Although the name of the first Eastbourne lifeboat is not known she is reputed to have had a rose carved on her bows. Measuring 25 feet (7.6 m) long and eight and a half feet (2.6 m) in the beam, she saw seven services and is credited with saving 55 lives. Built by a Mr. Simpson in Eastbourne she was launched by the carriage and cable chain method. Edward Allchorn was the first coxswain and held that position until 1853 when the post was taken over by Joseph Huggett who held it until 1881.
The Eastbourne Lifeboat’s first sea trial, in October 1822, proved the boat and crew were ready for service. Located on shingle just off Marine Road in Eastbourne, the first wooden boathouse served a busy port. Barges unloading heavy cargoes of coal, bricks and sand were frequently beaching themselves on the foreshore. A more substantial station was built at the Wish Tower in 1898.
The grounding of the East Indiaman Thames prompted John "Mad Jack" Fuller to provide funding for the first lighthouse at Beachy Head and endow the town of Eastbourne with its first lifeboat Bad weather caused the Thames to become grounded and "stuck fast" near Eastbourne Sussex on 3 February, 1822.
The East Indiamen were large, well built, magnificently decorated ships of the East India Company and were known to contain precious cargo such as silk, tea and tobacco. The Thames at 1,500 tons (1361 tonnes) and with 140 men on board was considered large by the standard of the day. During a rescue attempt Midshipman Smith of the Coast Blockade was drowned and five crewmen were lost. The ship was guarded by Blockade men for a month until she could be refloated.
The Coast Blockade had been established by the Admiralty in 1806 to complement its existing forces. Initially there were 92 officers and men stationed along the coast between the North Foreland and Dungeness to intercept smugglers as they came ashore. By 1820 the Blockade was well established with 6708 officers and men, including 2375 men on 31 Royal Navy ships, and total operating cost of nearly £521 000.
A 500 ton barque, the “Watts”, damaged in a gale, was driven onto the rocks at Boulder Bank on 25 October, 1842. The Eastbourne Lifeboat under the guidance of Coxswain Samuel Knight, junior and a crew of twelve men brought six men and a boy to safety.
The South Holland Lifeboat awarded silver medals to the lifeboatmen for their rescue of ten men from the Twee Cornelisson, a Dutch East Indiaman that had run aground in a gale at Pevensey on 28 December 1845.
Two years after Jack Fuller had funded the first lifeboat at Eastbourne, Sir William Hillary's appeal to the nation led to the foundation of the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, later to become the RNLI. In October of 1853 the RNLI took over the Eastbourne Lifeboat Station. When the RNLI ordered that alterations be made to the lifeboat in 1857, they decided to build a new brick boathouse.
On 11 January 1862, the barque “Druid” laden with small coals, “dropped anchor in the Eastbourne Roads, with a signal of distress flying. The lifeboat was launched and when they reached her, the lifeboat-men found the vessel in a totally disabled state, with her sails split, the cargo had shifted and the vessel was taking –in water. They were told by the Master that he only required help with the pumping and he would not allow any of his crew to leave the ship. With the lifeboat secured alongside, the lifeboat-men went on board and strayed the whole night, working at the pumps. At about 8 o’clock the following morning, a stem-tug arrived form Newhaven and so the lifeboatmen returned ashore, the lifeboat being rehoused again at 10:00 am. The “Druid” was refloated at 4:30 pm , but, while rounding Beachy Head, she started taking –in water very fast and so was brought back and beached off Marine Road, full of water. The lifeboat was promptly launched again, got alongside the vessel at about 5:00 pm and took off the crew of 9 men... Later, when the weather moderated, the barque was safely towed to Newhaven Harbour.” Morris & Hendy, p. 2.
The lifeboat went to the aid of the “President Van Son”, a Dutch barque in heavy fog on 27 May 1862 on what was to be her last service launch. In this instance, her services where not needed.
Mr J Stirling-Donald, of Cheltenham, presented the RNLI with a gift of 300 to provide a new Eastbourne lifeboat on 2 July 1863. Named in honour of his late wife, the “Mary Stirling” replaced the boat John Fuller had funded 41 years earlier.
“On February 21st 1833, the Eastbourne Lifeboat performed her first service, rescuing a total of 29 people in two trips. Between 6 an 7 o’clock that morning, the ship “Isabella”, of London, a West Indiaman of 340 tons, on passage from London to Madeira and Demerara . with a general cargo of plantation stores, struck the Boulder Bank off The Wish, during a hurricane. The lifeboat was quickly launched, through a tremendous surf, manned by 15 fishermen, under Coxswain Edward Allchorn. On the first service, the lifeboat brought 11 passengers ashore. The second service proved longer, as the “Isabella” had by that time floated off into deeper water and, in very heavy seas, had drifted to her final resting place, at Walls End, Pevensey, from where, as she was breaking up, the lifeboat rescued the crew of 18 men, the Captain, James Wildgoose, being the last to leave. As a reward for this rescue , the crew of the lifeboat were each presented with a special medal, which was struck locally. It also appears that the original lifeboat-carriage had by that time disappeared, as a contemporary news paper observed that the lifeboat “ought to be placed on a carriage, with wheels high enough for it to be drawn by horses to ay place required”.
The Story of the Eastbourne Lifeboats
by Jeff Morris and Dave Hendy, p.1.
In his will, John Fuller left the lifeboat to the inhabitants of Eastbourne where she served for 29 years after his death in 1834.
As a result of the grounding of the Thames, an existing petition to have a lighthouse built at Beachy Head gained momentum. John Fuller put his money and influence behind the project and in 1828 a wooden lighthouse was erected atop the cliff. This site, named Belle Tout from the Celtic 'Bael' (God of War) and 'Tout' (lookout), gave its name to the granite and limestone structure which replaced the wooden lighthouse.
"On the 11th October 1834, the light from Belle Tout first shone, casting
a beam visible on a clear night a distance of 22 nautical miles".
Sadly, Fuller never saw this new, more substantial structure as he died in April that same year. The effectiveness of Belle Tout lighthouse was subsequenlty called into question as concerns rose about cliff erosion and fog on the promontory.
In 1902 when the new lighthouse came into service at the base of Beachy Head, Belle Tout was decomissioned.