This film is part of Free

The Loss of the Penlee Lifeboat Solomon Browne and the Union Star

This is an investigation into the tragedy with interviews from politicians and shipowners.

News 1981 26 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for South West Film and Television Archive


On 19 December 1981 the RNLI Penlee Point Lifeboat Solomon Browne of Mousehole in Cornwall was called out in gales to aid in the rescue of drifting Merchant Vessel Union Star whose engines had flooded with seawater. In a short time both vessels were lost with all hands. This was the last time the Royal National Lifeboat Institution lost a whole crew. Coxswain (William) Trevelyan Richards received a posthumous gold medal and each of the crew, a bronze for bravery.

The loss and a local's community's grief made international news and led to generous donations to the RNLI. The Station stands empty at Penlee Point with a memorial garden and a new lifeboat station was opened in 1983 at Newlyn. Lost that evening also were Kevin Smith, Stephen Madron, Nigel Brockman, Barrie Torrie, John Blewett, Gary Wallis, Charles Greenhaugh to whom there is a plaque at The Ship Inn, and the crew of the Union Star, James Whittaker, George Sedgwick, Anghostino Verressimo, Manuel Lopez and Danish Captain Henry Moreton, his wife Dawn and daughters Sharon and Deanne. Marine Law now authorises Coastguards to override a shipmaster's decision if a vessel is deemed to be endangering crew.