Monday, 21 October 2013

Swanage lifeboat legacy lives on thanks to last surviving relative

The volunteer crew of Swanage lifeboat welcomed a very special guest on Friday afternoon: the last surviving grandchild of the late Swanage lifeboat coxswain William Brown. Marion Mason recently celebrated her 90th birthday but kindly asked her family and friends, instead of giving birthday presents, to make a donation to Swanage RNLI’s new boathouse fundraising appeal.

In 1895 Swanage lifeboat Coxswain William Brown made the ultimate sacrifice: he was drowned while trying to rescue the crew of a barque sailing boat off Old Harry Rocks.

The volunteer lifeboatmen battled through rough seas aboard the rowed lifeboat William Earle II; two of the crew were washed overboard but sadly only one was recovered: Coxswain William Brown was lost at sea.

William's granddaughter Marion, although not alive at the time, remembers the aftermath of the tragedy. Her grandmother, William Brown’s wife, went on to raise her seven children single-handedly and continued running the family fishmongers on Swanage High Street to support them all.

Over the years, Marion has followed the activities of her local lifeboat stations, Swanage and Weymouth, where she now lives. On Friday, she visited our current volunteer crew at Swanage Lifeboat Station to present us with her generous donation.

Our current coxswain, Martin Steeden, said: “It’s an honour to meet Marion – not only are we very grateful to her and her family for their incredibly kind donation, but it’s wonderful to meet someone who is so much a part of Swanage RNLI’s history and family. I’m sure William Brown would be chuffed to know his family are still supporting and raising funds for our charity, more than a hundred years after his death.”

As they chatted, Martin discovered an extremely unlikely coincidence: as a child, Marion had lived in the same house in Swanage that he now owns with his wife!

Some of the lifeboat crew also took the opportunity on Friday to visit William Brown's grave to pay their respects and lay flowers. The gravestone can be found in Northbrook cemetery near the footpath that leads along the back of the steam railway line toward King George's playing fields:

Marion's story even made it onto BBC South Today on Friday evening - if you missed it, you can watch the clip on YouTube here: With any luck, we'll also be on Meridian's evening news this week - we'll keep you posted on our Facebook page!

For more information about the fundraising appeal for Swanage RNLI’s new boathouse, please visit To donate £5, text RNLI SWANAGE to 70300.