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Historic RNLI colour photographs released

As the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary (4 March 2024), the charity has brought some of its rich history to life with the release of a stunning collection of colourised images.


Brighton lifeboat being recovered up the beach in 1904
Brighton lifeboat being recovered up the beach in 1904. Image RNLI

From community events to candid snapshots, the 11 black and white images have been painstakingly cleaned and colourised with folds, scratches and dust removed using digital technology to shine new light on 200 years of saving lives at sea.

The striking images from across the UK and Ireland include courageous lifeboat crews, early fundraising street collections, and iconic scenes of close-knit communities coming together to launch and recover lifeboats.


Part of the new collection is a photograph taken in 1904 of the then new, lifeboat at Brighton. The image shows a real sense of community, as local families come together to pull on ropes to help recover the lifeboat up the beach after it returned to shore. The new boat boasted 10 oars, and self-righting capabilities.


Featured in the collection is the most decorated RNLI lifesaver, Henry Blogg, who was born on 6 February 1876. Henry served for 53 years on Cromer’s lifeboats before retiring in 1947, having saved 873 lives and been awarded many honours including three Gold and four Silver RNLI Medals for Gallantry.


Women launchers at Hauxley, Northumberland. The station was opened in 1852 and closed in 1946.
Women launchers at Hauxley, Northumberland. The station was opened in 1852 and closed in 1946.Credit RNLI

The image of Henry, which first appeared in the Lifeboat Journal in 1916, he can be seen wearing black oilskins and a sou’wester, which preceded the instantly recognisable yellow waterproofs now associated with the RNLI.


In another of the newly enhanced images, children wearing yellow sou’westers sitting in a model lifeboat being pulled by a horse can be seen taking part in a fundraising event in 1939 in Plymouth. A poster on the float advertising the next Lifeboat Saturday is displayed and fundraisers can be seen sporting the iconic yellow oilskins of the RNLI and holding collection boxes.


Collecting in Plymouth.Horse is towinga small boat with 6 children wearing kapok lifejackets and rain hats
1939 Collecting in Plymouth.Horse is towing a small boat with 6 children wearing kapok lifejackets and rain hats. Photo credit RNLI

RNLI Heritage and Archive Research Manager Hayley Whiting said: ‘The carefully coloured images illustrate just a few highlights of the incredible history of lifesaving over the previous two centuries, where over 144,000 lives have been saved to date.


‘To see the crew of St Davids lifeboat walking up from the boathouse wearing their traditional red hats, the yellow sou’westers of the children fundraising or the vibrant blue sea off the Isle of Man, the reworked images really do bring a different perspective on some of our archived pictures.


Poole lifeboat Thomas Kirk Wright being launched down the slipway at the old Poole lifeboat station, now a museum.
Poole lifeboat Thomas Kirk Wright being launched down the slipway at the old Poole lifeboat station, now a museum.Credit RNLI

‘Each image has been brought to life by our own in-house creative team with hours spent on attention to detail, along with research being undertaken to ensure each one gave a true, lifelike representation.’ Historic RNLI colour photographs released


For more information please visit: RNLI.org/200


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