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The Penlee Lifeboat Disaster

The Union Star was a brand new mini bulk carrier launched only weeks before her disastrous end. Her Captain Henry Morton and his wife Dawn watched the launch at the Danish port of Ringkobing. On December 11 1981 captain Morton set sail on his maiden voyage to Ijmuiden to pick up his cargo of fertiliser, which was to be delivered to the Irish port of Arklow. On board for this first trip were his wife, two teenage daughters, and a crew of four.

The Village of Mousehole

Three days later in hurricane force winds the Union Star ran into trouble eight miles east of the Wolf Rock when sea water managed to get into her fuel supply. It was the beginning of the end. By Saturday night, just five days after the voyage had begun, the Union Star lay battered and wrecked on the Cornish coast, and Henry Morton, his wife, daughters, and all his crew had perished. What made the tragedy infinitely worse was the further loss of eight men, the complete crew of the lifeboat Solomon Browne, which itself was smashed to pieces on that dreadful night when it tried to go to the aid of the Union Star.

The wreck of the Union Star

Because of the truly awful weather the helicopters scrambled from Culdrose could do little to help, and it was left to the Penlee lifeboat, the Solomon Browne, launched at twelve minutes past eight in the evening from the little village of Mousehole. Under the leadership of the Cox’n Trevelyan Richards the lifeboat struggled down to the Tater Du rock braving forty-foot waves. In a magnificent effort the lifeboat snatched four people from the stricken Union Star, radioed her intentions back to base, and then went in again to try and save the rest. That’s when disaster struck.

The Brave Crew.

What happened nobody will ever know for sure, but with such huge waves so close to the shore the lifeboat probably got smashed against the Union Star’s hull and then pounded into the troughs of the waves against the seabed itself. What ever, all the crew perished and the Solomon Browne disintegrated. Anyone living in Devon and Cornwall that day was stunned by the news. For most of us, seamen or not, the lifeboat is our favourite charity, you see their little boat shaped collection boxes everywhere.

The Landlord was a crew member

We all pay lip service to the dangers, but we hadn’t, thank God, had a disaster for years. The awful reality of ordinary men, most with wives and children, taking such extraordinary risks suddenly hit home, especially as we were all happily gearing up for Christmas. I went and saw the wreck of the Union Star a couple of days later and it was not a pretty sight. Nobody could have lived through that, but the crew of the lifeboat tried, and in the end that’s all anyone can do. I hope that I would have had their courage, but somehow I doubt it.

The Memorial

Twenty years on the scars have healed and Mousehole is just another pretty Cornish village, but all around are little echoes of that fateful day. The most evocative is in the Parish Church of Paul, a village just up the road from Mousehole (an easy walk of about a mile) Here in this beautifully simple old church is a granite stone topped by a lantern containing a crystal chalice. The inscription says it all.

Map showing Mousehole and Paul

97 Responses to The Penlee Lifeboat Disaster

  1. Tony (sponge) says:
    if you have any connection with mousehole you should see this is a song Saluting the soloman brown I knew most of the crew (heroes)

  2. David Tolton says:

    As A Retired Fire Fighter Of 34 Years Sevice I pay Tribute To All Of The R.N.L.I. Life Boat Crews All Around Britains Coast Line.
    I Also Give An Extra Tribute To The Brave Crew Of The Mousehole Crew
    Who Lost Their Lives In Doing Their Duty, GOD BLESS THEM.

  3. David Tolton says:

    As A Retired Fire Fighter Of 34 Years Service I pay Tribute To All Of The R.N.L.I. Life Boat Crews All Around Britains Coast Line.
    I Also Give An Extra Tribute To The Brave Crew Of The Mousehole Crew
    Who Lost Their Lives In Doing Their Duty, GOD BLESS THEM.

  4. Kenneth J.Campbell says:

    My father was in the air sea rescue during the war.i will always remember the story he told me how his crew mates were lost at sea sunk by a mine.He was on a gunery course at the time,he always predicted that he should have been with them. It was his birthday a few days later, the crew had given him a cigarette box of which was painted inside, the boat of which he served. How sad for not just the crew but him left with a sad memory .God bless them all and the woderfull brave thing that you all do

  5. stuart shelby jones says:

    my heart goes out to men so brave and who put their lives on the line for us all, and also the familys they left.. R.I.P……..

  6. Eileen Brindley says:

    I am the window of one of the crew on the Union Star and extremely grateful to the crew of the solomon browne who tried in vain to help rescue them. All RNLI crews deserve great respect and gratitude for all the selfless work they do around our coasts. Can we also remember the crew of the Union Star, the captain’s wife and two teenage daughter’s who also perished that night. The weather that night is still vivid in my memory and apart from those involved in the rescue, nobody can comprehend the fear all must have felt during their last hours.



  8. Natasha W says:

    We visited Mousehole on honeymoon this September and felt truly moved and humbled by the bravery these men faced in their attempt to save others. Such a tragic event happened on that night – RIP all those lost and God Bless those that go out every day in their role as RNLI crew.

    Keep rattling those tins!

  9. daniel bishop says:

    Eileen I would be interested in chatting with you via email if at all possible, my email is

    I am a young film make from Cornwall and I am starting a venture about the amazing story.

    I remember the story and it is amazing, a time when men were men and courage was so important. An inspiration to us all.

    many thanks


  10. Stephen Ford says:

    It is one thing (and a very terrible one) to be on a disabled vessel, being driven by furious weather towards destruction on a rocky coastline. But it is something completely different when men get up from their comfortable firesides, pull on their boots and oilskins, and volunteer to venture into those atrocious conditions to save the lives of others at the hazard of their own. It is this voluntary aspect that puts our lifeboat men, one and all, into the meritocracy of true heroes.

  11. Fred Wallis says:

    I am the proud Father of Gary Wallis who perished on that fatefull rescue, on the night the lifebout was scrambled Gary and I was playing snooker in the British Legion when the marines went off, he said ” look after my beer dad, I will be back”, as we now know he never finished he’s beer.
    I lost a lot of friends that night, as one of the villagers I was a member of a great community, I would like to make one correction, Gary was 22 years of age and was the youngest member of the crew,
    he would now have been 50yo and may have given me Grand Children but that was not meant to be, he will be alive with me forever.
    With pride: Fred Wallis

  12. Fred Wallis says:

    Any contact concerning my comments are welcome, my Email address is,

  13. Patrick Harvey says:

    I am the current Coxswain of the Penlee Lifeboat and i have been reading all the comments about the disaster and i just want to say thankyou to you all, i am sure if the crew of the Solomon Browne were alive today they would be so proud of the crew past and present that serve on the Penlee lifeboat and how far the boats have come on since that night! the Ivan Ellen (our severn class Lifeboat) is just an amazing boat, so much more powerful and seaworthy than the old wooden lifeboats which in turn gives me and the crew confidence in the tasks and enviroment that we endure.

  14. Capt Tim Butten says:

    Please, please don’t forget the crew of the Union Star..The MN are at sea in every weather. It was a tragedy for all involved. The three women lost adds to the tragedy of tragedies.

    My thoughts are with the people of Mousehole & the kin of the Union Star’s crew at this time

  15. Frankie Callaghan says:

    My heart will be heavy tomorrow as I remember all those brave souls on both vessels who perished on that dreadful night.
    To their families I say – I for one will never forget them.

  16. Jim says:

    As a retired firefighter of 25 years I have had full admiration for the crews, male or female. In the the fireservice if something looks a bit risky we can be called to back off from the incedent, This is not the case with the Lads and Girls of the RNLI once they go out in adverse they rarely back off. I hope the families of all members of any crew are well looked after should they, like the Penlee crew suffer the loss of life.
    May your God go with you and help and look over you to be every time you launch.

  17. Tim Rotheray says:

    On the night of 19th December 1981 I was one and a half and no doubt tucked up in my cot in Falmouth during that horrendous storm. It is only this week, when as a leaving present I received ‘Penlee – the loss of a lifeboat’ and appreciated the horror of that night. The RNLI crews are truly amazing and the contiued effort of those on the ‘Solomon Browne’ is humbling. We are hugely fortunate to have such a wonderful service with dedicated crews.

    It is good to see that those who perished both lifeboat men and those on the Union Star are remembered.

  18. Justine Smith says:

    I am writing this on behalf of my husband Michael Smith who lost his only brother Kevin on the Soloman Browne – he was 23 at the time of the disaster and has now been dead longer than he was alive.Every year we put flowers on the railings of the boathouse for the crew – our daughters Laura and Emily who were never lucky enough to know their Uncle in person either come with us or have a memorial for the crew wherever they are – Laura lives in Lisbon so wasn’t with us this year.Roy,Kevin’s Dad comes with us to put a wreath on the railings we take our wreath and flowers off on Jan 6th which was Kevin’s birthday and throw them into the sea.This year Mike went out on the Ivan Ellen with Emily and she took a red rose for each crew member and threw them into the sea off Tater Dhu where the boys were lost.They were as Russell Smith the US Air Force pilot said the 8 bravest men – they will always live on in our hearts and memories.Shine on you crazy diamonds

  19. paul harris says:

    please remember all that died that night ,my dad worked for union transport at the time henry was such a nice person i was a child then r.i.p for all the souls loss that night and thanks to the brave men that tried to save everyone regards paul

  20. Dave Berryman says:

    The moment I woke on that fateful morning I immediatley knew something terribe had happened it was a feeling I have never experienced before or since. As a serving policeman I rang the station at Penzance to be told the tragic news. I was not required to work but I walked along the prom and saw men I knew to be hard men openly crying. Everybody was saying the same thing that we had lost OUR lifeboat which went to show the high esteem that the lifeboat crew were held in. Everybody in Mousehole would have known someone in the crew but this was also the same for so many people in Newlyn and Penzance. During my 30 years in the police force I worked with all the emergency services who were just brilliant at what they did but I have always put the lifeboat crews at the top of the tree. I feel very proud to have personally known two of the crew of the Solomon Browne.

  21. Malcolm Grace says:

    I lost my friend and his wife in this disaster, Henry (Mick) Morton and his wife Dawn. Mick sailed with me as my mate during our Tower Shipping days and I always found Mick to be a very competent seaman . I remember the evening well as I was working ashore at the time for Tower Shipping and people were ringing my home phone to see if I had any information on the incident.
    My respect goes to all who perished.

  22. andrew h says:

    respect to everyone involved. my dad worked as a shipwright in those days and solomon browne was a vessel he had worked on. though i was only 2 at the time he told me about this event when i was a bot older. ive done a youtube tribute to honour these heros and to remember then all.

  23. andrew h says:

    any of you above if you would like to share any memories please contact me. my email is

  24. Dick Bennett says:

    Despite the fact that the best part of 30 years have now elapsed since that tragic day, I am still always moved by the events of that night and the heroism demonstrated by so many from what is, when all is said and done, a ‘volunteer’ service (and long may it remain so). I have no connection with either Penlee or Mousehole, other than as an occasional visitor, but the actions of the crew that night exemplify in my opinion and experience as a ‘fair weather’ leisure yachtsman, everything that the RNLI stands for and represents. I trust that all souls lost that night, from both the Solomon Browne and the Union Star, have found eternal rest. It is to be hoped that their sacrifice that night will never be forgotten, and full marks to Seth Lakeman for providing the ‘vehicle’ required to keep this tragedy in the public’s consciousness.

  25. Newlyn was my home at age 6. Cornwall, at age 93 is still my favourite county. Kevin Smith of the Solomon Browne was my patient as a little boy when I looked after him and his mother in Mexborough, S.Yorks. In November 94 I went with her on the Lifeboat that served as replacement-Mabel Alice perhaps- on an occasion when we went to commemorate the loss of all those brave men at the spot where the tragedy occurred. We joined the Lifeboat at Newlyn Where in !922 my father had been the Methodist minister. It was a few days following the death of my wife of 49 years in Portscatho. Mrs Smith had asked me to hold her hand, so to speak, when she read the lesson ar the service on the lifeboat. She did so valiantly and threw a wreath into the sea. I shall always remember that solemn occasion and never cease to wonder at the courage and self sacrifice of all thoese brave men.
    I am about to include a story of Mousehole in my latest book when the characters enjoy a night in that famous little place at the end of their holiday. Title: ‘Joanna and Bryan’. Publishing date ? October or thereabouts.
    Making a film? Why not try one based on my first book, ‘Into Africa with Scalpel and Spanner’, due I hope in August. I spent ten years in a Mission Hospital in Nigeria, ‘twixt 42 & 52.
    I doubt if I shall manage Mousehole this year but shall, I hope, be driven to Portscatho for a week from September 25

  26. jacky says:

    I knew them all. My parents lived next door to John Blewitt. I live in Yorkshire and will never forget waking up the morning after and hearing the news. We had been staying with my parents in the summer and my husband had travelled back up to Yorkshire with Kevin on the train. They were amazing and should never be forgotten.

  27. John Kinsman says:

    In October 2009 I visited the site of the memorial situated on the road to Mousehole. I wrote a short item about it with a photo in the newspaper I work for VoiceforArran in Scotland. Those brave crew will never be forgotten.

  28. MAC MC LAREN says:

    As a supporter of Mabel Alice,many stories are coming to the boat,about 1981,MA`s service life.To get personal accounts after nearly 30 years is incredible.Recently met a lady who`s father sold his business to David Robinson(benefactor….Mabel Alice being his wife).She detailed the story,which is very emotional.The boat today,is in fantastic condition,a tribute to the build quality of RNLI boats.Im very proud to be associated with Penlee/Mabel Alice.

  29. Jennie says:

    My fiancé & I are huge supporters of the RNLI. What happened that night was an awful tragedy. My heart goes out to all of the crew of the Solomon Browne and the Union Star and the bravery which was shown on that night. I am currently on holiday in Trebetherick and visited Penlee lifeboat including the old station at Mousehole. It certainly is very moving. I have the book on the Penlee disaster but I also believe there was a documentry? Does anyone know where I could get a copy of this? Please could you email me: Thank you.
    Lets carry on supporting the men at sea!

  30. Jennie says:

    My email add is – not sure if it was clear above. Thanks in advance

  31. robert thompson says:

    I will never forget Kevin Smith,he was a great friend to me during our time that we served in the merchant navy together,yet during all the time i knew him and the endless time we spent together he rarely mentioned the voluntary work he did with the penlee lifeboat and the dangers associated with it.Kevin was always smiling and we had some good times together,he was so happy at times and so i know that even though Kevin is not with us at the moment that at times his life was enjoyable and full.We both served on a ship called Port Caroline and we visited numerous places together and got into a few scrapes along the way,i suppose both of us being 17 year olds this was such a big adventure to us both….Kev my mate i will not forget the times we had and the friendship you showed me and along with all your brave friends that crewed the lifeboat that awful night you will never be forgotten..

  32. Ben says:

    As a small child born in the early 70’s one of the programmes on T.V. that I always remember (and still do) was a BBC documentary (broadcast around 1976) or series simply called “Lifeboat”,the boat we followed was the “Solomon Browne” stationed off of Penlee Point and she was manned by most of the wonderful people who would be lost with her on that fateful december night.I am a Londoner so I’d never seen a “real” lifeboat and began pestering my Mum to take us to the coast for a holiday.A few years later in the summer of 80 or 81 we went to Cornwall and I was always looking out to sea like it was something new and saw a lifeboat going to aid some souls in need of her and her crews help.Rolling on to that awful night I awoke to the dreadful news the next morning(I was 10 years old)and just burst into tears knowing that 16 people were gone and a community was in total shock and grief.The people who were lucky(for their families at least)were able to bury their loved ones and that was the worst thing to see all those poor people who’s heroic loved ones were lost and the teas and pain of the Christmas Eve andBoxing Day funerals being widely shown on national news is something I’ll never forget.

    Thank you to all those we lost that night and huge respect for all you mariners who put the safety of others above your own well-being

  33. shawne stewart says:

    I am the grandaughter of dawn, (married to Henrey morton) seems impossible i know but she adopted my mother soon after birth in 1972. My mother has always told me the story of the penlee lifeboat disaster and every time ive heard it, my heart sunk and ive always felt much saddness for all the people who lost their lives that night. such a terrible thing to happen to such loving and caring people. my heart totally goes out to eveyrone who lost someone that night and much respect for them all! They’ll always be rememberd as heros. sadly my mother passed away 3months ago and shes always wanted her ashes to be down in cornwall, close to her mother and two big sisters. so hopefully i’ll be down there one day doing the deed for her and finally get to find out more history of the lifboat and solomon browne. i will never forget the story of the penlee disaster, and my heart will always go out to those brave heros!!!

  34. Nick Paul says:

    I just stumbled accross this site and wanted to pay my respects.
    I was 7 at the time of the disaster and I vaguely remember how eerie things were at the time, almost like the whole county had fallen silent, not that usual hum drum you normally get when you go out christmas shopping. My mum was born in Mousehole, in a cottage looking over the harbour, and my Gran who is 80 now, Carrie Strick, married to Leonard Strick have since moved on, (Grandad passed 13 years ago) I recall, telling me the stories of the older members of the crew, who they were, where they lived,…..I feel very emotional reading these comments here, I know none of the berieved families, but when I try to explain to people here in the Netherlands where I now live what the Penlee Lifeboat disaster was, I get very passionate about it. I have only small ties I know, but I love Cornwall, and Mousehole especially, although I’ve never lived there myself it has a strange ‘pull’, has a very special place in my heart. Very special people, and a very special crew.

    My respects to all those associated with December 19th 1981

  35. neil lock says:

    does anyone have a copy on vhs or dvd of the penlee lifeboat disaster ????
    if you do please get intouch via my email
    i,ll leave a donation to the rnli.
    many thanks

  36. Nick Paul says:

    God Bless you all………

  37. Peter Herbert says:

    First off I have to say that I’m from the land-locked East Midlands so I’m far removed from Cornwall, however for the past couple of years I have become entangled, if that is the right word, in this disaster.
    It’s strange because I can’t actually remember the event at the time, being 51, and remembering disasters such as Aberfan and the Torreycanyon, you would think I would.
    I first became aware via the marvelous documentary ‘Cruel Sea’ on the BBC five years ago (I meant to keep the recording but recorded over it!) but then in January 2008 I heard for the first time a piece of music that has had an effect on me like no other – ‘Penlee’ by Simon Dobson.
    I have been an amateur musician in Brass Bands for 40 years and, of course, bands are a strong part of the Cornish heritage. In 2007 Simon Dobson, a young Cornishman was comissioned to write a work for the Cornish Youth Band and the end result was ‘Penlee’. Simon had grown up knowing of the Penlee story because he had been born prematurely just prior to the disaster so was going through his own struggle at the time and the piece is a vivid portrayal of the events of that night as his tribute to all the lives lost.
    The piece takes us trough different scenarios and emotions however, the climax of the piece comes towards the end of the thirteen and a half minute work with the depiction of three enormous waves and then the music gradually disappears, just as the storm did, to leave peace and tranquility and the tolling of a ships bell.
    I first heard the piece at a serious band festival in Manchester and vividly remember being caught in the emotions of the piece and sitting there numb and in tears, and then experiencing the audience reaction to the piece – stunned silence before muted applause, something I’d never experienced before.
    A recording of the work has since been released and not a week goes by when I don’t listen to it, read parts of Michael Sagar-Fenton’s excellent book or listen to the radio broadcast which features live snippets of radio reports from the night itself, and the thing that always get to me is listening to the voice of Trevelyan Richards and the fact he wasn’t a ‘superhero’ he was just an ‘ordinary bloke’, as all the eight were.
    On this 29th anniversary I would just like to say R.I.P. to the eight and the other eight – you will never be forgotten.

  38. Jim Stanley says:

    If any body has a copy of the Cruel Sea documentary featuring the Penlee Lifeboat disaster I would very much to copy or borrow it.

    Please can someone help me?

    I will glady pay costs and make (another) donation to the wonderful RNLI.

    Many thanks
    Jim Stanley

  39. Stephen Litton says:

    As this awful disaster was playing itself out I was serving as Mate on the Union Arrow approaching Dunkirk. I have a foot in both sides of this tragic event. My father Tom Litton was a great Friend Of James Madrons Father, Skipper of the Renovelle. For a time we lived in Mousehole. It was by meeting Mick Morton in my home port of Exmouth that I obtained a job, first as Mate, and then as Master with Union Transport. I also knew Jim the Mate on the Star. A couple of weeks later we went to Ijmuiden to pick up the cargo of fertiliser for Arklow that should have arrived on the Star. When we passed Lands End we went in close to see what remained of the Star. It was sunny, flat calm and awfully sad.

  40. Gary Jenkins says:

    does anyone have a copy on vhs or dvd of the penlee lifeboat disaster
    if you do please get intouch via my email

    Many Thanks

  41. paul says:

    I will never forget that night the bbc news lifeboat gone with her crew & the crew off penlee that were rescued. Its so sad i have promised myself that i will go to penlee to say how i felt on that night for the crew.I remember them for ever, as i live in Dunlaoghaire which lost her lifeboat crew of 15 back in 1895 on the 24 of december, & i will tell you to this day we will not forget you brave men & wimon that are ready to help leaving maybe a cup of tea or something else to save who ever. Thanking all you at rnli even the people that do not go to sea. Well thanks

  42. Bev bambrough says:

    I am writing this on my last evening in Penzance after a little holiday here. I came with my eldest daughter Logan especially to visit Mousehole. I knew about the Penlee disaster and have been thinking about those brave seamen for the last few days. My late father was an engineer in the Merchant Navy- the lifeboats are the only charity I stop and give to in the street, I was brought up by the sea in Sunderland. My parents went on honeymoon to Mousehole on 1962, I was born the next year. As a child, I heard mum talk about Mousehole and I always always wanted to visit, I felt drawn to the place, sounds daft I know. Finally being here, it is all I
    imagined and more. So sad about those men, I have been thinking about them and I wish my dad knew that I finally got here.

  43. Steven Phillips says:

    I went to school with kevin at Heamoor and a nicer lad you could not meet. I never thought he would give his life in such a way but what do you know when your lads at school I grew up to be a major in the army and I wish he was by my side now.God bless you keven and the rest of you there are none braver than the crew of the lifeboat

  44. ness66 says:

    would just like to say i adopted Cornwall as my home county when i was about 7, im now 45, and over the last 5 to 7 years have adopted Mousehole as home although we do not live there(mores the pity) I remember the loss of the boat in 1981 only to well with it being Christmas week and have learned alot more since then,What phenomely brave men to go out in that storm, a disaster that could of been avoided, for all but a TOW………..My father who also loved Cornwall passionately like me…died recently, his funeral collection is going to the RNLI, but specifically the PENLEE boat, god look after her and all who sail in her…..

  45. Dave Lock says:

    I would just like to put my thoughts in writing for others to think about and maybe comment on.In my opinion the crew of the Solomon Browne are the bravest of the brave say what you like about footballers or other celebrities.The word hero is banded about too much.These men who constantly volunteered to put their lives on the line to save others are the true heroes as are every single other lifeboat crew member to this day.I say this as a serving firefighter who is occasionally called upon to rescue other human beings.I cannot comprehend what these men went through on that night but I’m sure they saw it as doing their duty they will never be forgotten as they made the ultimate sacrifice.My respect also to their families as how can you prepare for what they had to deal with.Rest In Peace

  46. Peter Little says:

    As a retired merchant seaman I can only add my deepest respect for all RNLI volunteers. Here is a link to a song written to commemorate the gallantry and tragic loss of that night by Neil Kimber of Kimber’s Men.
    To all Lifeboatmen, Firefighters and those who put their lives on the line to save others – God Bless you all

  47. liz says:

    BBC 4 has scheduled a repeat of The Cruel Sea on 20 December, the day after the thirtieth anniversary.

  48. Pat Rosney says:

    It is nice to see a site like this remembering the heroic actions of the Penlee Lifeboat crew on 19 Dec 1981. Hopefully they will never be forgetten for their courage in attempting a rescue in such tough sea conditions.
    I was captain of the Union Saturn and safely tied up in Antwerp on that fateful night and listening to the distress unfolding. It was the longest sadest night ever.
    I knew both Mike and his mate Jimmy very well and two nicer more competent seafarers you could not meet.
    R.I.P.all involved.

    Pat Rosney.

  49. David Walker says:

    I was barely old enough to remember this properly (5), but since I first saw the 2006 Documentary I have been amazed by the amazing selflessness and bravery these men showed. I have just finished reading Penlee “the loss of a lifeboat” and have fruitlessly been searching for the documentary online.I have just discovered it will be shown on BBC 4 at 10pm on the 20th of December 2011. I hope as many people as possible see this, so all those sadly lost can be remembered as heroes. RIP to the crew of the Soloman Browne and Union Star.

  50. Fran says:

    For those wishing to know the documentary “The Cruel Sea” About the penlee lifeboat disaster is to be shown on BBC4 at 10 pm on Tuesday 20th December 2011..

  51. Philip Kearns says:

    I was there that night as part of the Royal Navy Plymouth Clearance Diving Team. We got the call around 9.00 PM and headed straight down arriving late at night. John Smith was our leader and the other guys were Spike Hughes, Paddy Doonan and myself.
    A horrible and frightening night. We managed to get onto the Union Star as she lay upside down on the rocks. We were hoping for survivors inside the hull but all to no avail. We tried to blow our way through the hull but conditions were so bad we could not effectively secure explosives to the hull.

    I remember as daylight came we could see the full magnitude of the storm. As the waves hit the Union Star the force of the waves were so great the ships propellor was spun like a top. I remember John Snow the journalist appearing in the morning and organising hot food for us which was very good of him.

    I shall never forget that night and if I was home Dec 19th instead of offshore in the North Sea I would be on the cliff overlooking the scene and maybe shed a little tear for those lost lives of thirty years ago.

    Small world. I live in the North West of England near the city of Chester and the landlord of my local pub is the brother of one of the lifeboat crew on the Solomon Brown. We have never spoken of the event.

  52. Mike Dunse says:

    Monday the 19th December 2011, three days away as I write this, will be the 30th anniversary of the loss of the Penlee boat and her crew. We will remember them.

  53. Rob Fitzgerald says:

    The selfness nature of all the (alive or died) RNLI lifeboat volunteers is truly staggering.
    It is hard to put into words the amount of respect and pride I have for these volunteers.
    We are an island nation and it is a testament to the true human spirit of helping people who cannot help themselves. Tales of the past, present and future is and will continue to be truly inspiring.

  54. Bill says:

    I come from a fishing village in Donegal In Ireland. I have fished for twenty years and know the pain of losing loved ones at sea. Its a pain that is shared in every coastal village and town and I feel it for both these crews. I lost six friends in 1995 when MFV Carrikatine was lost without trace returning to port in a November gale. Lets all hope the are all sharing a beer and a song somewhere warm and dry now with the Penlee and Union Star crew. We will meet again lads.

  55. Steve Deeks says:

    True heroes; not in it for the money, the glory or any kind of personal gain. We should teach our kids their story to demonstrate the highest quality of human spirit. The world needs people who demonstrate this quality of behaviour.

    I’ve always loved staying in and visiting Mousehole. The crew of The Solomon Browne will never be forgotten, and to all the families, (and of the Union Star), my deepest respects.

  56. Richard Trevor Durrell says:

    as a son of a capten who saild on the union sun, pluto and venus in the 80’s my memorys go out to all on the star and the lifeboat

  57. davemason says:

    godbless them all.

  58. Debbie says:

    Does anybody have any information regarding a vessel called the Mark that was also lost that night in or around the same area. The ship was never recovered although items off the ship were found on Marazian beach a few days after the Penlee lifeboat disaster. Unfortunately my Grandad was lost on that awful night too. He was travelling from teignmouth to Italy carrying China Clay. Any information would be gratefully received. My email address is RIP to all those that lost their lives that night.

  59. robert leahy says:

    last night i watched the documentary on the 1981 penlee disaster. after watching it i sat staring at the screen and couldnt believe the utter braveness of the crew. i can only imagine what they went through during that cruel evening. they will never be forgotten.

  60. liam keegan says:

    i am doing research on sea disasters and need some info on the penlee lifeboat. if the rescue had been a sucess where would the solomon browne have taken the survivors. Would she return to mousehole or would she seek the nearest safe port. God rest their souls.

  61. You can definitely see your skills within the paintings you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. At all times follow your heart.

  62. goutsmit robert says:

    dath nigt we was on anchor in the bay of st ives .i was on board of N.36 donia


    Just last evening we returned from Cornwall.Im 45 and dont remember the the disaster at all from 30+ years ago.Weird as i remember the tori canyon.As a boy i adored our Holidays to Mullion.The Lizard,StJust,foghorns,lighthouses,lifeboats,Its dark at night,pasties,clotted cream and ofcourse mousehole,so much so my wife and i wanted to give our two kids some real English/cornish Culture.A taste of real England rather than Tenerife or another all inclusive Med Holiday.My two are 12 and 14yrs.
    We drove out along the coast road from pensance.A Pleasantly mild evening, misty,but not a breath of wind.We fancied fish and chips and stumbled on a chippie open in mousehole[about to close].We sat at around 9pm[ish]over looking the harbour.
    Sat on the car bonnet eating our chips.I noticed we all had started whispering to eachother when talking.I never gave it anymore though or mentioned it.Felt quite somber/ solom,we all felt it.Hence the whispering
    The morning after we followed the coast again and decided to stop at a few points of intrest.Started at St Ives.Along the route a tinmine/exibition.They have a shop and wanting a momento we wandered in.I cant explain,, WHY,, i walked streight over to the books and picked up,, THE LOSS OF A LIFEBOAT,,I was in a tinmine exibition,i should have been buying polished tinmine stuff,fudge or a paperweight.Walked streight in and picked up the book 20yrds in the shop.Passing all sorts of stuff of intrest first.
    I dont read at all,i dont go in the sea since Jaws was released,dont fish,sail,im from Wigan so no attachment with the sea.I am also prudent with my money in gift shops.
    I was drawn streight to that book.Compelled to buy it and im so glad i did.We sat in that evening while i read it and the Mrs & kids played board games.
    Im 20stones,6ft1,married a miners daughter and from a mineing family and ive done abit[or thought i had].
    My wife took the kids swimming when she saw the tears in my eyes start rolling down my cheeks as i read.
    The picture on the cover of the book is of the harbour we ate our fish and chips on the evening before.I dont know why i was drawn to or bought the book,its fate perhaps.
    What i do know is
    We all left Cornwall feeling very humble and we learned a few lessons after reading the book that sat in classroom cant teach.Culture at its very finest and why this country is called GREAT Britain
    God Bless to all and Thank You.


    Here is a link to the Penlee video done by the BBC
    I noticed many people have requested it,so just trying to help.Its on you tube.I hope ther isnt any problem with links to other sites.Please accept my appolls if i have broken any site rules.



  65. Dennis Hawkins says:

    Tears roll down my cheeks every time I read about the Solomon Browne. What selfless courage was shown that dreadfull night. The RNLI are all brave volunteers. Long may they stay independent of the government, and God bless them all.

  66. Jon Bisson says:

    I was too young to join Porthleven Coastguard, but still used to go out on ‘shouts’ with my father & brother.
    The maroon went off that grey saturday evening, so I started to get ready to go out. Mother put a stop to that & I was a bit teasy about it. I soon realised that mouther was protecting me from I might see.
    Porthleven Coastguard joined other crews from St.Keverne to St.Agnes.
    Thankfully my family came home, even my sister’s boyfriend,Steve Marlow. He got quite battered by the masts of the Union Star, as the sea king winched him down on to the violently rocking vessel.
    Please spare a thought for hte other Lifeboat crews that attemted to get to the scene.
    Sennen boat couldn’t get around Land’s End, for fear of flipping over in the massive waves.
    Lizard Lifeboat was leaking like a basket when they hauled her back into the boathouse.
    St.Mary’s boat managed to make it safely, as it was one of the new Severn class boats. Still quite a journey from Isles of Scilly.
    Over 30 years on, I still pay my respects to the crew & my friends families.
    RIP Boys.

  67. Steve hough says:

    looks up…hiya Johnny Biss..what a suprise lol…well as for crew of Solomon Browne, the bravest bunch of men who have ever walked the planet on that night…and if the captain of Union Star hadnt been so damn selfish trying to prevent salvage rights for so long, the members of that ship would have been pulled off a lot sooner and Solomon Browne’s crew would still be alive! ….simple

  68. martin Noyes says:

    I remember the Penlee disaster very well as it was the day after my 21st birthday, and all the reporting of it at the time.I love Cornwall and being there very much, I stay in St Keverne on the Llizard penisular and have visited the life boat station at mousehole and been into Newlyn.
    Living in Surrey , being a landlocked county, some here , find it strange , that RNLI collectors call or are seen here in Godalming high street, I happily give my coins to their collection boxes.
    Perhaps if those find it odd in a land locked county, might find themselves in a similar situation of being in distrees on a boat or maybe a similar situation to those on the Union star, they might perhaps think differently.

  69. martin Noyes says:

    also I recall a documentry about the disaster, in which the USN helicopter piolet was interviwed, in which he broke down, never forgotten that,

  70. Julian rigby says:

    I sailed by the wreck site today,on the mv scilonian 3 . My thoughts went out to the crew of the union star,the brave lifeboat,crew on that faithful night. I knew mick Morton when he was skipper of the union sun.I was on the Hoofort one of r lap thorns fleet.We sailed a lot of the same routes,a really great guy.

  71. Nikki Ragsdale says:

    december 19

    It is December again and the anniversary approaches, of that terrible night when the Solomon Browne and the Union Star went down with all hands lost. My heart goes out to all concerned. So many fine people, so suddenly gone, now stars in the heavens.

     I feel particularly close to them and to that event, because I was at sea too, during that same gale. On December 19, 1981, my friend and I, and her small son, were with many other people on the Stena Normandica, heading to Ireland for Christmas. We set sail from Fishguard to Rosslare as that gale blew in. Our departure had been delayed by a broken door (I later found out from officers of the  ship), and it was late afternoon when we left.

    To this day it is not completely clear to me what madness caused them to take us out, but they did. We soon headed into extremely high seas (I was told by the captain next day they were at least 70 foot waves). Everyone was lying on the floor, among crashes of things falling and breaking, and the creaks and groans of the ship, and the sounds of the gale. It was like a roller coaster, rising on the swell and sliding down again and again. We feared for our lives, and did not know whether the ship would go down any minute. Thank God, they managed to turn her and get back to the coast, where we ran up and down on the heavy seas, waiting for the gale to subside. (I was told we could not re-enter the port because of the door. )

    At that point, being able to get up and walk again, my friend and I went to find officers to get some news. We ended up being invited into the bridge and met the captain and other officers (there was an executive officer from high up in the Stena Line in there, too…and this is also when I was told why we had not gone back into the port), and we were on the bridge when the news came in by radio that the Penlee Lifeboat had gone down with all her brave crew, along with the ship they were trying to save and its complement, including that captain’s family members. 

    I will never forget that devastating news and the terrible sorrow everyone felt. We had so narrowly escaped a similar fate at exactly the same time that the other souls were being lost close by in that terrible gale. God rest their souls, all of them. And may there be comfort for their loved ones today. I know that even now the memory is fresh, whenever the time comes around. I remember it, too.

  72. mike wilson says:

    I was on a ship called the isabel mitchell about 12 to 16 miles away on the night we were in ballast sailed from Dublin on passage to Germany, a small coaster i am now 65 years of age i have not and will never forget that night i knew Henry Morgan before he joined the Union Star, he was a skipper for mitchells i was at sea for 29 years and have seen many storms but never one sow violent and ugly, the men of the SOLOMON BROWN were undoubtably beyond any dout the bravest most valiant men ever to put to sea, and that is saying some thing when men put there lives on the line every day at sea, the difference is they gave there all in a valiant effort to save the lives of others, i am hopeing to go to penzance on the 19 dec i have waited thirty odd years to go but i know it is something i want to do before i die and God willing this year i will do it mike wilson ex M.N

  73. Ben says:

    Just wanted to leave my respects and best wishes to all the surviving families of these extremely brave men on the anniversary of this terrible tragedy

    May your spirits soar on and on

  74. Sarah says:

    Another anniversary comes around and may we never forget the acts of bravery from the crew of the Soloman Brown sadly and tragically lost.
    A Helston girl I was a child on this terrible night but I remember and I continue to remember.
    Please continue to support the RNLI.
    My thoughts are with the friends and families of those tragically lost on that dreadful night.

  75. Michele Batten says:

    On board of the Solomon Brown, was a doctor, Dr Reid. That night, he was not on duty but nevertheless came to take his place on board, thereby saving one younger man’s life. As he came on board he said: “This is a night for the old men; stay on shore and look after your family”. I was already in
    australia but I was proud of them all and every year, come the 19th of December I have a special thought for them, especially for Dr Reid who seemed to have anticipated the no-return.
    Michele Batten, formerly of Newlyn

  76. Paul Stanley says:

    I worked in The Coastguard Pub ( ? Ken Best had it then) many years ago…and got to know many of the local’s….I often missed the last bus and would walk back to PZ after work.. I always said hello as a walked past the lifeboat Station, or spent a minute looking out to sea. The bravest of the brave. Forever in my thoughts.

  77. Tim Waller says:

    Like so many other people I was deeply moved by the BBC documentary and, like them, would love a copy of it on DVD to show my children as a lesson in values and courage. Could the BBC not release it on DVD with all the proceeds going to the RNLI?

  78. gemma williams says:

    my dad knew every man on the solomon browne, had worked in the legion and the ship (john boase formerly of the flat next to the ship) he used to tell me stories of the lifeboat as a child it was only as i got older i found out more, i had the honour of meeting neil brockman too, he seemed so happy that his dad was still fondly remembered, and every year on the anniversary of that night, i light my candle in rememberance of my dads friends, even named my daughters sennen-rose and lamorna rose which in gloucestershire are very unusual names god bless them all

  79. Jonathan Brown says:

    I’ll never forget the terrible disaster, the dreadful loss of life. I worked in the owners offices at Union Transport London all those years ago & I just could not believe it when I heard the tragic news on the radio. Unfortunately, the company has now failed in the really difficult present economic climate & Union Transport is now under administration with huge debts.
    A sad end indeed to one of Britain’s shipowners.
    My thoughts go out to the families of those lost in the disaster & also to staff & crew who may lose their employment.

  80. Submitted on 2013/09/30 at 7:49 am
    Colin Thornton
    ( x )wrote:
    Travelling to mousehole tommorrow to show our respects ! Never been involved with the sea as lived in London and lancashire but for some reason strong force drawing me to mousehole
    Have watched the documentary cruel sea a number of times but bravery and selfness courage to go out and try to save people without a thought for themselves puts the crew at gods right hand as examples to humanity on how to behave and help their fellow man! I do wish that the queens honours list would recognise true heroes lifeboat crews firefighters dr and nurses and not the overpaid constantly seeking attention celebrities

  81. Ben ( wrote:
    In my thoughts today on this terrible anniversary,incredibly brave men who will always be remembered with pride and admiration.Also crew of Union Star are loved and respected equally.

    God Bless Every Lost Soul

  82. Mark Treharne ( wrote:
    As a 5 year-old living in Dorset at the time I remember being aware of the tragedy. Years later I am discussing with a colleague of mine how selfless acts of courage are too often forgotten – and the story of the Penlee lifeboat came into conversation. I was made aware of the ‘Cruel Sea’ documentary and that night searched on the internet for it. Thankfully it is on youtube, so myself and my partner watched it – I was left in absolute awe that the lifeboat crew so readily made that total commitment to saving everyone that they could. No fuss, just sheer courage and determination – fine examples of human beings. I cannot imagine how the people on the Union Star must’ve felt in those seas. It is so lovely to see that the memories of those 16 people that were lost that night live on. At the weekend I told my 10 year-old son to watch the documentary and I explained to him that if there is any doubt in his mind about what makes a good person, then he should think back to the crew of the Solomon Browne and their actions, and that I want him to tell his children and grandchildren about it in the future. One of my good friends also watched the documentary with his daughters for the very same reason. I plan to visit Mousehole in 2014 and pay homage to these amazing men. When I was at work last night I thought about the ultimate sacrifice made 32 years ago. May the 16 people lost that night never be forgotten.

  83. Revd Canon Doug Robins ( wrote:
    All are welcome to the Commemoration events in Veryan on the weekend of 1-2 February 2014.

    On Saturday 1 February from 10 am to 4 pm there will an exhibition of photographs, artefacts etc.
    At 7:30 pm that evening in the Church there will be an evening of song and story to commemorate and remember.
    On Sunday 2 February at 11 am there will be a Requiem Service with the Roseland Churches’ Choir.
    At 3 pm that afternoon there will be a rededication of the memorial and laying of memorial wreath at the grave by the Dean of Truro Cathedral.

  84. Liam bull says:

    19th of the 12th in 1981
    8 men was stood ready to save human life
    when the call came to put afloat
    8 men stood on that penlee lifeboat.

    The was no turning back
    for lifeboat nor crew
    as she roared down her slipway to her doom.

    The sea was horrendous the sky was black
    the clap of thunder didn’t hold her back
    as the penlee lifeboat enter the sea
    though the breaking surf she ploughed
    a time for a pray as the wind in that boathouse
    whistled a eerie sound they was not coming back.

    To the union star she made her way
    now only yards from land
    eight men fought with all there might
    on the rail they stood with arms wide open
    to catch the strangers from there peril.

    Pick up by a great white horse the Solomon browne
    was crashed upon the deck of the union star
    as before she slid back into the sea
    she took four souls off and went back for more.

    Rescue helicopter was above tired its best
    as did the tug and left to watch the lifeboat men
    to give there life’s because they cared,

    The lost crew:

    Trevelyan Richards (56) (Coxswain)
    James Stephen Madron (35) (2nd Coxswain/Mechanic)
    Nigel Brockman (43) (Asst Mechanic, fisherman)
    John Blewett (43) (Emergency Mechanic, telephone engineer)
    Kevin Smith (23)
    Barrie Torrie (33) (fisherman)
    Charles Greenhaugh (46) (landlord of Ship Inn, Mousehole)
    Gary Wallis (23)

    A tribute to the brave Lifeboat men
    on that horrendous night
    and all lifeboatmen
    that put others first before them self’s

    (C)2013 L P BULL. All Rights Reserved

  85. mark holwell says:

    i remember this still clearly i was 10 yrs old at the time. i remember getting up next morning to hope everyone had been found sadly it was not to be it broke my heart.too many people are called heroes and the word is used to often for people like footballers actors etc but to me this eight men are true heroes and must never be makes me wonder how scared they must have felt as they headed towards the rocks but pushed on getting 4 people off then turning around to try and get the last four and in doing so sacrificed their own lives this was a true act of bravery as they were not going to leave anybody behind.i am so proud of thoughts also go out to the union star crew i can only imagine the distress especially the two children must have felt in those last few hours. rest in peace to the crew of the solomon browne and the union the people who read this when on your next holiday and you see the collection box for the lifeboat please please but in a donation however small as the moto on the box is true train one save many these men and women do a fantastic job day in day out to keep us safe at sea

  86. David says:

    I have always been fond of Cornwall having been on holiday there several times in the 1970s after my parents bought a caravanette. I fondly remember the fishing harbours and windy steep streets of some of the villages. I remember the lifeboat Solomon Brown being lost and I think it was covered by Blue Peter kids tv show although I was 15 at the time.
    I promised myself that I would visit Mousehole and did so in 1989 with my future wife after going on a camping holiday and making an effort to visit. The crew of the Solomon Brown were brave and honourable people and will never be forgotten as will the crew and passengers lost on the Union Star will not be forgotten. My mothers brothers served in the merchant navy during ww2 and I suppose the greater enemy will always be the sea itself.

  87. Lisa franklin says:

    I was willing those brave, courageous men through out to succeed, wishing there was some way of changing the horrendous events of that fateful night. I still can’t believe what they did and to see and hear their voices made me cry. They must never be forgotten and to their loved ones who lost husbands, sons fathers, brothers. God bless them.

  88. Sean V says:

    I would like to write to Fred Wallis, Gary Wallis’s father, but the email address Fred has provided does not work anymore. Does anyone know of a more current email address where Fred can be contacted?

    Many thanks in advance if anyone is able to help.

  89. Gary Leonard says:

    The bravest of the brave. God bless them and their family’s .

  90. matt says:

    Service not self rip

  91. M.J Morton says:

    Union Star and Solomon Browne
    In proud and loving memory.33 years on. Forever the bravest of the brave. God bless you all.Sleep peacefully.

  92. David Ricketts says:

    I am now retired but in the past I was an Engineer Officer in the Merchant Navy and have been in such storms as that experienced by crews of the Solomon Browne and the Union Star on the night of 19 December 1981. Storms of that magnitude are not a pleasant experience either on land or sea and remind us how terrible nature can be.

    I had left the Merchant Navy in 1975 but still earned a living from the sea at Falmouth Docks until I moved to Southampton in 1981.

    On the night of 19/12/81 I was working a night shift when the news of the loss of the Solomon Browne and the Union Star came through on the radio. Other people on shift that night were ex Merchant Navy and we were all shocked at that news.

    Last night I watched the BBC documentary on YouTube and the point at which radio contact disappeared was dreadful watching.

    The crew of the Solomon Browne deserve our utmost respect for putting to sea that night and also the crew of the helicopter for attempting a rescue. Heroism of the highest order,

    Lifeboat crews today carry on that selfless tradition and deserve our respect and admiration.

  93. To the parents, friends and families of those lost:

    I am an English teacher at Torpoint Community College. Each year I teach students about the Penlee disaster. As one of the most heart-rending and dramatic true stories I know, it is a superb opportunity not just to teach students how to use language, but about local history. Each year the students are mesmerised, and most of them ask the same question: ‘How could anyone be brave enough to do what they did?’ My answer is always the same – ‘that’s what lifeboatmen do…’
    Nothing can replace the loss of a treasured son, and all of those affected by the tragedy have my heartfelt sympathy and respect. I am a father myself, and my only fear in life is losing my children. I hope it may be of some comfort to you to know that the heroic story of the Solomon Browne, in this school at any rate, has become part of the curriculum of English, history, and what we call Spiritual, moral, Social and Cultural education. The sacrifice made the crew will live on as a example of the selflessness of the RNLI crews who put their lives on the line every day, and on behalf of my many students, and the countless men and women saved by the RNLI, I would like to offer our thanks.

  94. David Webber says:

    I cannot think of a more outstanding act of selfless bravery than that of the incredible men who took the Soloman Browne to try and save the lives of the crew and passengers of Union Star that terrible night.

    They must have known before they set off that the chances of them all getting back were not good, but still they went and gave it there very best attempt.

    They must never be forgotten, for these men are true Heros of the Nation.

  95. v j macfarlane says:

    Lived in mounts bay and near Penlee point since 1983, mostly. and I am doing a series of photo montages to commemorate the Penlee lifeboat disaster to raise money for the r n l I. Still makes me tearful to think about what happened, those poor children on board also, horrendous. I look out at the old lifeboat station at Penlee point from my front room everytime it’s stormy and think, wonder, and shed a few tears. R I P

  96. Jason says:

    Bravery, Courage, Dedication……Those three words say it all about the British spirit

  97. Alison Lugg says:

    I would like to read the book about this as my Uncle – Peter Mitchell, was the Coxswain of The Lizard lifeboat at the time. The Lizard boat was also launched in the Penlee disaster and arrived back at the station ‘leaking like a basket’. Please can you give me the title of the book or details of how to obtain a copy?

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