190 years ago today, the RNLI was founded in a london tavern...

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'.

RNLI 190th

Since then the RNLI have saved over 140,000 lives as part of their crusade to save lives at sea. The charity has always championed innovation; in 1854 cork lifejackets were first issued to the crew, in 1890 the first steam-driven lifeboat was placed on service in Harwich and in 1891 the first street collection was held in Manchester. During WW1, many of the lifeboat crew were called into duty but the charity continued on, saving 5,332 lives from 1914-1918.

Traditionally, the charity has been synonymous with lifeboats. Today, 237 stations are run by around 7,600 volunteers covering the UK & Ireland coastline. Last week, the crew in Dungeness, Kent were the first to receive a Shannon class lifeboat; the RNLI's newest and most innovative boat to date. The vessel, which was engineered in-house, is propelled by water-jets and capable of 25 knots, making it faster and safer to reach those in need of assistance.

In 2000, the organisation introduced its Flood Rescue Team as a result of the Mozambique floods of February 2000. Since then, the team has been deployed to floods like those at Cockermouth and more recently in Wales and Somerset. At the same time, the charity began to tackle beach safety; and today it is responsible for over 200 lifeguard patrolled beaches in the UK.

In the future, the  RNLI is looking at how it can share its lifesaving expertise with other countries. Their international development program hopes to provide others with the knowledge, equipment and skills to try to reduce loss of life at sea.

The  RNLI remains a charity and relies on the support of the public to fund its lifesaving service,  donate to the RNLI as it celebrates its 190th anniversary.

RNLI 190th birthday video

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