RNLI celebrates 197th anniversary with historic links to Isle of Man


Thursday, 4 March, marks 197 years of saving lives at sea for the RNLI.

Since the founding of the charity, volunteers have rescued more than 141,500 people at sea around the British Isles.

The charity was founded in 1824 by Sir William Hillary who was a Manx resident living in Douglas.


William Hillary was a resident of the Isle of Man living in Douglas before founding the RNLI.

He witnessed many shipwrecks around the Manx coast and saved many lives in the Island with the help of other Manx residents.Hillary decided that the danger of shipwreck and drowning was becoming too great, particular in the waters surrounding the Island.

He therefore published a pamphlet with plans for a lifeboat service and sent it to the British Navy and ministers in government, but the Admiralty refused to help.

Instead, Hillary found allies in London and formed a committee.

On 4th March 1824, a public meeting took place and the group unanimously voted for the formation of the new institution.

At the time it was called the National Institution for the Preservation of Lives and Property from Shipwreck, but in 1854 became the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Sir William Hillary lived in Douglas in the Isle of Man and witness many shipwrecks around the Manx coastline.


One of the most defining moments in the formation of the RNLI was the sinking of the ship HMS Racehorse.

The ship was travelling to Douglas in the Isle of Man but ended up crashing the ship into the rocks near Castletown.

Boats were dispatched from the ship to seek help on the island, but tragically a large wave knocked the boat out and nine men drowned – six men from HMS Racehorse and three local men who came to help.William Hillary witnessed this at the time and this led to him writing to the Admiralty asking for financial aid for the families of the men who died.

This event is seen by historians as the catalyst and the spark that eventually led to the formation of the RNLI.


It’s one of the most iconic landmarks in the Isle of Man and one that plays an important part in the history of the RNLI.

Sir William Hillary petitioned for the Tower of Refuge to be built on the submerged reef in Douglas Bay with the original purpose to shelter shipwreck victims until help arrived.

Previously, the reef had caused a lot of damage to ships with some even sinking as a result of crashing into it.

The tower therefore acted as a visible warning for incoming ships and still serves the same purpose today.

It is also the only government building in the Island that does not fly the Manx flag and instead flies the flag of the RNLI.

The Tower of Refuge sits in Douglas Bay as a visual marker warning ships of the reef below. Credit: ITV Granada Reports
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