The baronet and lifeboats


Sir William Hillary, 1st baronet, was an English militia officer, author and philanthropist. January 4 is the 250th anniversary of his birth. He is best known as the founder, in 1824, of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

William was the son of Yorkshire merchant Richard Hillary and in 1822 he witnessed the wreck of HMS Racehorse and was inspired to draw up plans for a lifeboat service using trained crew, intended not only for the Isle of Man, where he resided, but the whole of the British coastline. He proposed a national, voluntary service that would encompass new techniques of rescuing people such as Frederick Marryat’s signal codes.

The response to his scheme from the Admiralty was poor, so he appealed to philanthropists in London including Thomas Wilson, MP for the City of London. On March 4 1824 the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was founded, with the King as its patron. The first lifeboats were built and stationed at Douglas on the Isle of Man.

Six years later, at the age of sixty, Hillary took part in the rescue of the packet steamer St George. He commanded the lifeboat and was washed overboard with all the crew. Happily he and the crew survived and went on to rescue all the passengers on board the St George with no loss of life.

Hillary died on January 5, 1847 and was buried in St George’s churchyard, Douglas.

RNLI Rye Harbour is very proud to be part of the RNLI family that he began. What a wonderful legacy of so many lives saved at sea

Image Credits: Kt Bruce .

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