The Howard D – Jersey’s first motorised lifeboat

Thomas Benjamin Davis was a self-made millionaire who gave this lifeboat to Jersey in memory of his youngest son Howard, who was wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and who later died of his wounds.

Davis was the son of a humble ship’s carpenter. He made his fortune in stevedoring, wharfing and lighterage in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century. The boat was one of many gifts made to the island of his birth, by the philanthropist Thomas Davis.

When the boat came into service in 1937, it was one of the most advanced lifeboats of the period. It was a light Liverpool class lifeboat, built by Sanders Roe in the Isle of Wight at a cost of £3,623.00. It was made from two skins of mahogany with a layer of canvas inbetween. The hull was divided into six watertight compartments, and to ensure buoyancy there were 150 plywood air cases built into the structure. The lifeboat had sails fore and aft, and a Weyburn 35 HP petrol engine, to power it. This gave it a range of 100 miles. It was fitted with a search light and a rocket-powered line-throwing device. A crew of seven manned the boat and, even in rough weather, it could carry 30 survivors.

The Howard D spent 11 years on station in Jersey, including during the German Occupation, and it was launched 23 times and saved 46 lives. In 1948, it was replaced by a Watson class lifeboat, The Elizabeth Rippon, and it went on to see service at Flamborough Head, and then Arbroath. In the intervening eight years, the boat was launched 34 times and saved 17 lives.

The boat stayed in service as a reserve boat until 1964, when she was sold to the coxswain of the Well’s lifeboat. He raised the gunwales by 18”, and used the boat for fishing, renaming her “Spero II”.

In 1996, the Jersey Heritage Trust bought the boat with the idea of restoring her. Plans were made, but the difficulty of finding somewhere suitable to do the work hampered progress. Eventually restoration started, and by 2008 the boat was ready to return to the sea. The Howard D was rededicated on 17th May 2008, she joined the National Register of Historic Vessels in 2009, and took part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant in 2012.

© Arthur Lamy

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