Penlee Lifeboat "Solomon Browne"
N50 11.529 W3 49.782
On the 19th December 1981 the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne went to the rescue of the 935 Ton MV Union Star that got into difficulties off the Cornish coast. The Solomon Browne was a wooden 14m ‘Watson Class boat built in 1960 and was capable of doing 9 knots. Having managed to rescue four of the crew the lifeboat itself got into difficulties and all sixteen crew of both vessels were lost.
The mini bulk carrier MBV Union Star was only a few days old having been launched in Ringkobing in Denmark. The problem started 9 miles east of wolf rock lighthouse when the engines failed in a force 12 hurricane wind with 18m high waves. Seawater had contaminated the diesel fuel and they were unable to restart the engines. Captain Morton set sail on this maiden voyage to Ijmuiden to pick up his cargo of fertiliser, which was to be delivered to the Irish port of Arklow.
Having reported the problem to the Falmouth coastguard, Captain Morton was offered the assistance of a tug but declined the offer. The ship eventually drifted towards the rocks of Boscawen Cove near Lamorna where it eventually sank.
Photo of MV Union Star
As the Ship got nearer to the shore the coastguard requested the assistance of a helicopter to rescue the crew of the MV Union Star. The Sea King Helicopter ‘Recue 80’ was scrambled from 711 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Culdrose. It was piloted by a United States exchange pilot Lt Cdr Russell Smith who later stated :
“ The greatest act of courage that I have ever seen, and am ever likely to see, was the penultimate courage and dedication shown by the Penlee [crew] when it manoeuvred back alongside the casualty in over 60 ft breakers and rescuing four people shortly after the Penlee had been bashed on top of the casualty’s hatch covers. They were truly the bravest eight men I’ve ever seen who were also totally dedicated to upholding the highest standards of the RNLI.”
Unfortunately the helicopter had to return to base due to the extreme weather conditions. At 8:12 the lifeboat Solomon Browne was launched from Penlee and under very difficult conditions managed to rescue four of the crew and reported in to the coastguard. That was the last that was heard from the the ‘Solomon Browne’ who, having rescued four of the crew of the MV Union Star ,the she herself got into trouble and hit the rocks just west of the Tater Du Lighthouse where here remains lay today. All sixteen of the crew of both vessels were lost tat day.
In 1985 Penzance Town Council created a Memorial Garden on land next to the boathouse at Penlee Point in memory of the lifeboat crew “who gave their lives in service”. A flagstaff, made from the wreckage of the Solomon Browne, and her flag were presented to the Dean and Chapter of Truro Cathedral as a memorial and in appreciation of the support given by the Bishop and cathedral authorities to the Penlee families and the RNLI at the time of the disaster
The wreck was found by Neville Oldham and the East Cheshire BSAC and the following images were taken by Neville Oldham in 1981. Neville first found a jacket that he thought contained a body. On close inspection after recovery the police found it to be full of sea life. It turned out to be the the jacket of the coxswain of the lifeboat and was given to his wife. Neville then investigated the lifeboat taking some photographs of the wreckage.
The four images below show the stern section of the Solomon Browne found between the inner and outer Bucks off “Tater-Du lighthouse”