19 December 1981


West Penwith

Known for

In December 1981, the Penlee lifeboat went to rescue people from a ship that had broken down in a terrible storm. During the rescue attempt the brave crew of the lifeboat, and everyone on the ship, was drowned.

Mis-Kevardhu 1981 an skath-sawya Pennlegh eth rag sawya tus dhyworth gorhel re dorrsa yn tewedh euthyk. Dres an assay a sawyans mayni kolonnek an skath-sawya ha pubonan war an gorhel a veu beudhys.

Photograph of the Union Star sinking
The Union Star
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A ferocious storm

Six days before Christmas in 1981, a large storm battered west Cornwall. At the same time, a ship called the Union Star was sailing around Land’s End during the storm when its engines failed. The Union Star began to drift towards the dangerous rocky coast of west Penwith and its captain contacted the coastguard for help. 

At first, the coastguard sent a helicopter from RNAS Culdrose to try to rescue the people aboard the Union Star. However, the stormy weather, the darkness of the night and the huge waves prevented the helicopter from getting close to the ship.

All contact lost

The coastguard next asked the crew of the Penlee lifeboat, which was called Solomon Browne, to try to rescue the crew of the Union Star. The lifeboat’s crew of eight men, led by Trevelyan Richards, bravely battled the huge waves and hurricane-force winds to reach the ship. They had managed to get four people off the Union Star and were trying to rescue the others when all radio contact between the lifeboat and the coastguard was lost.

Photograph of Penlee Lifeboat
Penlee Lifeboat
They were truly the bravest eight men I've ever seen. Lieutenant Commander Russell L Smith, United States Navy

Deep shock

The power of the wind and sea that night had proved too much for the Solomon Browne. The lifeboat was wrecked and its crew, and all the people on the Union Star were drowned. The loss of life that night deeply shocked the people of Mousehole, where the Solomon Browne was stationed. People in Cornwall and the rest of the UK helped to raise millions of pounds for the village. The families of Solomon Browne’s crew collected medals from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in honour of the men who had died. The Penlee Lifeboat Station received a Gold Medal Service award.

Did you know?

Every year on 19th December the Christmas lights at Mousehole are switched off for an hour at 8pm to remember those who lost their lives on that terrible night in 1981.

The brave crew of the Solomon Browne:

Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards
Second Coxswain/Mechanic James Stephen Madron 
Assistant Mechanic Nigel Brockman
Emergency Mechanic John Robert Blewett
Crew member Charles Thomas Greenhaugh
Crew member Kevin Smith
Crew member Barrie Robertson Torrie
Crew member Gary Lee Wallis



Cornish Memory

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Penlee Lifeboat Station

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