PEOPLE – GREATHEAD, Henry – Career (Zetland Lifefboat)

Accreditation Cleveland Standard 29/02/1936


Loss of Life Arouses Public Spirit


The boat was designed and built by Henry Greathead the notable South Shields boat builder who was recognised as being the ‘inventor of the Lifeboat’.
An order was placed in July of 1802 for a lifeboat to be delivered to Redcar at a cost of £200, this was duly done and the boat arrived on October 7th of that year and was financed by the local fisher folk helped by Lord Thomas Dundas and the Rev. Pym Williamson.
The board was simply called ‘Lifeboat’ and was housed in a purpose held boathouse provided by local land owner Lord Dundas.
It was some years later when the ‘Lifeboat’ bore the name of ‘ZETLAND’ in recognition of the local landowner and benefactor.
Her first recorded rescue was within eight weeks of her arrival when she went to the aid of two ships, the ‘’Sarah’ and the ‘Friendship’ which resulted in 15 lives being saved.
The ‘ZETLAND’ served Redcar for over 78 years and was directly responsible for the saving of over 500 lives.
One notable rescue in 1854 resulted in the ’ZETLAND’ bringing 52 people ashore.
In 1864, with the arrival of a new RNLI lifeboat the ‘Crossley’ the ‘ZETLAND’ was deemed unfit for service and was only saved from destruction. After a request to hand back the board to the townsfolk.
The ‘ZETLAND’ was repaired at a cost of £100 and continued service from a boat house at the East end of the promenade.
Her last exploit was on October 28th 1860 when she rescued the crew of the brig “Luna” which ran ashore off Redcar. The editor has received from a contribution the following extract from the journal of Henry Greathead. Redcar is so seeped in tales of heroic work at sea that the subject is ever of interest and this extract is published for this reason.
Accreditation Updated 13/01/2014 Fred Brunskill.


   Henry Greathead was born at Richmond, Yorkshire, on January 17, 1757. His father, John Greathead, was an officer of the salt duties, and moved to South Shields in the year 1763, and lived here until his death on December 15, 1802.
Henry was one of a family of thirteen. After his schooldays were over, he was indentured to a boat builder, and finalised his apprenticeship at the age of twenty-one. The sea, constantly flowing before his eyes presented a fair field for support and adventure, and in 1778, he signed on as a carpenter on an East countryman,. On this vessel he made voyages to Danzie and the Baltic.
In 1779 he sailed from the Tyne for the Grenada’s and during a heavy storm the ship was driven ashore on the French coast. When day dawned a boat put off from the shore with a company of soldiers who took possession of the ship, and sent the crew ashore under an escort, the two countries being then at war.
Through the influence of the Duchess of Kingston he was allowed to leave France in the brig., “Aldie,” Captain Brown.
Soon after their departure from the French coast they arrived at Spithead. The fleet under Admiral Kempenfelt boarded them and they were informed that they would have to serve. The Admiral granted them permission to join a convoy which had just sailed to the West Indies. After their arrival at the Grenada’s, Henry left the “Aldie,” and engaged as mate on the “Coralina,” then loading for Quebec and Montreal. A fortnight after sailing they were taken by the General Patman an American Privateer, and were carried into New London and were sent to New York. On their arrival Henry was impressed on board His Majesty’s sloop, the “Scorpion,” and after serving about a year, was transferred to the “Vulture.”


  In the year 1785 he commenced business as a boat builder at South Shields. About four years after he had settled in business in the month of September, 1789 the “Adventure,” of Newcastle, was stranded on the Herd at the mouth of the Tyne, when the crew took to the rigging and were seen to drop off one by one and thus perish close to the shore.
On this some public spirited inhabitants of South Shields called a meeting and offered a premium for the plan of a boat that could live in a tempestuous sea. A model of Henry Greathead’s was accepted and he was asked to build a boat at the public expense.
When examined before a committee of the House of Commons in March 1802 he said that the following idea had occurred to him from which he had conceived the principle of his invention, viz., take a speriod and divide it into quarters, each quarter is elliptical and nearly resembles the half of a wooden bowl, having a curvature with projecting ends. “This,” added he, “thrown into the sea or broken by water, cannot be upset or lie with the bottom upwards.
The boat is thirty feet, in form much resembling a common Greenland boat except that the bottom is much flatter. She is lined with cork inside and outside. The gunwale is about two feet in breadth, and the seats underneath are filled with cork also The boat is rowed by ten men, double banked, and steered by two men, with oars, one at each end, both ends alike.
Long poles are provided for the crew to keep her from being driven broadside to the shore either going in going out or landing. About six inches from the lower ends of the poles they increase in diameter so as to form a flat surface against the sand, otherwise they would sink into the sand and be of no use.
The boat draws very little water and when full is able to carry twenty people. She is able to contend against the most tremendous sea and never in any one instance has she failed in bringing the crew in distress to safety. The men have no dread in going out in her in the heaviest seas and broken water.


dean May 9, 2010 People & Characters