Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Life-Boat

When I was working in the publishing business in Sweden, I regularly had to travel to Stockholm for meetings. At that time (this was in the 1990s), Stockholm had a lot of good antiquarian booksellers, so I always made certain that I had the time to browse around in some of them. Of course, I looked for rowing books, but it was rare to find something I did not already have.

But then one time, I saw in the window of a bookseller on Drottninggatan a copy of Sir John Cameron Lamb’s book The Life-Boat And Its Work, published in 1911 by William Clowes and Sons Ltd in London. I went inside to take a closer look. The book condition was very good +. It was a nice clean tight copy, with no inscriptions, and it still had both the appeal and bequest forms in the back. It was not cheap, but I decided to buy it anyway.

It is really a very nice little book, which gives the story of lifeboats and how it all began – that special boats were built to rescue passengers and crews from shipwrecked vessels. There are several inventors and boat builders that claim to be the ones to have built the first lifeboat. Already in 1765, a Monsieur Bernières of France invented an unsinkable boat for nine people, but according to Lamb’s book, Bernières’s invention was never set to practical use.

Gentlemen from Tyneside and the Thames created models to suit the newly founded “Tyne Life-Boat Society” and the Royal National Life-Boat Institution. The most famous names were Lionel Lukin, William Wouldhave, and Henry Greathead. The illustration above shows a drawing made from a model presented by Greathead to the Admiralty around the year 1800.

Lamb’s book has a lot of black & white photographs and drawings, and around ten different copies are now available to buy on

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