Caister Lifeboat Disaster
The events of a century and more ago can take on a history book impersonality; not so the story of the Caister lifeboat disaster, perhaps because of the involvement of three generations of the same family.
Caister, a mile or two up the coast from Great Yarmouth , had already lost men in a lifeboat disaster in 1885, among them Frederick and Joseph Haylett. And in 1901 James Haylett Jr and Aaron Haylett were among the nine victims when the lifeboat Beauchamp overturned, driven back against the shore by fierce seas though the crew were grimly trying to make their way to the Barber Sands where a ship was in trouble.
That night went into legend as one of the great storms suffered by a coast that has seen its fair share, an arctic nor’easter. But when the coroner at the subsequent inquest suggested the crew had turned back another Haylett, James Sr, put him right, his reply somewhat abbreviated by journalists giving rise to a phrase that still resonates with some today: “Caister men don’t turn back.”
James Sr was an important witness at the inquest, although 78 he helped rescue three men from the upturned boat, the vessel thrown around by the waves battering the captive lifeboatmen. He was aided by his grandson Frederick Haylett, the two dragging another grandson Walter Haylett to safety; son-in-law Charles Knights was also pulled clear; so too John Hubbard. But nine more perished, among them two Hayletts and 18-year-old Harry Knights, another of James Sr’s grandsons. Three of the dead had 28 children between them.
As a coda to the story, in 1919 John ‘Spratt’ Haylett died saving the crew of Ernest Shackleton’s ship Nimrod. Caister men don’t turn back, and they don’t give up. When the RNLI closed their Caister station in 1969 it reopened as an independent service, still running today.
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From roger andrews on 31st March 2013
I have seen apicture at Potters leasure of the Beauchamp launching into a storm, can you help me to purchase a copy of same. yours roger