Lifeboat diaries given to the Maritime Centre in Newbiggin

Newbiggin lifeboat coxswain's 150-year-old diaries are donated to to the Maritime Centre in the town

Richard Martin at the Maritime Centre where the diaries are on display
Richard Martin at the Maritime Centre where the diaries are on display


Fascinating diaries kept by a sea rescue volunteer 150 years ago have been returned to the North East coastal town in which he served.

They were kept by Thomas Dawson while he served as lifeboat coxswain in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, between 1860 and 1900.

Written in school exercise books using a quill pen, the mainly one-line entries record significant happenings of the day involving the local lifeboat and its crew, the town’s fishing fleet and weather events such as storms.

The diaries were passed down through Mr Dawson’s family after he died, and ended up in the attic of a house in Whitley Bay.

They have now been recovered and donated to the Maritime Centre in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, where they are on display to visitors alongside exhibits such as the restored former Mary Joicey lifeboat.

Mr Dawson was the town’s third RNLI coxswain and was in charge of Newbiggin’s fourth rowing lifeboat Robert and Susan, which had to be hauled into the sea by a dedicated band of women launchers.

His diaries were filled in at his home whenever noteworthy events such as maritime rescues, major fish catches and storms happened in Newbiggin.

They eventually ended up in the attic of 90-year-old Peggy Miller of Whitley Bay, whose late husband Freddie was the great, great grandson of Thomas Dawson.

When Mrs Miller paid a family visit to the Newbiggin Maritime Centre and RNLI boathouse she got chatting to local volunteers and decided to donate the diaries to the visitor attraction.

She said: “I was really amazed by the Newbiggin lifeboat, as well as the Maritime Centre displays and everything the volunteers do. These diaries will now be available for many others to see, now and in the future, to give a glimpse into Newbiggin’s community life all those years ago.”

The �3m Maritime Centre, which opened to visitors in July 2011, celebrates the town’s rich lifesaving, fishing and seafaring past.

Its centrepiece is a two-level exhibition hall, where visitors can view the Mary Joicey, the last offshore lifeboat to be stationed at Newbiggin.

Yesterday, Richard Martin, who chairs the Newbiggin Heritage Partnership and is a leading member of the local lifeboat team, said the old diaries were a fantastic addition to the centre.

“Thomas Dawson's clear and tidy writing style makes the text clearly legible in these records. He was very articulate, and is also credited with writing a poignant poem about the Anglia shipwreck disaster of 1904, which saw seven Newbiggin fishermen drowned.

“He made the entries whenever there was a notable occurrence in what look like exercise books he kept after leaving school.

“They really give a glimpse of what life was like in Newbiggin all those years ago. We are really pleased that Peggy decided to give us the diaries, and it just shows what sort of things are locked away in people’s attics.”


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