A restoration project – the Francis Forbes Barton lifeboat

At a meeting of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s Committee of Management on May 9, 1912, the decision was made to close Broastairs lifeboat station, with the actual closure taking place on July 18, 1912, with the station’s lifeboat, Francis Forbes Barton, being withdrawn from service. The area of coastline at Broadstairs would then be covered by the lifeboats at Ramsgate and Margate instead. The appreciation of lifeboats that served at Broadstairs had launched 275 times, which resulted in the rescue of 269 lives, with the award of one gold RNLI medal and eleven silver RNLI medals for the dedicated volunteers who crewed those lifeboats.

The Francis Forbes Barton was constructed as a 40 feet x 10 feet 4 inches self-righter lifeboat at the cost of £697. She was built by Rutherford, of Birkenhead, Merseyside, and taken over by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution on December 11, 1896, from the Duke of Harbour Trust, before arriving at Broadstairs Harbour on March 15, 1897. Unfortunately she suffered damage while en route by sea to Broadstairs and was immediately returned to London for the necessary repairs. On her eventual return to Broadstairs she was officially named and christened the Francis Forbes Barton on September 17, 1897, and given the Operational Number 399, having been provided out of a legacy from Miss Ivy Webster, of Exeter. During her time of service as Broadstairs lifeboat station the Francis Forbes Barton was launched on 115 services and rescued a total of 77 lives.

At the same RNLI meeting held on May 9, 1912, the decision was also made by the Committee of Management to close Walmer lifeboat station on May 16, 1912, seeing the withdrawal of the Civil Service No.4 lifeboat. Britain was at war with Germany just two years later, and the RNLI wanted another lifeboat to be located close to the Goodwin Sands, alongside the existing North Deal lifeboat Charles Dibden, and the Kingsdown lifeboat Charles Hargrave. On March 1, 1915, the former Broadstairs lifeboat was sent to Deal, and was referred to as the North Deal Reserve lifeboat, serving at the North Deal War Emergency Station. The Francis Forbes Barton stood along the Charles Disdain lifeboat, already located at North Deal lifeboat station. William Stanton was appointed as Coxswain of the North Deal Reserve lifeboat.

One of the service launches made by the Francis Forbes Barton occurred on November 20, 1916 around 07.00 hours, launching to the steam ship Siberia, of New York, which ran aground on the Goodwin Sands. Coxswain Stanton dropped the anchor and made several attempts to get alongside the stranded vessel. On three occasions the lifeboat nearly capsized in the near hurricane conditions, with one wave throwing the lifeboat onto her beam ends. The masts and mizzen sail actually went underwater, before she righted herself. With the weight of the water on the sail the mizzen mast was completely ripped out, along with one of the twarts and sail being swept away. Several of the lifeboatmen were injured and the decision was made by Coxswain Stanton to cut the anchor and return to Deal.

The last effective service made by the North Deal Reserve lifeboat occurred on June 7th, 1920, when she was launched at 18.15 hours, to the steam ship Turmoil, that had run aground on the Brake Sands, close to Pegwell Bay and Ramsgate, while on passage from Sheerness to Ireland. The Francis Forbes Barton was towed to the s.s Turmoil by the s.s. Osceola. The lifeboat stoodby the stranded vessel until she was refloated and found to be undamaged, and on the rising tide was able to proceed on her journey to Ireland. On September 20, 1920,

Coxswain William Stanton died, and was succeeded as Coxswain of the North Deal Reserve lifeboat by William Hoile. However, the decision was made by the RNLI to close the North Deal Reserve station as the First World War had ended in 1918, and it was felt that two lifeboats at North Deal was no longer necessary.  Therefore, the Francis Forbes Barton was withdrawn from service at North Deal on May 4, 1921, having launched 18 times and saved 23 lives while at Deal. The Francis Forbes Barton continued to be a reserve lifeboat for the RNLI serving at different lifeboat station, as and when required until 1926, before the RNLI sold her out of service.

A sorry sight – the Francis Forbes Barton at Ramsgate harbour awaiting restoration

On February 10, 2017, on a piece of farmland in Kirton near Boston, Lincolnshire, the remains of the Francis Forbes Barton was lifted from the ground onto a lorry by harness, before being transported 200 miles to Ramsgate Harbour, which saw the return to Kent of one of Britain’s oldest timber-built lifeboats. Having been found in a search by the Friends of the Francis Forbes Barton, along with help from Thanet Councillors Suzanne Brimm and George Rusiecki, she was purchased for £1. The aim is now set for the group submit a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money towards the lifeboat’s restoration due to her present poor condition, which will be lead by the Francis Forbes Barton Preservation and Restoration Trust.

Colin Varrall