Con­flict­ing Claims for Lifeboat’s In­ven­tor

This England - - Cornucopia - JOHN PATTISON

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.

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