In her second talk about the history of the RNLI in North Shields, Dorothy Brownlee, who has strong personal and family connections with the organisation, will talk about how in the early 20th century, lifeboat history was made on Clifford’s Fort on North Shields Fish Quay.

She will describe how Clifford’s Fort – on which the Old Low Light Heritage Centre stands – was manned for defence of the Tyne from the late 17th century and then how more than 200 years later, it was headquarters of the Tyne Division Royal Engineers (Volunteers) Submarine Miners (comprising mainly Cullercoats fishermen) and the birthplace of the famed Tyne Electrical Engineers, with the soldiers saving lives at sea.

In 1905, when the RNLI experimented with petrol engines in existing lifeboats, one of these, the J McConnell Hussey, was sent to Tynemouth.

Lt Herbert Burton had been commissioned from the ranks for good service in the field. His technical skills and his amateur nautical experience were well known to the District Inspector of Lifeboats, Basil Hall (RN retired) so Lt. Burton was appointed as ‘engineer in charge’ for testing purposes.

His first lifeboat crew was drawn from his sappers, and afterwards local men, and they proved the value of the motor lifeboat, making history with dramatic rescues in dangerous seas.

The talk includes information about Fort activity and duties, about Lt Burton’s army career and lifeboat service, some of the rescues, and some of the crew members.

This is Dorothy’s second talk this year, as part of our programme at the Old Low Light to commemorate the bi-centenary of the RNLI. The first was about the part played by the Tynemouth RNLI motorised lifeboat, Henry Vernon, whose crew included her grandfather James Brownlee and his brother, John, in the heroic rescue of the hospital ship, Rohilla, off the coast of Whitby in 1914. For many years Dorothy, was a committee member, then chairperson of Tynemouth Ladies’ Lifeboat Guild.

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