Boatmen of The Downs

"And braver deeds than ever turned the fate of Kings and crowns
Are done for England's glory by her boatmen of the Downs.

Robert Southey, 1813

The rocket cleaving the midnight sky, the five-minute gun from the distant lightship, the dim surge-swept form of the wrecked vessel, are appeals for help to human ear, to which the splendid answer from the shore is, 'Man the Lifeboat!'


The names and descriptions below are taken from a number of books in the local history collection of Deal library (see notes at bottom of page).  For more information, including contemporary and first-hand accounts, about the work of the early lifeboat crews in rescuing, or attempting to rescue, shipwrecked sailors in the Downs, I would urge the reader to seek out copies of these books through their local library or second-hand bookshop.
Boatman Descriptions1 Picture3
Simon Pritchard A fine seaman, lost with 7 others in the wreck of the Deal lugger Reform in 1871.  
T. Cottle
E. Trott
E. Penn
J. Wilkins
G. Trott
W. Baker
W. Middleton
Lost with Simon Pritchard attempting to effect a rescue in bad weather

"a fine body of daring seamen who had taken part in many gallant rescues."

George Reynolds Bayley Notable Channel Pilot
Master of the first lugger Albion
Lost at sea in 18702
yes (1)
Henry Axon (of Walmer) One of the last of the Channel cruisers yes (1)
Charles Fish Coxswain of Ramsgate lifeboat yes (1)
William Cooper Coxswain of Ramsgate lifeboat
lifeboat crewman from the age of 19, still serving at age 52
yes (1)
William Hoile Coxswain of the Deal lifeboat Charles Dibden yes (1)
William Stanton Coxswain of the Deal reserve lifeboat yes (1)
James Pay Coxswain of the Kingsdown lifeboat yes (1)
Jarvist Arnold Coxswain of the Kingsdown lifeboat yes (1,3)
William (Bonny) Adams Coxswain of the Deal lifeboat Charles Dibden during WW1.
In charge of galley punt Hope (1889)
Adams was a lifeboatman at Deal for 50 years.
yes (1)
Richard Roberts Coxswain of North Deal lifeboat.  22 years service in 1907 yes (1,3)
John Roberts brother of Richard  
Edward Hanger 2nd Coxswain of Deal lifeboat  
Harry Parker acting coxswain of Walmer lifeboat  
Will Axon acting 2nd coxswain of Walmer lifeboat  
Mackins coxswain of Walmer lifeboat  
Rev. T. Stanley Treanor Chaplain, Missions to Seamen, Deal and the Downs yes (2,3)
S. Wilds bowman of galley punt used by Rev Treanor in his Mission  
G. Philpott
crewman on galley punt used by Rev Treanor in his Mission  
George Marsh lost on the Goodwin Sands  
Henry Marsh (Black Harry) born around 1810 yes (2)
skilled boatmen lost with their boat on a fine calm day on the Goodwin Sands  
Edward Young Walmer lifeboatman
drowned October 23 1896 trying to climb a rope up the steep sides of a steamer aground on the Goodwins
yes (2)
Freddy Upton Coxswain of Walmer lifeboat Charles Dibdin.  Went to sea with his father aged 10; at 15 had his own boat taking pilots on and off vessels in the Downs.

Long family association with the lifeboat service; grandfather lost on the Goodwins.

yes (3,4)
George Dadd
'Lardy' Dadd
crew of Walmer lifeboat with Freddy Upton yes (3)
Thomas Heard
Harry Pearson
'Young' Dick Mercer
'Young' Joe Mercer
variously 1st or 2nd coxswains of Walmer lifeboat yes (3)
Mr Axon
Mr Axon
Mr Pearson
'Old' Mr Parker
'Old' Mr Jordan
'Old' Joe Mercer
regular crew members of Walmer lifeboat yes (3)
Henry (Harry) Meakins
Charlie Pritchard
David Pritchard
Edward Griggs
Dick Brown
Tommy Baker

(Jim Brown)

crew of the Deal motor boat Lady Beatty mustered on 17th March 1929 to rescue the crew of the Gull Lightship, which had sunk.

Harry, Charlie and David, with Dick and his son Jim, made up the crew of the Lady Hale, which rescued a group of 20 visitors from St Margaret's bay when the village was cut off by heavy snow.

Harry Meakins was landlord of the Port Arms and owner of the motor boat Lady Haigh.  Once piloted the Royal Yacht in the Downs.

Brothers Charlie and David Pritchard had the Skylark and the Titlark as well as various smaller boats for hiring out to visitors during the summer season.

yes (3,4)
'Cookie' Baker
Budd Baker
Kelly Baker
described as "three old salts" yes (3)
Tom Adams familiar face on Deal Beach before WW2 yes (4)
Ben Bailey fisherman working off Deal Beach in the 1950s yes (3)
Jack 'Spainard' May Deal Hoveller yes (3)
Albert Emptage coxswain of Margate lifeboat  
Mr Troughton frequently accompanied rescuers to give first aid
drowned in the capsize of the Margate surf boat Friend of all Nations
R. Smith 2nd coxswain of Margate lifeboat  
W. Mackie bowman of Margate lifeboat  
J. Jones
George Read
R. Gilbert
John Epps jnr
T. Campany
Walter Ladd
Will Parker
A. Twyman
Jas. Pitcher
T. Sandwell
crew members of Margate lifeboat  

1. Pictures and information on this page are taken from:

1. Seamen of the Downs

by George Bethel Bayley

published by William Blackwood & Sons Ltd., London, 1929

2. The Cry from the Sea and the Answer from the Shore

by T. Stanley Treanor

published by The Religious Tract Society, London, c.1900

3. Deal in Old Photographs

by June Broady

published by Alan Sutton Publishing, Gloucester, 1989

4. Bygone Deal and Walmer

by Beryl Foley-Fisher

published by Phillimore, Chichester, 1989

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2. The work of the Deal luggers was considered so hazardous that Lloyds would not underwrite the risk, with the result that the boatmen-owners were uninsured.

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3. The books contain photographs of some of the boatmen - the numbers refers to the titles as above.

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