Start My Family Tree Welcome to Geni, home of the world's largest family tree.
Join Geni to explore your genealogy and family history in the World's Largest Family Tree.

Mary Stanford Lifeboat Disaster - 1928

« Back to Projects Dashboard

view all


  • Major Francis William Stanford (1777 - 1834)
    2nd Marriage 19 10 1812 - Mary Gorton Children * Arthur - 1806 Ireland* Robert - 1807 Ballyna Stanford, Kilcolman, Claremorris, County Mayo, Ireland. D 20 12 1877 Chorlton upon Medlock* John Frederick ...
  • Mary Stanford (c.1786 - d.)
  • William Thomas Albert Clark (c.1902 - 1928)
    William Clark and his younger brother Leslie, were two of 17 men who perished in the Mary Stanford Disaster when RNLB Mary Stanford (ON 661), a Liverpool-class lifeboat, which capsized in Rye Harbour i...
  • Leslie George Clark (c.1905 - 1928)
    Leslie Clark and his older brother William, were two of 17 men who perished in the Mary Stanford Disaster when RNLB Mary Stanford (ON 661), a Liverpool-class lifeboat, which capsized in Rye Harbour in ...
  • Arthur George A Downey (1903 - d.)
    Arthur George Downey *** and his cousin Morris, were two of 17 men who perished in the Mary Stanford Disaster when RNLB Mary Stanford (ON 661), a Liverpool-class lifeboat, which capsized in Rye Harbour...

Mary Stanford Lifeboat Disaster 1928

East Sussex

Image Right The memorial grave at Rye Harbour.

RNLB Mary Stanford (ON 661) was a Liverpool-class lifeboat which capsized in Rye Harbour in 1928.

The disaster occurred on 15 November 1928 when the whole of the 17-man crew of the Mary Stanford Lifeboat were drowned, practically the whole male fishing population of the village of Rye Harbour.

// Image left - The memorial stained glass window to the crew of the Mary Stanford Lifeboat that was lost in 1928. (Click on the image to access a large image). It can be seen at Winchelsea Church, (50°55′27″N 0°42′33″E), and was the work of Douglas Strachan Ll.D., H.R.S.A., an artist who designed windows in St Paul's Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle. It depicts a Lifeboat putting out to a ship in distress while figures on the shore watch as it goes. Image Courtesy of RYEHARBOUR.NET

In May 1914 a new Lifeboat was offered to Rye Harbour to replace the John William Dudly - a self-righting 10 oar Pulling and Sailing Liverpool class in service since 1900. The Coxswain at the time, William Southerden and two of the crew were invited to visit three Lifeboat Stations and inspect the different types of boats, doing similar work to that of the Rye Harbour boat. In July they visited Cromer and witnessed an exercise launch of the 'Louisa Heartwell'. The one that was chosen was a 38 ft (11.7 m) Liverpool non-self-righting pulling and sailing boat with 14 oars. This was thought to be the ideal craft to operate in the surf conditions of Rye Bay. According to the brother of one of those lost, the crew rejected a self-righting boat as it would have been too heavy to drag across the shingle and launch.

The cost of the Lifeboat was met by a legacy in Memory of Mary Stanford (Gorton) - the 2nd wife of Major Francis William Stanford of the 1st Life Guards, from County Mayo. After the loss of RNLB Mary Stanford (ON 661), John Frederick Stanford (1815-1880), son of Mary Stanford, paid for another lifeboat to be named Mary Stanford, built by Saunders Roe Ltd. RNLB, who built the boat that capsized. RNLB Mary Stanford (ON 733) (WIKI) had an illustrious career at Ballycotton on Ireland's southern coast from 1930 to 1959, saving 122 lives.

1916 - The Lifeboat was placed on Station at Rye Harbour on 19 October 1916. On 25 November 1916 she was launched on exercise in weather conditions that 'fairly tested her'. The Coxswain, crew and Officers of the Institution were satisfied with the result of the exercise.

In 1920 the RNLI sent out a circular to all Lifeboat crews around the Country asking what type of Lifebelt was preferred. The crew at Rye expressed a preference for the No 3 Lifebelt – the KAPOK. Exhaustive experiments had been made up to September 1917 by the Institution, with co-operation with the Board of Trade and their officers, to ensure that Jackets of No 3 pattern fulfilled the purposes for which they were designed. The belts had fulfilled the purposes under the conditions of the experiment.

14 November 1928 The Lifeboat was launched in a south-west gale with heavy rain squalls and heavy seas to the vessel Alice of Riga. News was received that the crew of the Alice had been rescued by another vessel and the recall signal was fired three times. However the crew of the Lifeboat did not see it. As the Lifeboat was coming into harbour she was seen to capsize and the whole of the crew were lost.

The seventeen men who lost their lives were

Names with Bold links are to Geni profiles or projects. Other links take you to external biographical web pages.

and two of his sons

The Cutting Brothers


Three Pope brothers

Clark brothers

Downey cousins;

Cousins (connections not yet established)


// Stanford Memorial, Rye Harbour

The funeral was on Tuesday 20 November 1928 when 15 of the crew were buried in a communal grave. When Henry Cutting's body was found at Eastbourne 3 months later, it was bought back home to be interred in the communal grave with his fellow crew members. John Head's body was never recovered. There is an aerial photograph of the funeral which appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror on Nov. 21st 1928.

A memorial tablet made of Manx stone was presented to Rye Harbour by the people of the Isle of Man.

At the inquest held at Rye Town Hall, with the Rye Borough Coroner Dr. T. Harrett presiding, the sea worthiness of the Lifeboat and competence of the crew were called into question. After evidence of identification and eye witness accounts the Inquest was adjourned. The next evening accusations were made about the suitability of the Lifejackets, said to be perished and worn resulting in them becoming water logged, weighing a man down. In response the RNLI stated that the KAPOK No 3 Lifejacket was adopted by the RNLI in 1917 and delivered to Rye Harbour in September of that year. The Lifejackets were tried in a heavy gale on 30 October 1917, and later voted 11 – 6 by the crew as being the preferred type. The Coroner recorded a verdict of death by accident. In response to the accusations, the RNLI asked the Board of Trade to hold a full enquiry into the disaster.

The Board of Trade Court of Enquiry sat at Rye Town Hall on 19, 20 and 21 December 1928 and the following 1, 2 and 4 January 1929. After their deliberation the court announced:

"As there were nosurvivors of the crew, the cause of the Lifeboat capsizing is a matter of conjecture, but from the evidence available we are of the opinion that whilst attempting to make the Harbour on a strong flood tide and in high and dangerous breaking sea, she was suddenly capsized and the crew were thrown into the water, two men being entangled under the boat. The broken water and heavy surf caused the loss of the crew".

The Mary Stanford remained at Rye Harbour until the Inquiry was over. In January 1929 she was taken to the RNLI depot at Poplar in east London where she was dismantled and broken up.

Mary Stanford Disaster Victims

This image has been shared extensively on and shows all 17 of the victims. Click the image to access larger image)



There are a number of images relating to the various families at RYEHARBOUR.NET - including a collection of portraits - well worth a browse!

References, Sources and Further Reading

// Main Reference WIKI RNLB Mary Stanford (ON 661) Information shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License - see Creative Commons Licenses

// this project is in History Link