Here is an article on an attempted rescue by the Elizabeth Simpson on 2nd. January 1895.


Elizabeth Simpson

Can´t say when this was taken Ron . Around turn of century I should think . Note the fact that the crew are standing up whilst rowing. This was normal procedure on the Elizabeth Simpson whilst at sea during a rescue.

The threatening attitude of the captain of the French schooner Rachel must have lingered long in the minds of Bensley, Crisp , Chilvers, Harris,Fleming, Woods & others of the lifeboats crew when they went to her assistance on January 2nd. 1895. But let the log tell the story.

A small vessel was seen drifting between the Scroby and Cross sands.

The Elizabeth Simpson was quickly launched and came up with the vessel about half a mile outside St.Nicholas lightship. The vessel was the French schooner Rachel of Fre'camp . She was in a wretched condition, sails blown away, hatchways washed overboard, galley smashed, short of provisions and no matches on board. On running alongside, the Captain would not allow his crew to take a rope from the Lifeboat and so a second attempt was made to board her. On seeing this, the captain went below and appeared with a revolver which he presented to the lifeboatmen and told them, as well as he could ,that he would shoot the first man who boarded his vessel. Needless to say the lifeboat men, "did not wish to taste lead" so returned to harbour, the schooner drifting to Southwold.

There was the following footnote to this entry .

The Elizabeth Simpson crew, not being able to talk French, and the crew of the French boat not being able to speak English. It is supposed she did not know Lifeboat meant to help, and not to plunder ! Consequently a misunderstanding, and argument useless.


Elizabeth Simpson to the Rescue 1912

Maggie Williams 2This is the only photo I have in my possession of the Maggie Williams . I was told by local boatmen and by my Step father Harry Eastick, that she went down here in 1912 with no loss of life. There appears to be no record of her in the R.N.L.I Gt. Yarmouth & Gorleston Lifeboat Station History. Note there are no houses on the cliff top.

There was a severe storm with hurricane force wind on the 26th - 27th August 1912. She could have gone down then I suppose. The Steamship Egyptian went down on the Scroby Sands during this period. The crew of 33 souls, were saved by the lifeboat Elizabeth Simpson.

My Grandfather was in crew during this launch and this story was told to me by my family when I was young . The Egyptian carried a general cargo, including livestock. My grandfather grabbed a crate of Racing pigeons from the hold. At this time he owned the house on Pavilion Road, which had just been built. So he kept the Pigeons. In 1913 he rented the property, complete with pigeons, to Tenants, who it appears were of German nationality. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the tenants, plus the pigeons on the roof, were Interned !  I understand they had their necks wrung. The pigeons, not the Germans !


John & Mary Meikam of Gladswood

John & Mary Meiklam of Gladswood  13 -09-2000I have viewed your page on Lifeboats and thought you might like this one of the John & Mary Meiklam of Gladswood. The crewman up in the bow is Charlie Chilvers next to him is Sam Parker. Sam lived just behind us on Beach Road when we lived at 9 Pier Road. The crewman with his hand on the rail looking at the photographer, is my father Cecil Bensley. Photo taken 1932. Sent to me by Stanley Leggett.   I have had a couple of congratulatory E-mails from Nick Pownall.

I understand Stephen Daniels has just brought out a book on Gt. Yarmouth Smacks & Luggers, it is selling at around twenty pounds a copy.

Just a little plug for his book.


Forgotten men  Forgotten deeds

This authentic story of heroism needs to be told to remind us all that the human spirit when faced with what appears to be impossible odds can and always will prevail.

Please click on title to read


3rd Leicester Lifeboat

Lifeboat City of Leicester1894 .     24-09-2000The 3rd Leicester lifeboat with crew on board for the hand-over ceremony is as follows .

(L-R) L. Palmer, G Orford, L.Woods, Edward Bensley, W. Newson, A.N. other, A.Harris, George Burgess, Billy Fleming, Arthur Bensley, Charles Burgess, John Bensley, leaning on bow, and Sidney Harris.

The Bensley and Burgess Families were full cousins. Bit of a family affair !


The Wreck of the Optima

On Thursday the 19th. January 1905 the Gorleston Lifeboat Elizabeth Simpson was launched in response to signal guns from the Cross Sands lightship, having been towed out to sea by the tug Meteor.

Click on title to read


Beauchamp R.N.L.I. 1891 - 1902

Beauchamp Lifeboat - 001Caister No. 2 Station

Reg No ON327

Length 36' x 10'6'' Beam.

12 Oars.

N. & S. (Norfolk & Suffolk. )

Built by: J.H.Critten of Gt. Yarmouth . for 266 Pounds Stirling.

Overturned in 1901. Converted to a houseboat and broken up in 1966.

Beeching was a Gt. Yarmouth boatyard. Others were Bransford, Holmes, Mills and Blake.

I did mention she overturned in 1901 (But did not state clearly that she was the Caister boat that overturned with the loss of nine lives on 13th November 1901. ) your photo may well have been taken after this sad event Ron . But being 10,000 miles away, I have no way of proving this one way or the other , but it does seem likely . After all,early photographers didn't usually take an interest in lifeboats on dry land .


Tryphena on the North  17-11-2000Attached also is the Photo of the Tryphena ,sunk behind the North . Hope you like it . Cant tell you anything about it . It was sent to me by Stan Leggett a few years ago



Crew of Elizabeth Simpson in 1938

Crew of Elizabeth Simpson 1938Ok Arthur, this is the crew of the Elizabeth Simpson in 1938.

Back Row: Charlie Woods - Arthur “Coddy” Harris - Billy “Dido” Brown - Jack Whymer - Claude Peacock

Front Row: Jack Harris - Harry Woods - Billy Brown - Percy Beavers

It´s the Billy Brown in the front row who rescued people in the 1953 floods in his rowing boat.


Unknown Occasion

Good old Boys 3       12-04-2001Front row, from right to left. Nearest to camera. Tom Morley next Sappy Charley Chilvers , next Sam Parker, followed by Philip Newson ? Someone may be able to tell us who the old fella sitting this side of the Mayor & Mayoress is . He was on the photo with the four oared boat . On the end of the row with his flat hat at a jaunty angle, is Dollar Leggett (Stanley Leggetts father.) Back Row nearest camera in the trilby hat is Harry Eastick Senior .(Lydia Eva's Grandfather .) The rest I am sorry to say , I cannot identify , apart from my Grandfather Edward Bensley 4th from right and 8th Billy Pingo Fleming.

Any help on the occasion would be appreciated.


Fifty Years of Lifeboat Service

Yarmouth Mercury, 25th March.1933



Yesterday, ex-coxswain John Charles Read Bensley, one of Gorleston’s oldest lifeboatman, celebrated his 80th birthday. Jack Bensley, as he was better known to most Gorleston folk retired from active service in the lifeboat eight years ago. He is a typical weather-beaten son of the North Sea and spends the eventide of his useful life at his cottage home, 2 Pavilion Road, varying his day by a daily walk by the seashore and calls at the watch houses of the Gorleston companies of boatmen. He is fond of reading and takes a deep interest in the events of the town. He is still a member of the Gorleston Storm Company of Boatmen. He has outlived his wife twenty-two years and there are seven daughters, two sons and about fourteen grandchildren and one great grand-daughter.

When our representative called on him at his home, where he has resided for the past fifty years, Mr Bensley, in the course of the chat, said he was the eldest son of the late Mr John Bensley, who for some years was the landlord of the old Anchor & Hope Inn at the foot of Gorleston Pier (now the Pier Hotel), which at one time he could see from his cottage, before the Pavilion and beach gardens and the surrounding houses were built. He can recall the time when the site of his and the adjoining cottages was by the banks of a large pond with sandhills stretching to the seashore and a plank deck leading from the beach and rocket brigade watch house up to the road in front of the Anchor & Hope. He has been a boatman all his life and has many friends among the visitors who for many years have spent their summer holidays at Gorleston.

He claims to be the only surviving Gorleston boatman to witness in his youth the three memorable disasters to the old Gorleston lifeboat rescuer. In 1866 this lifeboat was capsized on the North sandbank and thirteen out of the crew of sixteen were drowned. In 1868 the same lifeboat was returning to the harbour in an easterly gale when a fishing logger collided with her and she again capsized, some of the rescued crew and the lifeboatmen being drowned.  In 1888 the rescuer had been out to a large steamer on Hammond’s Knoll and was being towed into port by a tug when the rope parted and the lifeboat was driven on to the North bank and capsized. On this occasion four of the seven lifeboatmen were drowned.  Bensley witnessed all three disasters from the Pier Head, but this did not deter him following the same perilous calling, and as a young an he joined the lifeboat crew and has served his country in this important work for fifty years. He remembers the establishment of the first surf lifeboat “Leicester” in 1866 in a shed on Gorleston beach and how she was later launched from the new slipway built opposite the present Harbour Master’s house, and taken to her new station in the harbour. Bensley served as second Coxswain in this lifeboat under the late Mr William Todd before succeeding him as first coxswain in this craft and of the “James Finlayson” for twenty-three years. He recalls the wreck of the Schooner “Amy” about twenty-one years ago when this craft was driven ashore in a gale on the beach at Gorleston just inside the breakwater and went to pieces in one night. Three of the crew were saved and one drowned.

This veteran has assisted to save just upon one hundred lives from Yawls, Smacks, Barges, Brigantines, Schooners, Dandys, Billyboys, Trawlers, Steam Drifters, Coal Lighters, Steamers, Shrimp Boats, etc., and during the long years of rescue work he has also served in the sailing lifeboats “Mark Lane” the first and second, the former coming from the Yarmouth station and the latter being built on Beechings Yard. Many are the lives saved in numerous rescues under the late Laddy Woods, Crimo Crisp and Sidney Harris, together with the launches of the “Kentwell” sailing lifeboat which succeeded the Mark Lane under Cox. Fleming prior to the event of the three motor lifeboats when he was pensioned off. One of the Mark Lanes rescues which stands out vividly in his memory is that of the wreck of the Brig Celerity which had almost driven ashore in an easterly gale. They went inshore and managed to take off the crew and ran the gauntlet of heavy seas on the bar which were breaking over the lighthouse on the Pier end. M<r Bensley also served in the volunteer lifeboat “Elizabeth Simpson” and about twenty years ago received the bronze medal at the hands of the then Mayor. On his retirement, he received two framed certificates on vellum from the RNLI at the hands of the Mayor in the council chamber, eight years ago, having served two years beyond the allotted span with such veterans as Laddy Woods, Charles Chilvers, Crimo George Crisp, “Sparks” Sidney Harris who have now joined the great majority. George Gooch, and his brother Edward Bensley who celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday yesterday.

Mr Bensley has also been instrumental in rescuing several persons from drowning from the concrete breakwater on which he was employed when it was built about forty-five years ago. He holds three of the Royal Humane Society’s framed certificates. In 1881 when there was a smaller concrete breakwater inside the spur breakwater, a young woman, Miss C. Thrower fell from this spot into a seven-foot flood opposite the present beach gardens and Bensley left the spur breakwater and rushed to her rescue. In 1894 he rescued a Mr A Cooper who fell into the sea from the breakwater, and in 1898 he rescued Mr L Green also from this spot.

His grandfather, Mr Benjamin Bensley, who was ninety-two years old when he died, was engaged in his duty as a Queen’s Pilot was piloting ships in and out of the harbour at the age of eight-two. He claims to be a descendant of one of the oldest Gorleston families, and a relative on his mother’s side, Philip Newson, was a prisoner of seven years during the French wars, His father, formerly lived on cliff hill and kept the Oddfellows arms, while the old Anchor & Hope was kept in the family for thirty-two years.

Mr Bensley compared the rugged nature and rural character of Gorleston in those days to the present modern seaside resort. He worked on the building of the spur breakwater when Captain Smyth was Harbour Master, and Mr William Teesdel works engineer. The latter was succeeded by Mr J. Green and successive Harbour Masters include Captain Day, Captain Bammant, Captain Smith and Captain Sutton.



Storm and Rangers Circa 1900

Storm & Rangers Circa 1900

Back row left to right - Crimo Crisp, Bob Warner, Tom Morley last man unknown.

2nd row left to right -  Arthur Crisp , (Dennis Harris with dog ,) Charley "Panser" Palmer, Arthur Harris, Sam Porter, Thomas Morley

3rd row left to right - Solly Newson, Luffy Lamb, Billy Fleming Senior, Sidney Sparks Harris (coxwain), Billy Fleming Jun.

Front row sitting . left to right - Harry Bonny, Ellery Harris, Nick Woods


Crew of the Optima

crew of Optima

The crew of the lifeboat in 1905 were Cox'n. G. Crisp , E. Bensley , H. Bowles N. Childs , R. Childs , C. Chilvers, E.Drane J. Fleming , R. Leggett, T. Leggett,  R. Newson, J. Newson, G.Rivett, J.Stubbs , C.Taylor, J.Taylor, Jas.Woods , Jos.Woods, S.Stone , and I.Whiley. We actually took off the whole crew of the Optima and transferred some of them to the other lifeboats outside the harbour. Elizabeth Simpson -16 . Mark lane -5 and the James Stevens -11)

The Optima carried a cargo of iron coke , and was described in the Lloyd's register as a four masted steel barque of 2,681 tons net and 2,845 gross . She was 314 feet overall length , built at Geestimunde in 1892 . She was on a voyage to Santo Rossario in South America from Hamburg when she struck the Outer Haisbro' sands .


February 18th 1905 . Ship sold for eight pounds . The German barque Optima , a steel four masted barque of 2,845 tons reg.with 4,000 tons of coke and patent fuel onboard now lying stranded on Haisbro' sands,was offered under hammer at Great Yarmouth on Thursady last . The auctioneer said it was a good speculation worth one thousand pound,and invited a starting offer of one thiusand shillings. He received a bid of two pounds and the vessel was finally knocked down for eight pounds. The sale of the salved stores , sails ropes and gear from the vessel occupied six hours and realized one thousand pounds .

Lifeboat Outing
The photo of the Lifeboat outing , taken outside the Ship inn on the corner of Pier walk. The only man I can name is John Bensley under the window to the right of the photo. My grandfather George Denton kept this pub during the late 1930's

A. E. Bensley



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