The ‘St. George’
Stonehaven Lifeboat Disaster
In the early March of 1868, the newly built, oared, Self-Righting Lifeboat built by Forrestt of Limehouse was ready to be transported from London to Stonehaven. This new lifeboat, measuring in at an impressive 33ft, was gifted to the RNLI by Mrs Burgess, a resident of London at the time. On March 12th at the Inauguration and Naming Ceremony, the new boat was christened the ‘St. George’.
On the 14th of July 1869, the ‘St. George’ received its first ‘shout’ and was launched to assist a sailing ship that had been reported to be in difficulty off the coast of Aberdeen. As it turns out, this was a false alarm and the lifeboats assistance was not required. Years later, on the 27th February 1874, the ‘Grace Darling’ of Blyth was spotted flying a distress signal off the coast of Stonehaven. It was at this time that the ‘St. George’ received her second shout and was quickly launched to assist the vessel in need. The ‘St. George’ approached the ‘Grace Darling’ and noticed that the vessel had withdrawn its distress signal, indicating that it no longer required the lifeboats assistance.
Therefore, the ‘St. George’ and its crew made their way to Aberdeen Harbour in order to avoid battling the rough seas that lay between them and Stonehaven. As the ‘St. George’ approached Aberdeen Harbour, she successfully cleared the dangerous sand bar only to be struck by an exceptionally heavy, breaking sea, which swung her round, broadside on to the waves, causing her to capsize. Although the ‘St. George’ had initially set out to help a vessel in distress, it was now her that required immediate assistance. The Aberdeen Lifeboat was quickly launched to help the crew, many of whom were now in the rough waters. Of the 12 men on board, 6 managed to re-board the ‘St. George’ which had now righted itself. Five of the six men who were in the water were swept away while the sixth man, William Scott, was rushed back to shore by Aberdeen lifeboat crew. Sadly, four of the crew died in this tragedy.
They were named as Coxswain, James Leiper, the Second Coxswain, John Brown and crew members Alexander and James Lees.
A Memorial Stone was later unveiled in Cowie Churchyard to commemorate the brave crew members who sadly lost their lives that day.
The ‘St. George’ suffered such terrible damage after being repeatedly smashed against the breakwater by the rough seas that she was immediately withdrawn from service. A month later, on the 26th March, Stonehaven received its new lifeboat, the ‘Star’.