(b) The Aldeburgh

George Hounsfield was replaced in 1890 by perhaps the most famous of our lifeboats – the Aldeburgh. Her Coxswain, James Cable, is celebrated in Aldeburgh for his great courage and superb seamanship and during the 9 years the Aldeburgh was on station more than 152 lives were saved.

This watercolour shows the Aldeburgh returning home in 1898 after a trip lasting 82 hours during which she saved the crews of 3 vessels (36 men)

Watercolour of the launch of a lifeboat thought to be the Aldeburgh

The picture shows the frantic effort required to launch a lifeboat into rough seas in the days before the advent of the tractor. It was all done with the aid of long poles and brute strength. One wonders why the crew are not wearing their cork life jackets! Painted around the stern are the words “A Happy New Year”.

James Cable at the tiller of the Aldeburgh

James Cable retired in 1917 after 50 years service , nearly 30 of them as coxswain. He was awarded many medals and commendations and later a lifeboat was named after him.

In his memoir “A Lifeboatman’s Days” James Cable describes an incident during a ‘big gale’ in 1900: Trying to cross the bank, he says, we went head first into a huge wave which knocked the boat astern. The iron tiller that I was steering by knocked me over the side. But I had one hand on the tiller and with the other I got hold of the mizzen backstay, and called to the man standing on the other side of the tiller to put the helm over. In this way I was pulled into the boat again, and our service was carried out without further mishaps. The blow from that tiller caused him to suffer ‘twinges just below the ribs’ for the rest of his life.

The Aldeburgh was said to be unsinkable  but in 1899 disaster overtook the lifeboat and her crew. During an attempt to rescue a vessel driven aground during a full ESE gale, the lifeboat capsized as she tried to cross the Inner Shoal and was struck broadside-on by two huge waves. 12 of the 18 man crew were flung clear and floated ashore, but 6 men were trapped beneath the upturned boat. As soon as the Aldeburgh came ashore frantic efforts were made to release the men by chopping a hole in the upturned hull but buoyancy tanks could not be penetrated and the trapped men were not released until the tide went out allowing rescuers to raise the vessel. By that time all were dead. A seventh man died of his injuries later.
The smashed hull of the Aldeburgh on the beach after the disaster

James Cable and the second cox did not sail with the Aldeburgh on the day of the disaster; they were both suffering from flu and were forbidden by their doctor to go. They did, however, watch from the beach and took an active part in trying to right the lifeboat.

The memorial to those lost in the Aldeburgh disaster.

The Victims:  John Butcher; Charles Crisp; Herbert Downing;

James Miller Ward; Tom Morris; Walter Ward (all drowned);

Allen Easter (died later from injuries)

Despite this appalling tragedy a new crew was quickly formed and a reserve lifeboat (the Mark Lane) arrived within a month.