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Penlee Inshore Lifeboat Station
Penlee Inshore Lifeboat Station Photograph by Geof Sheppard

The first lifeboat station in Cornwall was at Penzance in Mount's Bay from 1803 to 1917, although it was not used between 1828 and 1851. It is now a Grade II listed building. The first lifeboat here was sold after nine years without ever having been used.

Penzance Lifeboat House from 1885 to 1917
Penzance Lifeboat House from 1885 to 1917

In 1908 a second lifeboat station opened at Newlyn but it closed when the Watson class lifeboat, Elizabeth and Blanch, was transferred to Penlee in 1913 where the RNLI built a new boathouse and roller slipway way at Penlee Point.
The old lifeboat station at Penlee Point
The old lifeboat station at Penlee Point

In 1922 a new single engine Watson boat, The Brothers, replaced the Elizabeth and Blanch until it was transferred to Falmouth Lifeboat Station in 1931.
From 1930 to 1960 the twin engined Watson class, W & S was stationed at Penlee. It was replaced by a new 47 foot wooden-hulled Watson class lifeboat, the Solomon Browne (No 594).

The Solomon Browne in Mount's Bay in August 1979
The Solomon Browne in Mount's Bay

At 20:12 on December 19th 1981 the Solomon Browne was launched, in hurricane force winds (90 knots; 100 mph; 170 km/h) and waves up to 60 feet (18 m) high, to go to the aid of a cargo ship, the Union Star, which had been blown off course following an engine failure and was blown across Mount's Bay towards the rocks of Boscawen Cove, near Lamorna. Because of the rough weather the Royal Navy Sea King helicopter launched from RNAS Culdrose was unable to lift any of the 8 crew from the Union Star.
The Solomon Browne managed to get alongside and rescue four people who jumped from the Union Star's wheelhouse onto the lifeboat. The lifeboat made a further attempt to rescue the remaining four when radio contact was lost. Her last message was: "We've got four off at the moment". Ten minutes later her lights disappeared. The lifeboat had been completely wrecked with the loss of her crew of eight. The coaster was also lost. There were no survivors.
A local appeal raised over 3 million for the benefit of the village of Mousehole.
Within a day of the disaster enough people from Mousehole had volunteered to form a new lifeboat crew. Mousehole has been known for its fantastic Christmas illuminations, created each year to raise money for charity. Every December 19th since 1981 the lights have been turned off for one hour at 8:00 pm in memory of the victims of the lifeboat disaster.


A temporary replacement lifeboat, the Charles Henry Ashley, was an older Watson built in 1949. In 1982 the Charles Henry Ashley transferred to Fowey Lifeboat Station and was replaced with another Watson, the Guy and Clare Hunter, that had previously been stationed at St Marys and at Fowey Lifeboat Stations. The Guy and Clare Hunter was transferred to Padstow in 1983.
On May 8th 1983 a new Arun class lifeboat Mabel Alice (No 1085) was placed on service. She was moored afloat in Newlyn Harbour. A new assembly building was built providing a workshop, store, souvenir outlet and improved crew facilities. From 2002 to 2003 another Arun class lifeboat, (No 1086) AJR & LG Uridge was used at Penlee.
In 1985 Penzance Town Council created a Memorial Garden on land next to the boathouse at Penlee Point in memory of the lifeboat crew "who gave their lives in service". A flagstaff, made from the wreckage of the Solomon Browne, and her flag were presented to the Dean and Chapter of Truro Cathedral as a memorial and in appreciation of the support given by the Bishop and cathedral authorities to the Penlee families and the RNLI at the time of the disaster.

When the St Michael's Mount inshore lifeboat station closed permanently on 31st October 2001, after 11 years service, the Penlee inshore lifeboat, (B-753) City of Bradford V on temporary assignment, provided all the operational cover in the area. On 12th September 2002, a B class Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat, (B-787) Paul Alexander, was placed on service to complement the cover provided by the all weather lifeboat.

Penlee Lifeboat - Ivan Ellen
Penlee Lifeboat, the Ivan Ellen in Newlyn Harbour Photograph by Geof Sheppard

A new Severn class lifeboat, (ON-1265) Ivan Ellen, came on service on 11th March 2003 to mark the celebration of 200 years of lifeboat service in Mount's Bay.

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