Historic Cromer lifeboat used dramatic rescue returns to the RNLI

The lifeboat Louisa Heartwell with crew.

The lifeboat Louisa Heartwell with crew. - Credit: RNLI

A historic lifeboat which was used by Henry Blogg in two infamous North Sea rescues within the space of 14-hours has returned to the care of the RNLI.

One hundred years ago today, on January 9, 1917, the crew of Cromer lifeboat pushed themselves and their vessel, the Louisa Heartwell, to their absolute limits.

A painting by Tim Thompson depicting the Liverpool class lifeboat Louisa Heartwell in the rescue of the Fernebo,

A painting by Tim Thompson depicting the Liverpool class lifeboat Louisa Heartwell in the rescue of the Fernebo, taken from the book Gold Medal Rescues. - Credit: TT Marine Art Archive/RNLI

With only two sails and 14 oars to power them, the crew, which had an average age of over 50, navigated turbulent seas and gale-force winds to save the lives of 33 people from the Pyrin and the Fernebo.

The rescue saw the creation and presentation of the very first RNLI bronze medals for bravery, resulted in Mr Blogg receiving the first of his RNLI gold medals and has set the standard for Cromer lifeboat ever since.

Henry Blogg, coxswain of Cromer lifeboat in jersey, cap and Kapok lifejacket - 1942.

Henry Blogg, coxswain of Cromer lifeboat in jersey, cap and Kapok lifejacket - 1942. - Credit: RNLI

Now, after being sold to a private owner and undergoing various changes over the years, including being adapted for use as a houseboat, the Louisa Heartwell has returned to the care of the RNLI. 

Cromer lifeboat Louisa Heartwell on her carriage

Cromer lifeboat Louisa Heartwell on her carriage - Credit: RNLI


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Built in 1902, the Louisa Heartwell served with Cromer between 1902 and 1931, during which time she was used in the rescue of 195 lives.

After spending time at Chichester Marina, the vessel was offered to the RNLI by Premier Marinas and following an inspection to assess the boat's condition was accepted as suitable for the RNLI collection of historic craft in late 2019.

Lifeboat Louisa Heartwell being transported by road to Poole, Dorset in 2020

Lifeboat Louisa Heartwell being transported by road to Poole, Dorset in 2020 - Credit: RNLI

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She is currently being stored at the All-weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole, where she will be kept until a permanent berth becomes available at the historic lifeboat collection in Chatham, Kent.

Before joining the historic collection the boat will undergo significant conservation with the intention being to carefully remove the elements which have been added to the vessel over the years to uncover the original hull and conserve any original material.

During the conservation process, it will also be decided whether or not to add new material to the boast to restore her to how she would have looked in 1902 or to simply conserve and display the remaining original structure.

Lifeboat Louisa Heartwell is gently lifted from her mooring on the Chichester canal

Lifeboat Louisa Heartwell is gently lifted from her mooring on the Chichester canal. - Credit: RNLI

David Welton, heritage manager for the RNLI who is leading the conservation project, said: "It is a privilege to be able to safeguard the lifeboat Louisa Heartwell for the RNLI.

"The boat is such an iconic vessel. She is a rare survivor of the early Liverpool class and comes with a wealth of history of her 29 years on station at Cromer and her links to Cox Henry Blogg."

An RNLI Bronze medal

An RNLI Bronze medal - Credit: RNLI/Nathan Williams

The events of January 9, 1917 have gone down in lifesaving history. During a terrible storm Cromer’s lifeboat launched four times in the space of 14 hours.

The crew, who had an average age of over 50, battled heavy seas to rescue 22 sailors aboard the Greek ship Pyrin which had got into difficulty in the bad weather.

Then, just as the crew returned to shore from the Pyrin, the alert came in that a Swedish steamship called the Fernebo, had been broken in two and become grounded following an explosion.

Lifeboat legend: Coxswain Henry Blogg received the first of his three Gold Medals for his gallant re

Lifeboat legend: Coxswain Henry Blogg received the first of his three Gold Medals for his gallant rescue of the crews of the Pyrin and Fernebo (Courtesy RNLI). - Credit: Archant

Undaunted by their previous rescue and the galeforce conditions, the lifeboat crew attempted to launch the Louisa Heartwell once more.

Several attempts to launch were made with servicemen up to their necks in water to try and get beyond the surf but the rough conditions smashed five of the lifeboat’s oars and washed three more overboard. 

By the third attempt, conditions had calmed and the crew were able to rescue 11 sailors from the Fernebo, arriving back to shore at 1am, where a cheering crowd were waiting.

Paul Watling is the new coxswain at RNLI Cromer. Pictures: RNLI

Paul Watling is the new coxswain at RNLI Cromer. Pictures: RNLI - Credit: Archant

Paul Watling, the current coxswain of Cromer Lifeboat Station, said: “Everyone at Cromer knows the story of the rescues from the Pyrin and the Fernebo.

"It’s one of the things you hear when you join the station. The bravery they all showed, the determination to keep launching again and again, these men were made of steel.

"To have to actually row the boat from the beach in such atrocious conditions, it’s hard to get your head around. That’s and the standard we all try to aspire to.”



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