80th Anniversary of the St. Ives Lifeboat Disaster

Jan 3, 2018
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Today was the anniversay of the losing of the St. Ives lifeboat which was lost with all lives except one. The lives of the ship in distress, the SS Wilton, with a crew of 30, were also lost. A service was held along with the present St. Ives lifeboat following the same route as the fateful vessel and laying two wreaths out at sea. The present coxswain had a great-great grandfather and great-uncle aboard the lost vessel.

It was 3.00am on the 23 January 1939 when the local lifeboat crew were alerted to a ship in distress around a mile out to sea. Gusts of 100mph, or a force 10 gale, required over 80 men to launch the lifeboat, the John and Sarah Eliza Stych on loan from Padstow, and its 8 man crew, when the boat would have to be manhandled through the streets of the town to launch.. The lifeboat had only travelled a mile or two out at sea before disaster struck after being capsized by a huge wave. She managed to self-right as the boats were designed to do but 4 of the crew had vanished with another 2 hanging onto ropes on the side who were able to haul themselves back aboard. With only a crew of 4 the lifeboat had no choice but to turn back to shore, until the storm damaged the ships propellor. Dropping anchor led only to the anchor rope being snapped. The crew managed to launch a red distress flare but such were the conditions of the sea there was no way to help the crew. Another wave capsized the boat again leading to another man being swept overboard, the boat righting itself again. Then again, another wave lifted the ship and slammed it into the sea, the ship capsizing and righting again but now also thrown against the rocks. The last survivor managed to climb up the rocks and make way to a nearby farm.

Bronze Medals were awarded to William Freeman and posthumously to Coxswain Thomas Cocking, Matthew Barber, William Barber, Richard Stevens, John Cocking, John Thomas, and Edgar Bassett, the survivor Will Freeman died on 23 January 1979, exactly 40 years after the tragedy.


This isn't the only lifeboat disaster to happen in Cornwall, the Penlee lifeboat disaster of 1981 lost all hands at sea of both the lifeboat and the distressed ship.