I was very pleased to have the opportunity recently, in one of the NMM's staff seminars, to share some of my researches into the way that lifesaving is commemorated as a meritorious act - particularly on memorials. The lifesaving movement took off in the late 18th century, having originated amongst medical men who were interested in reviving the apparently drowned. The aim was to save anyone from premature accidental death, regardless of their importance, and to devise suitable inventions - such as the lifeboat - to achieve this end. By the 19th century, naval officers were doing it and clergymen were promoting it, but it took longer for ordinary lifeboat-men to gain public recognition.
The Wreck of the East Indiaman 'Dutton' at Plymouth Sound, 26 January 1796 by Thomas Luny
The movement led to the production of all sorts of interesting associated commemoratives, from sculpture and stained glass windows to medals, prints and ceramics. Thomas Luny's painting of the wreck of the Dutton was commissioned by Admiral Sir Edward Pellew (1757-1833), 1st Viscount Exmouth. If you peer very closely at the stern of the stranded vessel you can see Pellew himself, organising the rescue of the passengers who are being hauled ashore on a line.
Statuette of Grace Darling, c. 1900
At NMM, our lifesaving medals are each small works of art and we hope sometime in the future to research the stories behind them and make this information available online. We have also recently acquired a small wood and ivory statuette of Grace Darling, who rowed out to sea to rescue survivors of the wrecked SS Forfarshire. This statuette, which was made in about 1900, is quite unlike anything already in our collections.
Tomb of Grace Darling, which overlooks the sea at Bamburgh
During a holiday in Northumberland I was able to see the heroine's tomb, built in the gothic-revival style, overlooking the sea at Bamburgh. I was fortunate to be there on one of the few sunny days this year. I would like to thank friendly people in South Shields, particularly at St Hilda's Church and the Local Studies Library, for their help during my visit.