Beachmen and Boatmen
Apart from the RNLI which came in existence in 1824, there were other volunteer rescuers operating form Great Yarmouth and Gorleston between the 18th and 20th century. These groups included the Beachmen of Great Yarmouth and the Boatmen of Gorleston, who for many years provided help and assistance to vessels, whether it be the provision of supplies or the saving of lives. The Beachmen formed themselves into “Companies” such as the “Young’s”, “Denny’s”, “Star” and “Holkham” in Great Yarmouth, with each Company helping to man the local lifeboats. Gorleston’s Boatmen had the “Storm” and “Ranger” companies.
One such Gorleston Boatman was Alexander F Lamb, known as “Jack” and “Curley” to his friends who belonged to the Storm Company of Boatmen. He, along with his fellow Boatman, J. Harlow, showed bravery above and beyond the call of duty in assisting in the rescue of a Mr Keymer and a lad in the unfortunate drowning of Coastguard Gill.
Alexander Lamb died in January 1910 after a long illness and during his funeral flags were flown at half-mast from the boatmen’s look-outs, the lifeboat sheds and the church tower.
Members of the lifeboat crew acted as pall-bearers, and his cortege included lifeboatmen under the leadership of Major R. J. Roche, the local honorary secretary of the RNLI. Other mourners included ex-Police Inspector G.Johnson and members of the Rocket Brigade.
Twelve Boatmen from Gorleston, including the coxswain, Robert Spillings, died in January 1866 when their private lifeboat “Rescuer” capsized in rough seas going to the aid of a stricken vessel. It was because of this incident that the RNLI later that year stationed a lifeboat at Gorleston.
In December of the following year six more boatmen from the same company perished when a fishing vessel was in collision with their lifeboat, causing the latter to capsize.
Volunteer Rocket Brigade
The Volunter Rocket Brigade originated in the early 19th Century with the introduction by Captain George Manby (1765-1854), who lived in Gorleston, of his mortar and rocket-firing rope line apparatus enabling sailors stranded on ships close to shore to be winched to safety. His first success was at Great yarmouth, 150 yards from the shore, when Manby saved the lives of sailors from the brig Elizabeth with his mortar. The illustration second from top shows a line being fired to a stranded ship. The photograph (third fom top) is of a rocket brigade team from the late Victorian or early Edwardian period.
If the stranded vessel was too far from shore for the mortar or rockets, then a boat was used to row the “Rocket” men nearer to the vessel. Once the rocket was fired the rope could then be brought back to shore and tightly secured. The bottom photograph shows a later rocket brigade team with lifeboat and coastguard members.
The Volunteer Rocket Brigade, though not part of the RNLI, worked alongside them in rescuing sailors in distress. This was the case on November 10th/11th 1905 when the barque “Erna” got into difficulties off Great Yarmouth during a heavy SSE gale. The Great Yarmouth lifeboat “John Burch” managed to rescue eight of the crew; the Master and remaining crew members later being rescued by the Rocket Brigade Team.