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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Lytham old boathouseA special service in the parish church at St Anne’s-on-Sea on Dec 6 commemorated one of the worst-ever tragedies in the history of the RNLI when 27 lifeboatmen died.

The Mexico disaster of 1886 marked the start of the famous RNLI street collections.

In the 1800s, fund-raising for the RNLI relied on donations of the wealthy few and it was not until the lifeboat disaster off the Lancashire coast was brought to public attention that the first public collection – or flag days – were begun.

Early in the afternoon of Dec 9, the German barque Mexico got into difficulties shortly after leaving Liverpool for Guayaguil in Ecuador. The weather conditions were really atrocious and the barque was being driven towards the shore. The ship put her anchors down and managed to stop drifting off Ainsdale, near Southport.

A few hours later, the barque began drifting again towards the shore, and as the 12 crew fastened themselves to the rigging, distress signals were fired.

The signals were spotted at Southport and the lifeboat Eliza Fernley was dragged on her carriage along the beach until westwards of the ship and just after 11pm, the lifeboat was launched.

On reaching the Mexico, the lifeboat let out an anchor and began drifting down onto the ship but in the terrible seas, the lifeboat capsized and was swept towards the shore. There were just two survivors from her crew of 16.

At 10.25pm, in response to the distress signals, the St Anne’s lifeboat, the Laura Janet, with her crew of 13, was launched and was under oars for the first 500 yards and then set sail.

At nearby Lytham, the lifeboat Charles Biggs, with her crew of 15, set out at 9.05pm and rowed down the estuary before setting sail. She encountered heavy seas and on one particular wave, she was lucky not to capsize. The lifeboat got alongside the Mexico and rescued all the crew, then set out back to Lytham.

Lytham new boathouse

It was not until the following morning that the Lytham crew heard that the St Anne’s lifeboat was missing, and they put out to sea to search for her. During her search, the Lytham boat went alongside Southport Pier and only then discovered that the Southport lifeboat had been lost with all on board except two of her crew.

The memory of that dreadful event and the extreme bravery of those involved was marked by a memorial in the grounds of St Anne’s Parish Church but, after years of abuse from the weather, the wording had almost disappeared. So for the past three years, the church and Lytham St Anne’s Civic Society have been collecting donations to restore the memorial.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2010 Issue
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