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The Story of Henry Freeman

Posted by Kieran 30/05/2016 0 Comment(s)
In 1861 one of Whitby’s lifeboats capsized while on duty. This event saw the death of 12 of the 13 crew on board. The only survivor was Henry Freeman


In 1861 one of Whitby’s lifeboats capsized while on duty. This event saw the death of 12 of the 13 crew on board. The only survivor was Henry Freeman, the only person wearing a lifejacket on the lifeboat. In 2011, on the 150th anniversary, 100 people attended a service of commemoration and remembrance for those who lost their lives at the RNLI lifeboat station. These were men on service, helping those at sea. This tragic event is a reminder that even the best swimmers are at high risk in the turbulent sea and it highlights the importance of wearing a lifejacket. We will take a look at the life of Henry Freeman, the sole survivor.


Henry Freeman was born in Bridlington, Yorkshire on the 29th of April 1835. In 1855 Freeman moved to Whitby. After spending time working as a farm labourer and a brick-maker he turned to a career at sea. February 9th 1861 marked the event that would change his life. During a great storm, more than 200 ships were wrecked on the east coast. The RNLI were on duty to rescue those in the water. The first rescue was early at 8:30 in the morning. They spotted the crew of the ‘John and Ann’ of Sunderland were in distress and they were saved near Sandsend. The crew made five launches rescuing crew from five vessels. On the sixth launch the lifeboat capsized. As we know, Henry Freeman was the only crew member to survive. He was awarded the RNLI Silver Medal.


In 1877 Henry Freeman was appointed Whitby Coxswain following the drowning of Samuel Lacy. This appointment was met with strong opposition from many at the Whitby RNLI. Despite the strong opposition, the decision was uphold. Over the next 3 years the crew saved sixty lives. On the 28th of October 1880, in conditions similar to that tragic day in 1861, Freeman’s crew were involved in four rescues. He was awarded a silver clasp.


In 1899, Freeman retired after a long career at sea. His wife Elizabeth had died a year earlier. In 1901, he married Elizabeth’s sister Emma. This was illegal at the time until 1907 when the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act was passed through Parliament. Henry Freeman died in 1904, leaving a widow and no children.



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