Lifeboat Man Statue, Margate

Any visitor to Margate exiting the train station will be greeted by the sweeping vista of Margate sands and the ever-present figure of the lifeboat man statue.


The lifeboat man statue stands facing the sea, one hand shading his eyes as he peers out into the horizon. It’s an iconic landmark, but you might not know the story of tragedy and bravery that lies behind it.


In the last days of November 1897, a terrific gale blew up and battered the Thanet coastline with hurricane force winds, wreaking havoc and destruction on the waterfront. This continued for several days, and in the early hours of 2nd December, a ship called the Persian Empire was caught in the storm and needed desperate help.


At this point in Margate’s history, as well as the National Lifeboat, there was also an unofficial rescue team who used a surf boat called the Friend To All Nations, a lightly built craft specially constructed for use over sandbanks. It was owned and maintained by a cooperative of the town’s boatmen, who would have primarily used it for salvage but who also acted as a rescue team.


On this fateful night, the Friend To All Nations launched into the terrible stormy night to go to the rescue of the Persian Empire. The National Lifeboat, the Quiver, followed a little while later, and while the Quiver was successful, tragically the Friends To All Nations was capsized by a monster wave. 13 men had set out in the surf boat, but only four survived. Come daybreak, the bodies of nine crewmen washed up on the shore.


The town was rocked by this tragedy, and a national subscription was put out to help the bereaved widows and orphans. The funeral took place on 8th December, and before the coffins reached their destination of St John’s Church, the procession was attended by some 3000 people.


The statue was erected two years after the tragedy. It bears a plaque, the inscription of which reads, “To the memory of William Philpott Cook Senr. COXSWAIN, Henry Richard Brockman, Robert Ernest Cook, William Philpott Cook Junr., Edward Robert Grunden, John Benjamin Dike, William Richard Gill, George Robert, William Lad CREW, and Charles E. Troughton Superintendent of the Margate Ambulance Corps who lost their lives through the capsizing of the Margate Surf Boat Friend To All Nations on Thursday 2nd December 1897.”


by Alice Smales

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