1894: A Teenage Lifeboatman Begins His Long and Now-Legendary Sea Rescue Career

December 28, 1894

In the town of Cromer on England’s eastern coast, an 18-year-old local resident named Henry Blogg first saw action at sea as a member of the crew of RNLB (Royal National Lifeboat) Benjamin Bond Cabbell II. Blogg had actually joined that crew nearly a year earlier, but it was that holiday-season mission that marked what is widely regarded as the de facto launch of his long and storied career not only with the Cromer Lifeboat Station but also as the most decorated lifeboatman in the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). RNLI, a large-scale charitable organization that carries out maritime rescue operations, started out in 1824 as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. RNLI is focused on lifesaving missions at sea and on several inland waterways in the vicinity of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.

Blogg was born in Cromer on February 6, 1876. Even though he excelled as a student, he left school when he was only 11 to work on his family’s crab boat. Blogg soon proved to be highly proficient in a wide range of vital seamanship skills and in his knowledge of tides, currents, and winds.

As a comparatively new member of the crew of RNLB Benjamin Bond Cabbell II, Blogg underwent a major baptism by fire on December 28, 1894. This is when that lifeboat was among those deployed in the rescue operations for a ship called Fair City. In the midst of a fierce gale pummeling the area, this vessel was stranded and severely damaged in storm-tossed waters.

The Gloucester-based Citizen reported a few days later, “During the gale the schooner Fair City, of Gloucester, from London to Newcastle, was dismantled off Yarmouth, both masts falling on deck, staving in the boats and dismantling the pumps.” Blogg and the other crew members on board Benjamin Cabbell II remained near Fair City through the night. They eventually escorted Fair City part of the way to shore before that schooner’s crew was safely transferred onto RNLB Hearts of Oak from the Sea Palling Lifeboat Station (southeast of Cromer).   

Over the next several decades, Blogg steadfastly built on the skills and heroic efforts he had displayed during that fledgling and high-risk mission. After Benjamin Bond Cabbell II was withdrawn from service in 1902, Blogg became part of the crew for the Cromer Lifeboat Station’s new lifeboat RNLB Louisa Heartwell. He served on that vessel as second coxswain (steersman) under the command of coxswain Jimmy “Buttons” Harrison. When Harrison retired in 1909, Blogg was unanimously elected to serve as the lifeboat’s new coxswain.

One of the notable lifesaving missions led by Blogg occurred in 1917, after the Swedish cargo ship SS Fernebo — at a time when World War I was very much underway — was wrecked off the coast of Cromer due to either a boiler explosion or a German sea mine. Blogg and his crew made their way through turbulent waters to get to that shattered ship and rescue 11 surviving members of her crew. Another one of many exemplary missions took place in 1932, when Blogg led the effort to rescue 30 men and a dog from SS Monte Nevoso after that Italian cargo steamship ran aground on the Cromer-area sandbank known as the Haisborough Sands.

Yet another high-profile operation spearheaded by Blogg involved the British merchant ship SS English Trader in the fall of 1941. By that time, England was into its second year of fighting on the side of Allies during World War II and English Trader was part of a military convoy traveling in the Cromer region. This ship fell behind the convoy, however, and ultimately ran aground on a sandbank named Hammond’s Knoll and then began to split apart as a result of a gale. The challenge of rescuing those aboard English Trader proved to be a formidable one for Blogg, who nearly drowned in that attempt. Ultimately, however, he and his crew managed to rescue the ship’s 44 survivors.

During his career, Blogg received several notable awards for his lifesaving efforts at sea. These awards included both the gold and silver medals of the RNLI; the George Cross, the highest award bestowed by the British government for bravery in extremely dangerous circumstances outside of direct military combat; and the British Empire Medal, given those who have performed meritorious civil or military service. It has been estimated that Blogg helped save the lives of 873 people in the course of his service as a lifeboatman.

Blogg, who retired in 1947, pursued other interests that were arguably more lucrative if less lifesaving and exciting than his career as a lifeboatman. He continued to work as a crab fisherman, for example, and also rented out such beach items as deckchairs, tents, and huts in his hometown. (The above photo of an exhibit at a museum in Cromer features full-size models of Blogg and his pet dog Monte in front of a stand where those beach items could be rented.)

Blogg died in Cromer Hospital on June 13, 1954, at the age of 78. “He served in Cromer lifeboats for 53 years, and he held an unequalled record in life-saving, becoming something of a legend within his own lifetime,” noted the next day’s edition of the Herald Express (based in the English town of Torquay). “Henry Blogg had the long-sustained heroism of a leader who makes other brave men braver, and who is trusted by them for his skill, courage and character.”

Phot Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Henry Blogg, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Blogg

A video about his life is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lguJDDLBsOM

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