THE AUGUSTA was Sheringham’s first purpose-built lifeboat, launched in 1838 and condemned as unseaworthy in 1894.
The National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (which later became the RNLI) had been founded a decade before the Augusta was built, but this lifeboat was privately financed by Abbot Upcher’s widow Charlotte. The 33ft 6in open boat with 16 oars and a lugsail was called Augusta in memory of Charlotte Upcher’s daughter, who died aged 20 in 1836. The organiser of the project to build the new vessel was Harry West. He was a fisherman and leading member of the lifeboat community. The Wests have been a leading Sheringham family for centuries, and for more about them I refer you to my blog on David West. The Wests have been dedicated Salvationists for generations, but in 1838 the founder of the Salvation Army was still a little boy of under ten years old. The Augusta was built in Sheringham Park, the home of the Upcher family, from local timber. The Augusta was used as a lifeboat for 56 years, and in retirement she was used by the Sea Scouts on the Broads. She survived into the 1950s.
The launch of the Augusta, 14th November, 1838
Come comrades, gather to the boat, the rocket line prepare
For many a gallant man tonight is battling despair.
The squall comes roaring onward, driving right across the sea,
And who’s the craven that shall say “no call is there for me”.
The sky is black, iced is the wreck, yet shrink not you aghast,
And think what they are feeling who are clinging to the mast.
The sturdy tiller of the soil can lend a hand or pair
And who has not hand to lend can bring an eye to bear.
All eyes to be on that glimmering line of lurid tossing foam
So he who will not now turn out, may bide henceforth at home.
The hands of mercy’s sons are firm, their hearts are firmer still,
The Augusta mounts the billows for they pull with might and will;
Their craft is true and evermore to deeds of rescue braced,
She meekly bears the cherished name upon her quarter traced;
Oh lift up our hearts to Him who bade the storm subside,
Who in the water makes His path, who reins the foaming tide.
So may the God of heaven e’en now their earnest efforts bless,
May He who prospereth our way now give them good success.
The writer of this verse was the Quaker philanthropist Anna Gurney, born in 1795 at Keswick Hall near Norwich. She was the youngest child of Richard Gurney of the banking family. When she was still a baby she lost the use of her legs through illness. She was a great scholar, becoming fluent in Latin, Greek and Old English from an early age; she published a translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which ran to a second edition. In later life she learnt the Scandinavian tongues and also Russian, and she studied the literature of these languages.
As an adult she made her home just to the east of Cromer in the viilage of Northrepps. Her house, Northrepps Cottage, is now a hotel; as you can see, the word ‘cottage’ hardly describes this commodious country residence.
Anna Gurney took a great interest in life saving at sea, and bought one of Captain Manby’s rocket lines. She would be carried down to the beach to direct the operation of the Mortar when there was a shipwreck on the coast. (You will note that she could not resist a reference to this apparatus in her poem.) Despite her disability, she travelled widely in Europe. She became the first female member of the British Archaeological Association and, together with Amelia Opie, had established the Norwich branch of the Anti-Slavery Society. She died at Keswick after a short illness in 1857.
To read more on East Anglian lifeboats click here.
THE STORY OF NORFOLK