Conflicting Claims for Lifeboat’s Inventor
The story of the invention of one of the first-ever lifeboats — the Original — is surrounded in controversy. Built in 1789 the actual design of the lifeboat is acknowledged as being the work of William Wouldhave, born in North Shields in 1751. However, Wouldhave’s claim was challenged by Henry Greathead who also made a submission claiming recognition for another craft.
Wouldhave, a parish clerk and a man of little finance, had his claim supported by a Mr. Hailes, a local mathematician who was familiar with marine engineering. Wouldhave’s boat was made of copper and cork which made it buoyant. In contrast, Greathead’s craft was a rectangular boat that was reputed to be a copy of an American troop carrier and totally unsuitable for the rough and unpredictable waters off the North-east coast.
Although Henry Greathead went on to build the Original, and was rewarded for his work at the time, he did include many of Wouldhave’s design features. Many now recognise Wouldhave’s vital contribution to the design of lifeboats.
William Wouldhave died in the town in 1821. A restored 1833 lifeboat — the Tyne — stands proudly today as a memorial, to the efforts of both men, on the sea front in South Shields.
History would record that the first-ever lifeboat was built by John Lionel Lukin in 1784; his gravestone states that he received the King’s patent for his invention.
The restored Tyne lifeboat and the clock at South Shields, in County Durham, commemorate the town’s association with the invention of the lifeboat.