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The Launch of the Lifeboat in Exeter – October 1866

Page updated 6th November 2009

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Exeter took delivery of, and paraded a new lifeboat that the city was sponsoring, through the streets and demonstrated it on the river. The boat which was for service in Brixham, was shipped free of charge to Exeter by the Southern Railway. It was taken, on a human drawn carriage, along  Queen Street, the High Street, up Sidwell Street to St Anne's and back down Fore Street to Commercial Road and the Quay. The streets and river were thronged by 20,000 cheering Exonians, eager to witness its first dip in the water.

The Illustrated London News covered the event and wrote of the launch and first test of the lifeboat in the Rive Exe:

'The oarsman struck off and pulled the boat swiftly up the river, passing under the bridge and turning about again at the Seven Stars. They then pulled down the river to Trew's Weir and back, arriving opposite the stand about half-past four. The next performance was to try whether the boat could be upset by all the crew getting on the gunwale on one side at once. They tried the larboard side and they tried the starboard, but in both cases ineffectually: the boat yielded somewhat under their weight, but without giving any sense of danger. In the next trial the boat was to be purposely upset. Shears were rigged, consisting of two long poles, their butt-ends resting in front of the grand stand. These formed a triangle, with the bank for its base, to the apex of which the tackle was fixed by which the boat was to be upset. This process, which is shown in our illustration was successfully exhibited. The boat was pulled up on one side till it went, though not without much difficulty, keel over in the water, when it righted it self again in an instant, amidst the cheers of the multitude. The operation was repeated a second time with equal success, the water which the vessel shipped running out a moment or two after it was righted. The last act was the landing of the boat again and bringing it back to the Higher Barracks, the crew riding in the boat, and the bands playing throughout the street.'

Sources - Illustrated London News 1866

The launch of the lifeboatThe test capsizing of the lifeboat as depicted in the Illustrated London News. Click image to enlarge

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