Fate of Rohilla boat is revealed
Former lifeboat Henry Vernon
On hearing the RNLI were going to be creating a digital archive of its Lifeboat journal, I signed up straight away as the journals have been a source of information for many lifeboat queries I have had over the years. In the past I have either written or e-mailed queries to the archive section at Poole. However having the digital archive would help cut down some of my queries. The archive when it was released was £100 but its cost has been worth it, as a local author and historian I have already found a number of interesting articles already and look forward to browsing it in the future.
One of the finds involved the former Tynemouth motor lifeboat Henry Vernon, the lifeboat was the one which traveled from Tynemouth in gale conditions to affect the rescue of the final fifty people that had been stranded aboard the Rohilla for three days after it had run aground on the rock scar off Saltwick Nab, en-route to Dunkirk. The tragic story of the Rohilla tragedy has gone down in RNLI folklore as one of the most significant events in it’s history.
Courtesy of Chris Lambert
The Henry Vernon was sold to a private buyer in 1936 who converted it into a motor sailor and in recognition of the gallant events during the loss of the hospital, renamed it Rohilla. I set about looking into who had bought the lifeboat and managed to establish contact with the family. They provided detailed information about the boat which sadly met its own tragic end. The boat's owner George used the boat a lot and the family mentioned that his nephew's enjoyed sailing the converted vessel.
The Tragedy of the Rohilla
The Henry Vernon was sold to a private buyer in 1936 who converted it into a motor sailor and in recognition of the gallant events during the loss of the hospital ship, renamed it Rohilla. I set about looking into who had bought the lifeboat and managed to establish contact with the family. They provided detailed information about the boat which met its own tragic end. The boat's owner George Tawse used the boat a lot and the family mentioned how his nephew enjoyed sailing on the converted vessel.
In September 1959 two sailing expeditions
were planned to the Channel Islands by the Kingham Hill Trust School.
The Rohilla was chartered and skippered by Colin Noble a school scoutmaster,
maths tutor and reputably a fine sailor and crewed by Colin's friend
The second trip made a successful crossing across to the Isle of Sark staying for a few days, it began its return to the Cornish coast on the 19th September. When the boat was declared overdue it was apparent that some unknown tragedy had befallen the boat. On the return journey there were also five boys from the boarding school:
Following reports of a sighting off the south coast of Devon the frigate Loch Inch steamed to begin a search of the area backed up by a combined Anglo / French search and rescue operation with the joint efforts of the RAF, the Royal Naval College and the French Navy, whilst ships were alerted to watch for any signs of the yacht. A buoy bearing the name of the Rohilla was picked up by the French trawler La Belle Poute in the English Channel, 35 miles off Start Point, whilst a dinghy from the yacht was found on the beach between Downderry and Crafthole, East Cornwall. , Mr. Noble's body was washed ashore at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, whilst the bodies of Peter Knight and Robin Green were recovered on the Cornish coasts, sadly however none of the other bodies were ever located.
Despite widespread air and sea searches the cause of the mysterious loss had been speculated upon however, a female sailor in her own yacht who followed the Rohilla out of the harbour declared the boat ran into foul weather crossing the channel.
A verdict of misadventure was recorded at an inquest at Liskeard on Robin Green, whose body was taken from the sea off Start Point by a Looe fishing boat, died from drowning. Giving evidence about another boy, Peter Knight 14 whose body was washed ashore at Seaton near Looe wearing a lifejacket. Dr Hocking said that he had died not from drowning but from shock. Captain John Miller Cummin, senior nautical surveyor of the Ministry of Transport said the yacht left Boshom on the 2nd September, said she was last sighted in a freshening wind in the Race of Alderney on September 13th. From his enquiries he believed the vessel to have been seaworthy. There might have been a collision with another boat which would be consistent with the medical evidence that one of the boys had died from shock.
Recording a verdict of misadventure, on both boys, the coroner Dr. V. Cooper said the inquest had been delayed pending an inquest on the master in charge of the vessel, Mr. Colin Noble, whose body had been washed ashore in the Isle of Wight. The inquest had now been held and he would admit the evidence taken there in order to save the public expense of bringing witnesses long distances.
On the 31st October 1959 at 3:15 pm a memorial service was held in the Kingham Hill School Chapel in memory of those lost in tragedy, during which a plaque was unveiled in memory of Colin Noble and the five pupils of the school who lost their lives in the Rohilla yacht disaster the previous September. At the school speech day which followed the unveiling, the warden Mr. E. C. Cooper said "Colin Noble was a devoted schoolmaster, conscientious and capable."
After saving so many lives as an RNLI lifeboat it was ironic that the life of the Henry Vernon would end in such tragic circumstances.
After saving so many lives as an RNLI lifeboat it was sad irony that the life of the Henry Vernon would end in such tragic circumstances.
Copyright © Colin Brittain 1999 - 2014