Forgotten hero who made sea a safer place

The Lifeboat Baronet
The Lifeboat Baronet
Share this article

Thoughts sadly turn this week to the 23 Chinese cocklers who lost their lives in Morecambe Bay 10 years ago.

It is therefore apt that a new book was released on Monday all about the man behind a charity which played a key role on that fateful night.

Janet Gleeson’s The Lifeboat Baronet: Launching the RNLI is the first book to tell the full story of unsung hero Sir William Hillary.

It tells of his struggle to found the 190-year-old institution that still makes the sea a safer place today.

Before the RNLI, it was commonplace for seafarers to be lost along Britain’s turbulent coastline.

Then in 1824, witnessing a succession of tragic shipwrecks off the coast of the Isle of Man, Sir William was inspired to found the charity.

As someone who lived a life of constant reinvention, the foundation of the institution gave him a new purpose.

Prior to that he had run up vast debts that forced him to live life as a financial exile on the Isle of Man.

Born into a Quaker slave-owning family in Liverpool, Sir William led a colourful life.

He became a royal equerry and Regency rake, married an heiress and established Britain’s largest volunteer army during the Napoleonic Wars.

Released to coincide with the upcoming 190th anniversary of the institution, The Lifeboat Baronet: Launching the RNLI is published by The History Press, hardback £14.99.