On this Day 19th December 1981

Solomon Browne: The Loss of the Penlee Lifeboat

The Solomon Browne (photo donated to the Newlyn Archive by Maurice Bishop)

On 19 December 1981 the lifeboat Solomon Browne and all her crew of eight Mousehole men were lost while attempting to rescue the crew of the Coaster Union Star. The Solomon Browne was the Penlee Lifeboat and stationed at Penlee Point from 1960-1981. 

On that fateful day, the Union Star had engine failure eight miles east of Wolf Rock Lighthouse. She was heading towards the rocks and certain disaster. The appalling weather conditions with hurricane force winds made a helicopter rescue impossible so the lifeboat was called.

The risks were known to be high so no two members from the same family were allowed to crew the lifeboat. The brave lifeboat crew who left Penlee Point that night were coxswain Trevelyan Richards, 56; mechanic Stephen Madron, 35; assistant mechanic Nigel Brockman, 43; crewmen John Blewett, 43; Charlie Greenhaugh, 46; Barrie Torrie, 33; Kevin Smith, 23; and Gary Wallis, 22.

That day the lifeboat crew battled against hurricane force winds and 50-foot waves to get alongside the coaster. They made run after run to try to rescue the eight crew. Reports to the Coastguard of four being successfully rescued were received and then all communication was lost.

Solomon Browne being launched at Penlee Point two weeks before the disaster (from Richard and Bridget Larn, Wreck and Rescue round the Cornish Coast, Tormark.


The lifeboat found the crippled ship

She having let all caution rip

And had off-taken three of four,

Was pausing to retrieve some more

When the new coaster turned about

And dashed the lifeboat's engines out


No black box, log nor living soul

Survives to tell us of the deep hole

That swallowed up the Cox and crew,

An untried boat, a master new

And smashed the maiden-voyaging ship

Venturing on her ill-starred trip,

To end upon the rocky shore.



There were no survivors on either vessel. The tiny community of Mousehole lost eight of its men that night, but just two days after the disaster, a new crew of volunteers had to come forward.

The crew of the Solomon Browne: Kevin Smith, James Madron, Nigel Brockman, Barrie Torrie, Garry Wallis, John Blewett, Charlie Greenhaugh, Trevelyan Richards

The Union Star, a new vessel on her first voyage, had sailed with a crew of four plus the skipper Henry Morton, his wife Dawn and their two daughters, all were lost. 

Tonight, the 19th of December, Mousehole Christmas lights will be dimmed in memory of those who died.

(The verses come from a poem written by Martin Green called 'Tom Bawcock's Eve - and elegy for those who gave their lives on the Penlee lifeboat the Solomon Browne', published 1991.)

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