fort Island - NW gale saved vessel and 3
6 Sept1892 IoM Steam packet vessel "Monas Isle" Ran agroung at Scarlett during fog with 400 passengers  
13 Dec 1894 Schooner "Mary Jane" Dragging anshor during severe SW gale ; off Santon Head saved 3
7 Feb 1895 Steamer "Vigilant" Ran aground at Kentraugh during a snow storm saved 6
19 Nov Schooner "Emu" Driven ashore Castletown Bay by a SSE gale saved 3
29 May 1896 Cutter "Luffra" Adverse conditions; in difficulties off Santon Head saved 1
8 Oct 1896 Ketch "Elma" Ran aground at Scarlett during SSW storm  


On 3rd June 1886 Coxswain William Callow was awarded the Silver Medal of the Institute for long and distinguished service at the station.

The Isle of Man Times reported the meeting of the local branch on 26 June at which the Honary Secretary, Mr G H Quayle informed those assembled there of the parent Societies vote to award the silver medal of the Institute with thanks on vellum to Coxswain Callow by reason of his 31 years service, 22 of which had been in the role of coxswain. 'Mr Callow was quite taken by surprise returned thanks in a few well chosen words'.

During April 1888, Castletown lifeboat member George E Kelly made a shore boat rescue for which he was to be awarded a silver medal of the Institute for his prompt and decisive actions in the saving of four lives.

On the morning of Monday 23rd of that month a small pleasure boat which had been built for a Mr T Hyde was taken out on Castletown Bay for its first trial trip.There was a strong easterly wind and a moderate sea. The sailing boat "Alice" had just been launched after being built by the local shipbuilder, Mr J Schofield and all were in a hurry to get her ready for sea. However no one had given any consideration to ballasting the vessel. Her crew on the trial was Mr J Clague, Mr P Cain, a sailmaker, Mr J Corteen and the proud new owner , Mr Hyde. George Kelly went with them in his own boat to give Mr Hyde a comparison of performance of his boat. However at the first attempt of a jibe, due to too much canvas and no ballast, the new boat immediately heeled over and sank. When Mr Kelly saw this he went about and hauled up to the spot where the four men were. Messrs Cain and Corteen could not swim and were struggling not to drown. Kelly managed to haul both exhausted men aboard his boat before recovering Messrs Clague and Hyde, who being experienced swimmers, had managed to stay afloat. On arrival back at harbour Mr Cain was taken immediately home and put to bed and it was a few days later before he recovered from the effects of his immersion.

Later that day a number of local sailors went out to the spot where the boat had sunk and after some dragging for it , recovered the vessel which showed little damage from its capsize. Two men who assisted Mr Kelly in the rescue were given The Thanks of the Institution on Vellum.

During 1890 Cox. Callow stood down and Frederick Cleator was appointed the new Coxswain. On 12th February 1891 Cox William Callow was awarded a second silver medal in recognition of his long service when he resigned as Coxswain after 29 years and 7 years as 2nd coxswain.

In July 1893 the RNLI decided that a new lifeboathouse was required as the one built in 1856 would be unable to accommodate a new lifeboat. Later that year it was decided to appropriate the legacy of Mrs Isabelle Black to build a new lifeboat for Castletown.

In June 1894 the District Inspector reported that only one spot was available for the new boathouse and during September the site at the Quay was bought for 30 pounds.

1896 - 1922. RNLB "THOMAS BLACK"

During 1896 a new boathouse was built at a cost of 610 pounds and a slipway at a cost of 512 pounds. These were located in the outer harbour. The new lifeboat was a standard 35 ft., 10 oared self righting lifeboat named 'Thomas Black' , paid from the legacy of Mrs I Black of Eastbourne. The lifeboat was built at the Forrest yard for the sum of 371 pounds and was 35 ft long, 8ft 3 in., and beam and weighed 3 tons 6 hundredweight.

Service record: Details of each service by RNLB Thomas Black


Name of Casualty

Cause of Service

12 Jan 1899 Ketch "John Perry" Adverse conditions - WSW gale Saved 3
28 Nov 1905 a small fishing boat   Saved 1
23 Feb 1905 Steamer "Sarah Blanche" Aground at Langness Point; vessel refloated and taken into harbour  
13 Nov 1911 Steamer "Resource" Ran aground at Pooilvash in fog  
6 Feb 1912 Brigantine "Albion" In difficulties after striking rocks north end of Langness in a SE near gale Saved 7
20 Aug 1921 Pleasure boat "Osprey"   Saved 2

In 1922, the RNLI closed the station at Castletown when the station at Port St Mary was supplied with a new motor lifeboat, so ending ninety-six years involvement with the lifeboat service. The 'Thomas Black' sold out of service that year and was for several years resident in Port St Mary under private ownership.


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( copyright Brian Kelly, PSM RNLI 1998-2008)

Last edited 10 Feb 2008