|The Henry Nixon (or Nixson) Lifeboat.|
At 7 pm on Sunday 7th February 1869 a terrible S.S.W. gale was blowing when a brig was seen in distress, north of Maryport harbour, with its anchors down and its masts cut away. Within 20 minutes a number of rocket lines and the whip block and tackle were fired over the ship but the crew were unable to attach the equipment to effect an escape. The ship was the Robert Bruce, of Belfast, and the lifeboat was launched and managed to get a grapnel to her, but the jerk of the waves straightened it. A 2nd attempt was made but the rope snapped, however, a 3rd attempt managed to secure the line and get the six crew off before it finally broke up.
In May 1875 the boat was launched to aid the crew of a smack called Native, of Piel which had gone ashore on the North Bank. The vessel was extricated from its perilous position and the crew of three were safely taken into the harbour.
Thursday 10th October 1878 saw an iron barque, the Carn Tual, of Liverpool, trying to ride a gale with its anchors down, between Robin Rigg and Dumroof Banks. It showed signals of distress so the Henry Nixon lifeboat was launched. It spent 6 hours searching for the vessel but nothing was found and she returned to port. The next day she put to sea again, towed by a steamer, and found the vessel, saving all 9 crew. The Carn Tual was still afloat and was later towed to Whitehaven harbour.
The morning of Friday 17th October 1879 saw the lifeboat called out by telegram to assist a barque flying signals of distress that was half a mile out, and off the slag heap at Workington. It was at anchor, riding out a storm and was in difficulties. It was the Solafide of Grimstadt, Norway and was bound from New York to Maryport via Queenstown, with a cargo of Indian Corn for Messrs. Rigg and Co.. The vessel got into difficulties at 4am and had made every effort to keep from beaching, but by 7am the captain finally had his wife, the ships mate, and three crew sent off in the ship's rowing boat to get assistance. The lifeboat was dispatched to save the rest of the crew if the situation worsened, but finally the wind dropped and allowed the Workington tug The Confidence, to finally put to sea with the mate and crew members of the Solafide. They managed to re-board their vessel and after a number of attempts to fix a line, they finally were under tow and taken into Lonsdale Dock.
Perhaps the most dangerous rescue the lifeboat was ever involved in was that of the morning of Monday 12th February 1883. The Cumbrian coast was subjected to the worst storm in the memory of some of the oldest residents of the area. The Diana of Belfast appeared off the port and was flying signals of distress. It overshot the harbour and bounced along the beach before turning broadside to the waves with their full force then crashing over the ship. The Diana's crew had tried to take to their life craft but to no avail. The Henry Nixon lifeboat was launched to cheers of the thousands now watching the dangerous, yet amazing spectacle. It was crews by Robert Avery(Coxwain), John Benn (second Coxwain), Joseph Hoffin, Thomas McParthen, William Kirkbride jun., John McGuire, Thomas Fisher, S. M'Grae, William M'Gee, Joseph Donaldson, William Porter, John Hodgson and Patsy Reed. It was seen cutting through the waves, at times lost in the troughs, then riding the huge crests. It made it to the stricken Diana but as the Henry Dixon rounded her stern, Hoffin, M'Grae, Donaldson, and Porter, were tossed out into the raging sea. Ropes were thrown and the first three regained the safety of the lifeboat, minus their oars, but Porter missed his line and drifted too far from the boat. On land three man now played a hand. James Ogle, a Customs House Official, and Two Naval Reserve men called Matthew Purcell and John Byers now threw there coats to one side and entered the crashing waves to try and rescue the stricken Porter. The strongest swimmer was Byers and he shot ahead of the other two, reaching Porter as his strength began to fail him. They manged to get Porter to the shore, with tremendous cheers then coming from the huge crowd; Porter was saved. The lifeboat crew had tried to rescue him but themselves struck the bottom on a number of occasions, before managing to get back into deeper water. Now he was rescued they turned their attention back to the task in hand but found the water now too shallow between the Diana and the shore to effect a rescue. The steam tug Florence now attended but had to lay by, due to the shallow waters. A party of naval men tried to launch a boat from the shore but it overturned on them all. Around twenty men then rushed to their aid, managing to recover them all from under their vessel. Finally a rope was fired across the Diana and slowly the crew were rescued by this means. The Diana was 200 tons burthen, owned by Mr. Moore of Portaferry, and was believed to be a total wreck. On the previous Thursday the schooner The Just had to beach at Allonby and the Florence also had to take a trawling smack in tow, into the safety if the harbour.
On Wednesday 23rd January 1884 another storm lashed the coast and a Norwegian barque called The Alma was anchored two miles off Maryport harbour. This vessel was formerly a Russian man-of-war. The lifeboat crew were called following a distress signal at 5pm, and kept vigil from the piers until 10 o'clock when the Alma crew now wished to be rescued. The lifeboat was towed out by the steam-tug Florence. Despite the darkness the whole crew of 12 were safely brought to the harbour at midnight without mishap. The weather moderated on Thursday and the crew were able to be returned to The Alma, which had by now suffered great storm damage to its mast and rigging; it was also shipping water. The captain had said that it had been impossible to remain on the ship in the storm as the waves were crashing over her fore and aft. The crew of the Alma presented coxwain Robert Harvey with a fine model of a barque, a valuable album and a powerful telescope. He had boarded the vessel and navigated it to the harbour entrance.
In early December 1886 this essential vessel for Maryport had become obsolete as bigger and technologically more up to date vessels were constructed. It was replaced by 'The Civil Service Number 5', which was christened in a ceremony on Thursday 2nd December. This vessel would now conduct rescues around the harbour of Maryport. The Henry Nixon had been attributed with the saving of 54 souls from drowning in the Solway Firth, a roll of honour to be rightly proud of. It had done so in the most dangerous of conditions, with no loss of life to any of its crew, despite the dangers they had faced. Rather ignominiously the Henry Nixon was sent to London to be broken up; a sad end for a vessel that had performed a high duty to the town, residents, and wayfarers of the coastal waters. During her service a total of four coxswains had commanded her missions of mercy. They were: George Rule, John Webster, Robert Harvery, and finally John Benn.