The Solomon Browne disaster, 40 years on

The Solomon Browne disaster, 40 years on

This year on the 19th December marks 40 years since the Solomon Browne disaster in which the Penlee lifeboat, Solomon Browne and all hands were lost while attempting to rescue the crew of  Union Star a coaster that was being swept towards the treacherous west Cornwall coast.

The Union Star was on her maiden voyage from Holland to Ireland carrying a cargo of fertilisers and because of hurricane-force winds and engine failure she was being blown towards the coast.

The Penlee lifeboat at Mousehole was eventually scrambled and fought its way to the Union star battling a hurricane-force 12 storm of 90 Knot (103mph) winds and 18m (59ft) waves.

The Solomon Brownes crew rescued 4 of the 8 crew from the Union Star before deciding to try to rescue the remaining crew off the stricken vessel.

Alas, the Solomon Browne was lost during this rescue attempt with all hands lost.

A full account can be found on the RNLI website here: The 1981 Penlee Lifeboat Disaster – RNLI History

Why is important that the 40th anniversary of the Solomon Browne disaster is remembered?

First off, I’ve spent so much time in Penwith in my life to know it is ingrained in the memory of every Cornish man and woman especially those that live with earshot of the sea. Which in Cornwall is pretty much everyone. In Penwith this event is remembered every year without fail.

Secondly, this was the last time a full crew of lifeboat volunteers was lost on active duty. Let this sink in, every man on the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne was a volunteer. They risked their lives, with no financial recompense or reward to help others at sea in what were seemingly impossible conditions. They did not hesitate or waver in their decision to go out to help others in distress at sea.

Thirdly, the lifeboat station is now a monument to these brave men and as time goes on the number of people who will have known and worked with these brave men also diminishes and their memory must be kept alive. They didn’t die in the field of battle but these men are heroes in the true sense of the word, something which sadly gets used for inconsequential events such as football matches these days. These men put their lives on the line to save the lives of others, something which every RNLI boat person does every time they go out to sea and they do not know what to expect yet they gladly do this.


Today on the 21st December I walked past the Penlee lifeboat house, sadly I couldn’t be here on the 19th, but on stopping to pause at the lifeboat house for a few minutes and think about the events of that day I was extremely hard to not shed a tear for the brave men that lost their lives that day 40 years ago.

After reading many of the messages left at the memorial and tied to the railings outside it became impossible to hold back my tears and you can see that the men, even today, are held in such high regard for their deeds on this day all those years ago.

Let us remember the names of the Solomon Browne Crew.

  • Coxswain, William Trevelyan Richards
  • John Blewett
  • Nigel Brockman
  • Charlie Greenhaugh
  • Stephen Madron
  • Kevin Smith
  • Barry Torrie
  • Gary Wallis

And the crew of the Union Star

  • Captain, Henry Morton
  • Dawn Morton
  • Sharon Morton
  • Deane Morton
  • Mate, James Whittaker
  • Engineer, George Sedgwick
  • Crewman, Anghostino Verressimo
  • Crewman, Manuel Lopes
Solomon Browne disaster memorial
Solomon Browne memorial at Penlee lifeboat house
Solomon Browne disaster memorial crosses
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