People across Cornwall and beyond will today remember the crew of the lifeboat Solomon Browne, who launched one of the most heroic rescue attempts in living memory. 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the disaster, which is still felt keenly in the community of Mousehole today.  

It was on Saturday December 19, 1981, that the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne, was launched in hurricane conditions to go to the aid of the coaster ‘Union Star’ that had engine failure and was being swept towards the southern coast of Cornwall, near Mousehole. 

It was an attempted rescue that ranks not only with the greatest in the history of the RNLI, but with any human achievement.

Now people are being urged to remember the eight selfless lifeboatmen who lost their lives 40 years today, in an heroic effort to save others.

The cargo ship Union Star was blown off course after it suffered steering and engine failure during hurricane force winds.

Falmouth Packet:

The crew of the Solomon Browne

The lifeboat Solomon Browne launched at 8.12pm in an attempt to rescue the eight crew from Union Star as it was about to hit the rocks.

Onboard were coxswain Trevelyan Richards, 56, second coxswain and mechanic James Stephen Madron, 35, assistant mechanic Nigel Brockman, the 43-year-old emergency mechanic John Blewett, 23-year-old Kevin Smith, 33-year-old Barrie Torrie, the landlord of Mousehole's Ship Inn Charles Greenhaugh, 46, and 23-year-old Gary Wallis.


The Union Star, a cargo, was on her maiden voyage from The Netherlands to Ireland with eight people onboard, including captain Henry Moreton, his wife and her two teenage daughters.

The ships's engine cut out a few miles of Land's End and as the storm worsened, a distress call was made to Falmouth Coastguard.

A Sea King helicopter from RNAS Culdrose in Helston was sent out, but in gusting winds of nearly 100 miles nd hour it was unable to get close enough to airlift anyone from the ship.

It was at this point, in waves at least 50 foot high, that the eight volunteer crew of the Penlee Lifeboat set out.

Such was their skill that four of the Union Star's crew actually managed to scramble aboard the lifeboat, but it was the lifeboatmen's dedication and insistence they continue trying to rescue the remaining four that proved fatal.

It was at this moment that radio contact was lost.

What happened next remains a secret of the sea, but the lifeboat never returned to shore and only some of the 16 bodies were ever found.

Despite heroic attempts to rescue the crew of the Union Star, both vessels hit the rocks. As a result both crews were lost.

Lifeboats from Falmouth and The Lizard then spent more than 36 hours at sea searching for survivors or bodies. It was the worst lifeboat disaster in history and stunned the country.

Penlee lifeboat Coxswain Trevelyan Richards was posthumously awarded the RNLI's Gold Medal. Bronze Medals were awarded posthumously to the remainder of the crew: Second Coxswain/Mechanic James Stephen Madron, Assistant Mechanic Nigel Brockman, Emergency Mechanic John Robert Blewett, Crew Members Charles Thomas Greenhaugh, Kevin Smith, Barrie Robertson Torrie and Gary Lee Wallis.

The tragedy hit the community hard and each year, on the anniversary of the disaster, the men are remembered by the Christmas lights in Mousehole being switched off, in poignant tribute.

Porthleven and Cadgwith have also announced they will be paying their respects by also turning off their Chrimstas lights display this evening.