Caister Lifeboat Disaster

A brief synopsis of this disaster is as follows:-

Weather conditions on 13 November 1901 were poor with a gale blowing together with heavy rain and a heavy sea. Shortly after 2300 hs flares were seen from a vessel on the Barber sands. The Cockle light-ship fired distress signals to indicate a vessel on the sands.

The crew of the Lifeboat Beauchamp were called and an attempt was made to launch the Lifeboat. The heavy seas washed the boat off the skids and she had to be hauled back up the beach for another attempt. The crew fought until 0200 hours in the dark and cold with warp and tackle to get the Lifeboat afloat.

After the launch most of the launching crew went home to change their wet clothing. James Haylett Snr, who had been the assistant Coxwain for many years and was now 78 years old, remained on watch despite being wet through and having no food. He had 2 sons, a son in law and 2 grandsons in the boat.

The Coxwain steered towards the stricken vessel but the sea conditions forced the boat back towards the beach and she struck the beach bow first about 50 yards from the launch point. The heavy sea struck the starboard quarter and capsized the boat. breaking off the masts and trapping the crew beneath the boat. The Beauchamp was a Norfolk and Suffolk class non self righting boat, 36 feet in length , 10 and a half feet wide and weighing 5 tons without her gear. When fully crewed and equipped and with ballast tanks full she needed 36 men to bring her ashore.

The time was now around 0300. Frederick Henry Haylett returned to the Lifeboat house after getting changed and alerted his grandfather James Haylett Snr to the cries coming from the boat. They ran to where the Beauchamp lay keel up in the surf. James Haylett managed to pull his son in law Charles Knights from the boat. Frederick Haylett also ran into the surf and pulled John Hubbard clear. James Haylett returned to the water to pull his grandson Walter Haylett clear. Thanks to the bravery of these two men these were the only survivors.

8 bodies were subsequently recovered at the scene with another being washed away only to be recovered months later.

The Crewmen who were lost were:-

Aaron Walter Haylett – CoxwainJames Haylett JnrWilliam Brown – Asst Coxwain

Charles Brown

William Wilson

John Smith

George King

Charles George

Harry Knights

At the inquest the suggestion was made during the evidence of James Haylett Snr that the Lifeboat was turning back when the accident happened. His reply has been remembered by subsequent Caister Crews ever since:-

“Caister Men never turn back”

Haylett was subsequently awarded the RNLI Gold Medal in recognition of his gallantry and endurance

The Beauchamp, the cost of which was presented to the Institution by Sir Reginald Proctor Beauchamp, Bart, was placed on her station in 1892, and up to the time of the accident she had been launched to the aid of vessels in distress on 81 occasions, and saved 146 lives; while the total number of lives which the lifeboats at Caister have saved during the past forty-three years is 1281, a 'record' as regards the lifeboat stations of the United Kingdom.

The RNLI lifeboat station at Caister was closed by the Institution in October 1969 after the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston lifeboat station received a fast 44ft Waveney class lifeboat. The Caister station re-opened as an independently run lifeboat station, and continues to save lives today.