The industrial revolution was in full fog and London was thriving as the largest city in the world. But it was one man, from a small island, that would unite the nation's movers and shakers in creating the lifesaving charity we know today as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
Living in Douglas on the Isle of Man, Sir William Hillary saw the treacherous nature of the sea first-hand. Many ships were being wrecked around the Manx coast and Hillary refused to sit by and watch people drown. He saved many lives with the help of locals but knew more had to be done.
He drew up plans for a lifeboat service manned by trained crews, for all of the UK and Ireland. In 1823 he published a pamphlet, appealing to the British Navy on forming A National Institution For The Preservation Of Lives And Property From Shipwreck. This noble idea fell on deaf ears - the Admiralty refused to help. So he changed tack, rebranding his appeal for the more philanthropic members of London society instead. This time the idea caught the eye of Thomas Wilson, energetic MP for Southwark; and shipping magnate George Hibbert. Hillary, Wilson and Hibbert became a formidable trio and the campaign rapidly gathered momentum.
They agreed that a public meeting should be the main launch pad. And what better venue than the fashionable London Tavern where other charities had been founded?
In the tavern that day, The Archbishop of Canterbury presided over a crowd of aristocrats, clerics, politicians, naval officers, brokers, bankers, merchants and philanthropists, including anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and sea safety guru Captain George Manby.
The plans for the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck were then set out before the distinguished gathering. Little did they know that the 12 resolutions they agreed on would still stand as part of the RNLI's charter 190 years later.
Wilberforce said he was honoured to be there and that 'an Institution like this seems so natural to this country' that he was 'astonished it had not long before this period been established'.
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