Dave Noble, a crew member of Hoylake RNLI is hoping you can help the team with a some historical crew member research. Dave writes:
I’m a crew member of Hoylake lifeboat. We’ve had a lifeboat at Hoylake as most will be aware of since 1803 and I know the town is incredibly proud of that fact. We have lists of our Coxswains or indeed Masters of the boat as they were then known, up until 1822 and beyond 1840, but the gap is something we’ve tried very hard to fill without any luck for many years. We know that there used to be a link or dual role with the keeper of the Hoylake lighthouse first with Thomas Seed 1803-1808, then Joseph Bennett from 1808-1822, when the latter retired as master of the boat but stayed as keeper of the Upper Light until his death in 1828, with his wife Elizabeth then serving for a short period. We know having read Joseph’s logbook and seen his Will that he had no children that outlived him, so that removes succession as a potential angle.
We also know that a William Bird [b1794, d1867, buried in Holy Trinity, but as yet without a gravestone although St Hildeburghs are researching this for us. His wife was Betty (nee Smith, married in 1816) but they also had no children – (thanks to Lyn Wilcox formerly of Hoylake, now residing in Galway for this information)] was a keeper at the lighthouse between 1819 (aged 25) & 1855 (www.alk.org) but we can’t find any corroborating evidence for him being Master of the boat. We’ve seen a Liverpool Docks pay sheet that has him become keeper of the Upper Light in 1828 (aged 34) (he was probably assistant at Hoylake prior to that but Liverpool Docks records only record Officers, and 1828 appears to be when he became one), and we’ve also seen an article in a Chester newspaper that announces Joseph’s demise and confirms that William takes his place (and lodgings) in the lighthouse. We’ve been able to favourably compare Joseph’s wage of 40 guineas at the with William’s of £42 when succeeding him.
There were two cottages for the Upper lighthouse, now a single dwelling in Valentia Road of course and also accommodation in the lower lighthouse as well and all lighthouse keepers can be seen at www.alk.org.
We can see from Joseph Bennett’s logbook that William Jnr first turns up as crew in 1813, alongside his father, who was on the crew at least as far back as 1809 – William Snr may have been on earlier but Joseph’s logs of 1809 are the earliest we have. We can see from William Jnr’s marriage certificate that his profession was Mariner and on the 1841 & 1851 censuses (thanks to Al Green) that he is listed as Lighthouse keeper. We know that William was brother to Henry Bird who died in the 1810 disaster alongside his cousins and that he was related through marriage to George Davies (b1806, married Mary Bird in 1826), who took over as Master of the boat in 1840, and it also seems sensible that he’s related to John Bird who then takes the role in 1865 (although I don’t have the corroboration for this to hand).
On Rootsweb in 2010, a RickyC noted that Liverpool Docks relaxed the link between the lighthouse and the boat in 1822 to allow Joseph Bennett to relinquish one role whilst retaining the other (but we’ve not found the reference/article/book for that assertion – any help there would be greatly appreciated) and in both Jeff Morris’s and Peter Fitzgerald’s books they say the link between lighthouse keeper and lifeboat master had broken down by 1825 (I can’t find this reference either), which would all appear to work in William’s favour but with no corroboration. Furthermore William had been under Joseph on the boat since 1813 and under him at the lighthouse since 1819, again all positives in William’s favour.
We think that others at the lighthouse – James Lee senior was too old (had to ask to retire at 83) and James Lee junior didn’t start at the lighthouse till 1836 – neither of which show in Joseph Bennett’s crew lists anyway. John Smith Jnr is shown as aged 43 as keeper of the lower light in 1814 but again he doesn’t show in the crew lists for that period.
Equally we now know that Bernard Sherwood was lifeboat superintendent (a supervisory role, because we can see his replacement with the same job title who we know wasn’t a Master of the Boat) between 1828 & 1864 (when he was replaced by Henry Bird). From an 1864 Morris’s Cheshire directory, we know we’re still looking for the job title of master of the lifeboat, because George Davies is listed as such).
Bernard Sherwood’s main role was with the customs as a tide surveyor, and we know those who held customs roles weren’t allowed to take other paid roles when working for the revenue for obvious reasons (Liverpool Mail, 1845) when he’s awarded a gratuity of 25 guineas, his first since 1837. He lived in 5 Sea View and he wrote a memorandum book which is in Leasowe lighthouse archives according to John and Diane Robinson’s rather excellent Lighthouses of Liverpool Bay, but try as we might we haven’t been able to track that down as yet – again any help here would be appreciated. He might make reference to the boat crew of the time in the memo book as there are references to his fighting for remuneration for the crew in the Lighthouses of Liverpool Bay.
Unfortunately Hoylake lifeboat’s earliest records were held at the Port of Liverpool building (along with several other stations) and were destroyed by a bomb in 1941, so tracking relevant information down has proved difficult. In addition this period was pre Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (formed in 1858) so contemporaneous records are incomplete and I haven’t been able to find anything other than pay sheets at either the Maritime Museum or Liverpool central library. My next steps are to read the dock committee meeting minutes but that’ll need some considerable tone devoted to it.
I have attacked both the 1841 & 1851 censuses plus all lifeboat and lighthouse texts in recent years. I see references to both men and their lighthouse roles but nothing solid for the lifeboat. Up until 1858, the lighthouses and lifeboats were governed by the city of Liverpool. I’ve also contacted the Liverpool Athenaeum but without success currently to see if their extensive library might help.
We’ve read an absolute plethora of reports of lifeboat shouts of the period but frustratingly no references to the master of the Hoylake boat.
We’d like to throw this open to the community in the hope that individual family records or ancestry research might have discovered something relevant, as we’d all very much like to see the missing person take their place on our history boards.
Any help or suggestions gratefully received.