The history of Hayling Island lifeboats

compiled by Marjorie Symonds

From time immemorial mankind has been sailing the seas, trading and providing food, sailors risking their lives in the knowledge that the seas are cruel and unpredictable and that shipwreck is always possible. There have always been men on shore also, willing to risk their lives to save ships and sailors when disasters occur. Hayling Island, surrounded by water, has a long history and tradition of brave men and women with skill, courage and knowledge endeavouring to save lives and vessels in trouble off our coastline. Coastguards who watched the coast would venture out, but so also would local fishermen.

An incident in October 1862 was recorded when a sloop “Cygnet” ran aground on Woolsner Sands. Heavy seas defeated the Coastguard boat, but three local fishermen took their fishing smack out. Unable to get close, they launched their 13-foot rowing boat and, with superb seamanship, managed to row through the heavy seas, reaching the crew of three and bringing them safely ashore. For this brave rescue the Royal National Lifeboat Association in London awarded William Goldring, James Spraggs and David Farmer silver medals for gallantry. This was one of many attempts at rescue, some failing but some successful, which prompted the then Vicar of Hayling, the Reverend Charles Hardy to write to the RNLI urging that a lifeboat station should be established on Hayling Island. In February 1865 it was agreed to set one up and, with a donation of £500 by Leaf Co. and Sons of London, a lifeboat station was built on the western end of the shore at a cost of £259.10s. also a 10-oared self-righting 32ft boat, together with a special launching carriage was purchased. Everything was ready by September 1865.

The dedication day of the “Olive Leaf” was held on 13th September 1865 and it was a day, which brought crowds of visitors from all around the area. A contemporary picture showing the lifeboat men standing upright with their oars raised, flags flying, a large arena tent and delighted crowds of men, women and children gathered on the foreshore, sums up the spirit of the day admirably.

The first crew of the Olive Leaf, under William Goldring, Coxswain are listed below. The local landowner, Mr. Sandeman, opened up the grounds of Westfield House for the celebrations and the Reverend Hardy was appointed Hon. Secretary of the new lifeboat station. The donor company, Leaf and Sons, were apparently a religious, wealthy London company who named the boat as a reference to the biblical story of the olive leaf carried back to the Ark by a dove. There is also a picture of the Olive Leaf being hauled over the sands on its carriage by a team of horses lent by a local farmer. This could be dangerous work and, on occasion, horses lost their lives.

The new boat was soon put to the test during a fierce storm in October. A 540 ton barque “Atlas” ran aground on Woolsner Sands in a southerly gale and 14 men were rescued, one man being a crewman from a Norwegian Barque also shipwrecked. Later the Olive Leaf went out to the abandoned ship” Sirius” and brought it safely into Portsmouth Harbour. During the lifetime of the Olive Leaf between 1865 and 1888 it was launched hundreds of times and saved many lives and vessels. In 1880 Stephen Goldring took over as Cowswain and it is interesting to see how the same family names keep cropping up over the years in the Lifeboat service. I have listed these at the end of this article. I was told that the reason for this was that the fisherman families lived either in one home or in the vicinity of one another and so the tradition and knowledge was passed down from generation to generation.

The Olive Leaf served until a new lifeboat was commissioned in 1888. A 34 ft. 10-oared, self-righting boat costing £347 was commissioned and named “Charles and Adrian” after the donor’s two sons. This boat also saved many lives under the skilful leadership of Coxswain Miller. On one occasion in conditions which the men said were the worst they had every been in, they attempted a rescue of the Schooner “Blanche” carrying a cargo of corn. Three times the cable snapped but Coxswain Miller managed to take the crew of seven off safely. During this rescue the lifeboat was severely damaged but safely brought to shore.

In May 1914 a new self-righting 35ft lifeboat costing £1250 and named “Procter” after the donor, was built; the Coxswain was Charles Cole. A new boathouse was built on the seafront to the east of the old one, and this still exists near where the present coastguard building stands. In 1924 motor lifeboats were introduced which could cover a much wider area and these were allocated in Selsey and Bembridge, the Hayling lifeboat station being closed. With the introduction of inflatable lifeboats in 1966, Mr. Frank Martin and his two sons started a Rescue Patrol and became part of the Shore Boat Rescue scheme. In 1975 the RNLI and Hayling Island Sea Rescue Patrol joined forces and an Inshore Lifeboat Station was built at Sandy Point. In 1975 the first of a series of Atlantic 21 Rescue boats, powered by two 40hp engines with speeds up to 30 knots crewed by three men and fitted with radio and navigation lights, was introduced.

Launching and saving of lives and vessels continues to this day, although the character of boats has changed more to pleasure boats, sailboards, visitors using rubber dinghies, etc. The tradition of service continues and the present lifeboat station at Sandy Point is lined with Certificates for bravery awarded by the RNLI, a tribute to the amazing bravery and skilful seamanship exhibited by the lifeboat men of Hayling Island. In 1981 Frank Dunster was awarded the RNLI Bronze Medal for rescuing four crew from the yacht Fitz’s Flyer. In 1982 Roderick James was awarded the RNLI Silver Medal and Frank Dunster the Bronze Medal for rescuing a teenage boy in extreme conditions. In 1989 Graham Raines received the Bronze Medal for rescuing one person from the yacht Dingaling. In 1993 Silver Medals were awarded to Roderick James and Frank Dunster for rescuing nine crew from the yacht Donald Searle. In total, Hayling Lifeboat Station has won three Bronze Medals and 10 Silver Medals awarded by the RNLI. In 2004 Graham Raines was made an MBE, and in 2006 the Lifeboat Station was granted the Freedom of Chichester Harbour. It was only the second organisation ever to get this honour!


Marjorie writes, “Upon investigation I found out how the first lifeboat station came to be built in such a rapid way. Major F.W. Festing had a long career as a serving officer, was involved in the siege of Sebastopol and awarded medals for bravery. It so happened that he was billeted on Hayling Island and took a keen interest in local events, including the rescues at sea, and would even offer to join local fishermen on their rescue missions. In 1865 the schooner “Ocean” ran aground on Woolsner Sandbanks during a fierce storm. Despite efforts of tugs from Portsmouth and local fishing boats the seas were so violent no rescue could be made. On turn of tide, 12 local fishermen and Major Festing launched a local 10-oared cutter. With great skill this final attempt succeeded in saving the crew. The RNLI gave awards including a silver medal to Major Festing. (This proved very important in later history.)

Although the local Vicar wrote to the RNLI regarding a lifeboat station on the Island, because Major Festing had influence and contact with important, wealthy people in London, I am sure that it was he who formed a management committee, obtained donations for the project and managed to push the idea to such a quick and successful outcome. A local man, Mr. Trigg, tendered to build the boathouse and this was accepted. He lived in a house near the ferryboat and in later years large timbers within the house from shipwrecked boats, the carpentry in perfect condition, were discovered.

I would like to express my appreciation for the generous help and time shown to me by the Lifeboat men, in particular Graham Raines, whose grandfather, John, was one of the crew on the Proctor. Since he was a schoolboy, and with the encouragement of his teacher, he has made it his interest to gather together the history and documents of Hayling lifeboats. He proudly showed me a photograph of his grandfather clad in an old-fashioned coat and hat. I have to say it looked very much like him! He decided to check the relatives of Major Festing and was successful, but they claimed to have no knowledge of their ancestor’s interest in the lifeboats. However, they sent him a photograph of the Major, and Graham was able to identify the medal on his chest as a RNLI award. (It is different from other awards as it has two dolphins holding the medal). This caused the family much surprise and interest. The photograph is on display in the museum.

I enquired about women and was told that they did not go into the boats but were engaged on the shore assisting with launching; very often wading out waist high in dangerous seas and, the return of the boats helping with rescued crew. Currently there is one young woman in the lifeboat crew today. Call outs to alert crew were by maroons for many years, but in earlier times a man on a bicycle would cycle furiously around the streets, presumably ringing his bell and shouting as the majority of the houses were near the sea. Now of course there are mobile phones and ship to shore communications on the boats, also wetsuits and thermal clothing. However, seamanship skills and the bravery required of our Lifeboat men has not changed.

Early lifeboat families

1865 - “Olive Leaf”: Coxswain William Goldring, Thomas Spraggs (2nd Coxswain), James Spraggs, David Farmer, Stephen Goldring, George Green, Stephen Clark, Stephen Palmer, Stephen Rogers Snr., Stephen Rogers Jnr, Edward Clark, Ebenezer Cole, David Rogers.

1880 - Stephen Goldring Coxswain

1889 - “Charlie and Adrian” 1892 George Miller, Coxswain.

1914 - “Proctor”. 1919 Charles Cole, Coxswain; Ernie Cole, 2nd Coxswain; John Raines.

1920 - “Monte Grande”. Rescue crew; Charles Cole, ? Cox, Ernie Cole, G. Rowe, G. Jones, R. Goldring, W.Goldring, W.Foster, S. Gardner, W.Burrows, W.Miller, P.Bowers, T. Raines.

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