Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England

Braunton Lifeboat

In 1829, amid the tragic losses, the Appledore lifeboat Volunteer was launched. She was successful in rescuing six crew and passengers from the Daniel although she was not able to save three crew from Betsey, lost when crossing the bar and laden with coal bound for Barnstaple.

The wrecks continued with the schooner Delabole, Mary Ann (during which the Volunteer was capsized and three of her crew were drowned), Sappho, and Elizabeth. 

The Assistance

Braunton lifeboat teamA small, 26-foot lifeboat, the Assistance, was provided from Braunton by this time by the North Devon Humane Society and National Shipwreck Institution.  She was successful in taking off ten crew from Elizabeth, the remainder being collected by Appledore’s lifeboat, the Volunteer. Although these small lifeboats did their best, in 1855 the schooner Albion of Dartmouth was lost, along with six out of her seven crew.

The First Lifeboat Station

Braunton lifeboat stationA petition from Appledore followed, which requested that a lifeboat station be provided in a more suitable place to help ships that foundered on the bar. The request was successful and in 1857, the first RNLI lifeboat station appeared in Braunton and was known as Appledore No.3 station. It housed a lifeboat called Dolphin, which worked out of the station until 1864.

1859 was a particularly bad year for shipping in this area, as the schooner Refuge grounded with the loss of her entire crew followed by the barque Wanderer, who also grounded and again lost her entire eleven-man crew. By far the worst day that year though was 26 October, when a total of twelve sailing vessels were wrecked in the vicinity.

Morte Point

Morte Point strengthened its reputation as a sailors graveyard and claimed eight of the ships – one, the I’ll Try, was a Braunton vessel. From one ship at Morte Bay, all the crew survived; from the other seven, all but four men were lost. At Braunton, three were wrecked on that same fateful day – Ellen Gwenllian, Swan (which was bound to Cardiff with copper ore) and the sloop Peace, which was lost on the bar.

The George and Catherine

In April 1866, a new 32-foot long lifeboat arrived at the Braunton station – named George and Catherine. It was a self-righting boat and had a crew of ten oarsmen and up to three supernumeraries. By this time, the Braunton station had become independent although its crew still came from Appledore. This custom continued right until the end of the lifeboat station, whereby Braunton men raced to launch the lifeboat but Appledore men made up the crew.

The Robert and Catherine

Braunton lifeboatThe lifeboat remained at the station until 1881, when she was replaced by a 34-foot boat named Robert and Catherine. This boat cost £363 and remained in service until 1902.  Thankfully, around this time, the alarmingly high number of wrecks began to decline with improved guidance into the estuary. That is not to say that wrecking ceased, for a substantial number of ships still came to grief, but it had begun to lessen.

In 1902, Robert and Catherine II arrived but never saw service during her time at Braunton. This might perhaps be because wrecks had lessened in number but also because there were, then, three lifeboats working on the estuary. The fitting of engines also had a beneficial impact on the number of disasters.

Robert and Catherine III took over in 1912 and her most famous rescue involved four crew of the schooner Old Head, of Cork, which struck the North Tail in a heavy groundswell and later rolled over several times before going to pieces.

Launching the Lifeboat

Braunton lifeboat being launchedThe system of launching the lifeboat at Braunton had always been labour intensive, as Braunton men were required to bring their horses, with all possible haste, as soon as the signal went up / was heard. They would then harness the horses in teams to lower the lifeboat into the sea or, later, to pull it back up the beach. At the same time, the crew would sail over from Appledore to Crow Point in a smaller boat and hurry on foot to the lifeboat station, which was located further north up the beach near the original lighthouse.

This launch method became difficult during 1918, when war service meant that many of the Braunton men who had launched the boat, and their horses too, were called up. The lifeboat station closed, temporarily, but during 1919 it was decided to close it permanently. The building was sold for £25 and soon after dismantled.

The last significant wreck occurred in 1936, when the ketch Ceres sprang an uncontrollable leak and foundered off Baggy Point. She was significant as the oldest vessel on the British Register at the time, having been built in 1811.

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