Past Coxswains

A timeline of the Coxswains of Penzance, Newlyn and Penlee Lifeboats

Date    Name
 Penzance Coxswains
1860-1873    Thomas Carbis
1873-1896    Henry Trewhella
1897-1903    Philip Nicholls
1903-1906  George Chirgwin
1907-1908  Alfred Vingoe
1908-1912  Charles Tredwin
1912-1915  William Nicholls
1915  Joseph Hill
1915-1917  Robert Harvey
 Newlyn Coxswains
1908-1910  Alfred Vingoe
1910-1913  Thomas Ellis Vingoe
 Penlee Coxswains
1913-1916  John Strick Brownfield
1916-1920  George Dennis
1920-1947  Frank Blewett
1947-1957  Edwin F. Madron
1957-1970  John T. Worth (Jack)
1970-1981  William Trevelyan Richards
1982-1983  Kenny Thomas
 Penlee (Newlyn) Coxswains
1983-1993  Kenny Thomas
1993-2008  Neil Brockman
2008-present  Patrick Harvey



 top of page
Thomas Carbis - Coxswain 1860-1873


Thomas Carbis circa 1866, Penzance harbour pilot and Coxswain of the Richard Lewis lifeboat


From: The Royal Cornwall Gazette – Thursday January 24, 1867

A public meeting, convened by the mayor, was held at Penzance, on Tuesday evening ’for the distribution of rewards to the crew of the Richard Lewis lifeboat, for the very gallant services rendered during the recent gales’. The proceedings were of a very interesting character, and the gallant fellows were loudly cheered. Mr. D P Le GRICE made the following address:-
'Brave crew of the Richard Lewis - I attend here this evening as one of the committee of this borough of the National Lifeboat Institution to return you personally my best thanks for the honour you have conferred on this lifeboat station, by the manner in which you discharged your duty at the late wreck.
We, your neighbours, being anxious to shew you how sincerely we appreciate your conduct, have made a collection and presented to each of you a small sum of money, but you must not for a moment suppose that we consider that as a reward adequate to your services. The only adequate reward you can receive must be from your own breasts, the proud consciousness of having risked your lives to save those – of your fellow human  beings – lives not of your friends and neighbours, but of utter strangers, for aught you knew foreigners, nor was this heroic act the result of any momentary excitement.
For you, my noble fellows, have deliberately pledged yourselves to face the dangers of the deep, whenever this committee may think proper to require you so to do. May the Richard Lewis ever have so brave a crew.'

The rewards were the society's silver medal to Mr. Samuel HIGGS, Jnr and the following amounts to others, part from the society and part from the public:- Thomas CARBIS, William HIGGINS, Thomas SINGLETON, Thomas ADAMS; John LAY, William GRIFFITHS, and Edward HODGE, £5 19s, each; Alfred WILLIAMS, Thomas HAWES, and James LEE, £5 each; Thomas SMART, and James PENGELLY, £3 each; George GWYTHERS and Thomas ANCELL £2 10s, each; Richard HARVEY 32s; Henry TREWHELLA, Samuel WILLEY, and John DAVIES, 10s each; in all £71.



 top of page
Henry Trewhella - Coxswain 1873-1896

The Boswedden an iron barque which was lost in October 1886.

All that was found was a brass bound bucket on Lundy and a writing desk washed up near Ilfracombe. Henry's Son, Henry, was amongst the crew lost.


Born in July 1835, Henry Trewhella, not following in his fathers footsteps who was a labourer, Henry had a passion for the sea and became a fisherman or mariner, later gaining a job with Trinity as a harbour pilot. On 3rd Feb 1856, and at the age of 21, he married Jane Cockell. Jane died in 1892, but  between them they had 8 children. Henry then remarried in the same year as Jane's death to Kate Daniel. 

Henry lived in Barbican lane Penzance for most of his adult life, which is about 50 yards from Penzance harbour. Henry built his way up to coxswain quite quickly within only a few years of being on the crew, his job as a Trinity Pilot certainly assisted his rapid promotion. In March 1873 he was made Coxswain of the Richard Lewis Lifeboat (The lifeboat being housed on the promenade next to the coastguard facility and approx. 1000 yards from his home) and then the new lifeboat, the Dora, housed in the newly built wharf road lifeboat station (300 yards from barbican lane). Henry only had 1 year as Coxswain of the Elizabeth and Blanche before his retirement from the lifeboat at age 60.

One of Henry's Sons, also called Henry was lost at sea in Oct 1886 on the SV Boswedden. This must have been very distressing for the Coxswain of the lifeboat, yet determination to save lives at sea, kept him in the post for a further 10 years.

Henry died on 30th June 1906 at the age of 71.



 top of page
Philip Nicholls - Coxswain 1897-1903





Mr Philip Nicholls was the intrepid Coxswain of various Penzance lifeboats. His association with the R.N.L.I. commenced in 1871. He was promoted to 2nd Coxswain in 1887 and Coxswain in 1897.

On numerous occasions he was instrumental in saving life, and on his retirement from the post of Coxswain, after a fine record, a public presentation was made to him at the Guildhall, Penzance, by the Mayor.

His retirement was recorded in the Cornishman newspaper dated Thursday 31st December, 1903 as follows:
"All who are interested in the work of the Penzance lifeboat and indeed the public generally, will hear with regret of the resignation, through failing health, of the Superintendent coxswain, Mr Philip Nicholls. The resignation, however, will nowhere be felt more keenly than by the crew of the "Elizabeth and Blanche" of Penzance.
A meeting of the committee of the Penzance branch was held on Tuesday evening, presided over by Mr. W.F. Rowe, when Mr Nicholls's resignation was accepted with regret, and sympathy expressed with him.
The committee then appointed Mr George Chirgwin as superintendent coxswain. Mr Chirgwin should make an admirable successor to the post, having had seven years experience under Mr Nicholls.
Mr Charles Tredwin was appointed second coxswain; Mr William Edwards, bowman, in place of Mr. J. HILL, resigned. The other vacancies were filled by J. Blewett and E.Edwards.
On the motion of the Mayor; seconded by Mr. Howell Mabbot, it was decided to recognise Mr. Nicholls's valuable services in a special manner.
The following is the list of the services in which he took part:-
1879 - brig Ponthien, of Venice, saved 5 hands (day)
1881 - barquentine Neilly, of Bridgwater, saved 6 hands (day)
1881 - barque Pampero, of Swansea, saved 14 hands (night)
1885 - Fishing boat rendered assistance (day),
          s.s Random sunk in mouth of Penzance harbour.
1886 - Ketch Alliance, of Penzance, saved 4 hands (night);
          schooner Golden Light, of Penzance, saved 5 hands (night)
1888 - brigantine Jeanne Hortense, of Nancy, saved 4 hands (night);
          schooner Livingstone, of Fleetwood, saved 5 hands (night)
1889 - trawler Bluebell, of Plymouth, saved 4 hands (night)
1897 - barque Lady Gladys, of Tousberg, landed 17 hands (day)
1898 - schooner Mary James, of Penzance, landed 10 hands (night);
          brig Henry Harvey, of Hayle, saved 6 hands (night)
1900 - barque Antarctic, of Swansea, saved 9 hands (night)
1901 - rendered assistance during the day to the brig ST.JOSEPH, of Bordeaux, saved 5 hands.
1901 & 1902 - In answer to signal of distress went out twice to barque Canada, of Nova Scotia, captain refused assistance; out from 7 p.m, Dec 30, 1901, to 1st Jan 1902.
1902 - rendered assistance to schooner ST.IVES (day)"

In matters of lifeboat construction Philip Nicholls was an expert. He helped to design the Elizabeth and Blanche (2) and purchased her when she was sold out of the service of the R.N.L.I. for use as a pleasure craft.

After his retirement Philip Nicholls was approached by Captain George Everett Hitchens , of Newlyn, with a view to using the Elizabeth and Blanche for a circumnavigation of the world.(Empire Cruise 1925-1928).

The main purpose of this proposed 38,000 mile voyage, to extend over three years, was to establish the most suitable canned foods, 'dry tack' as mariners call them, for supply to ships, and to test the efficiency of wireless in ship's lifeboats. Navigating the four seas, visiting remote and historic spots, Captain Hitchens and his companions hoped to accomplish their objective in the sturdy retired lifeboat, Elizabeth and Blanche.

Captain Hitchens quietly set to work to identify a crew for this epic voyage. He was glad to find that the first men to volunteer to share this adventure were, Mr Phillip Nicholls, junior, the youngest son of Ex- Coxswain Nicholls, and Mr George Jenkin, of Newlyn, both of whom had been members of the crew of the Elizabeth and Blanche when she was in service in Mount's Bay. Also to volunteer were, Mr. Leonard Stewart, of Alverton, Penzance, engineer and the only unmarried member of the crew; and Mr Gilbert Moss, of Birmingham, wireless operator.

For some weeks the Elizabeth and Blanche lay at the back of Newlyn Art Gallery, undergoing extensive alterations, which were necessary before the a Empire Cruise could be undertaken.

Retired Coxswain Philip Nicholls died on 29th January 1927, aged 75 years.



 top of page
George Chirgwin - Coxswain 1903-1906


Mr. George Chirgwin was one of the best known boatmen on the coast, and has had an adventurous sea career.  Some twenty-five years ago he was one of the crew of a large steamer, carrying thirty-five hands, which was lost on a desolate part of the coast of Spain.  With the exception of George all hands were drowned.  Half-dead and almost naked he was thrown ashore, and remained in a Spanish village for some weeks.  When sufficiently recovered he came back to Penzance, where he was warmly received by his townsmen.

On Friday 28th December 1906 George, one of the most trustworthy and respected boatmen of Penzance, of wide experience, and the coxswain of the Penzance lifeboat, went off in his gig in company with a man named Morris Davies, for the purpose of taking the captain of the Cornubia on board his vessel, which was lying in the Bay.

As the gig did not return some uneasiness was felt, especially as the weather was very bad during the evening.  There were blinding showers of snow accompanied by squalls. At daybreak boats went out to search for the missing men, and at low water a boat’s mast was seen about a foot above water, also the yard and peak of a sail.  The boat had evidently sunk between the Gear Pole and the Chimney Rock, in a line with a rock known as the Frenchman, and about 400 yards from the shore.

No traces of the men were to be seen, and it is supposed they were caught in a squall on returning from the Cornubia. George Chirgwin and Morris Davies were lost.



 top of page
Alfred Vingoe - Coxswain 1907-1910


Alfred become a member of the crew of the Penzance lifeboat 'Elizabeth and Blanche 2nd' and was coxswain between 1907-1908 when it was based in Penzance and 1908-1910 when it was based in Newlyn.

When the lifeboat was moved to Newlyn Alfred took over from his uncle as coxswain. Thomas's brother, Robert, was his Bowman & a cousin, Arthur Vingoe his assistant coxswain. 

Between the years 1908 and 1914 Alfred and Thomas saved 72 lives between them. But sadly according to his obituary, Alfred was remembered for a rescue undertaken from his pilot boat and not from the lifeboat. On the 18th of June 1909 Alfred was returning to Penzance in his pilot boat when he noticed that a large sailing ship was low in the water and flying distress flags. He and his two crew members sailed over to the craft which was the "Leon Burau" to find that the ship had been holed on a rock off the Scilly Isles and was fast taking in water. Climbing aboard Alfred told the captain to put on full sail, and when this was done Alfred piloted the ship into Penzance where he beached her just outside the harbour. The next day was a Sunday and people were amazed to see this fully rigged sailing ship ashore just outside the harbour entrance. Alfred arranged for most of the cargo to be discharged into small ships and then at high tide the ship was towed into the harbour to be repaired.



 top of page
Charles Tredwin - Coxswain 1908-1912








Message from our Webmaster:

We have started our search into the history of Charles Tredwin. He was born on 10th Feb 1869 and was appointed Coxswain 1st Dec 1908.

If anyone has any more info on Charles, please contact us here: click for email link



 top of page
William Nicholls - Coxswain 1912-1915








Mr William Nicholls was appointed Coxswain on 3rd July 1912 and was the Coxswain of 2 reserve Penzance lifeboats. William was instrumental in the choice of the Janet Hoyle from the shipyard.  During his Time on the Janet Hoyle she launched twice in service, the first being an extremely dangerous mission to the SS TRIPOLITANIA on boxing day 1912.

In a letter, dated September 1959, Coxswain William NICHOLLS recalls the launch to s.s TRIPOLITANIA as follows: "My most arduous lifeboat service took place in 1912. On Boxing Day, at 8.00 am, the Coastguard called at my house in Penzance. He brought a message that a steamer was drifting disabled across the Bay. Neither the Sennen or Newlyn boats could go out, and so the message was passed to me. A strong gale (90 m.p.h) was raging; shop fronts at Penzance were blown in and boats overturned in the harbour, Penzance Pier Head being under water. At 8.30 the boat was in the water, all reefs taken in, and away. I have often thought of the appearance of the Bay when I rounded the pier head. The seas were pitiless, and the first one aboard completely filled the boat. I remember thinking that this was my last trip! I thrashed about 8 miles, opening up all the Western land, and then, seeing nothing of the ship, came about, and edged towards Porthleven, where the broken sea was worse. I was, from there, signalled by green rocket to 'recall'
The vessel, s.s. TRIPOLITANIA, had gone ashore on Loe Bar, near Porthleven; and to judge the height of the seas, she was thrown at dead low water to twenty feet above high water. She remained there for years until broken up for scrap. There were only two lifeboats afloat on that day, my own, and the Plymouth boat, which was blown ashore in Jennycliff Bay inside the breakwater. The stemhead of my boat split from the planking, and the lovely paintwork smashed in spots into the drab first coat. She looked like a spotted leopard. Two of my men died on the following Thursday from pneumonia, which shows the terrible conditions we had to face on that service."       



 top of page
Joseph Hill - Temp Coxswain 1915








Message from our Webmaster:

We have started our search into the history of Joe Hill. He was born in March 1862 and was appointed 'Bowman' in 1896 before resigning from the crew in 1908. He came back to assist in filling the gap of Cox in 1915 until Robert Harvey was appointed.

If anyone has any more info on Joe, please contact us here: click for email link



 top of page
Robert Harvey - Coxswain 1915-1917








Mr Robert Harvey was the Coxswain of the reserve Penzance lifeboat, Janet Hoyle, in the final 2 years of the Penzance lifeboat house before it's closure in 1917.

During this time there were no recorded services of the Janet Hoyle.

Robert Harvey was born in 1867, he became coxswain at the age of 48 and his profession was a dock labourer in Penzance. He was married to Gerline Mary Harvey who was born in Bombay, India and together they had 7 children.



 top of page
Thomas Ellis Vingoe - Coxswain 1910-1913



Thomas was a pilot in Penzance and his uncle Alfred the coxswain of the lifeboat. Alfred was only 3 years older than Thomas,  due to his father marrying twice, and having a second family. As crew on the Penzance lifeboat Thomas honed the skills that would stand him in good stead when he became coxswain of the same lifeboat  when it was moved to Newlyn, taking the job of coxswain from Alfred. 

Within two months the lifeboat and its crew were called on to rescue 20 men from the "Clan MacPherson of Glasgow and on the same day 28th December 1908 they were called out again to render assistance to the crew of the Schooner Titania of Salcombe.

In the next three years Thomas and his crew would save 52 lives. The most notable rescue took place when the Norwegian Barque Saluto was wrecked in Mount's Bay. The Cornishman newspaper told the story at the time. What the Newspaper did not report was the row that erupted over this rescue, a row that would lead to the men of Newlyn cutting their links to the lifeboat when it moved to Penlee point. Included in the crew that day were two  brothers T.E.Vingoe  &  Robert Vingoe; a cousin 2nd  Cox's. Arthur Vingoe. Also Bob Samson, who was T.E.Vingoe brother in law and Joe P Harvey and Billy Harvey who were his cousins.



 top of page
John Strick Brownfield - Coxswain 1913-1916


Pictured (top) are John Strick Brownfield and his wife outside their house in Mousehole.

John Brownfield was born in Paul in 1873 and became coxswain of the Penlee lifeboat  'Elizabeth and Blanch 2nd' in 1913 at the age of 40 having been a mariner for most of his adult life. He was the first coxswain of lifeboats in the newly built boathouse and slipway at Penlee point and was the first coxswain from Mousehole, as prior to this time all the coxswains were from Newlyn or Penzance. When the Penlee boathouse was opened in 1913, Mousehole village being closer to the boathouse than Newlyn, a new crew was formed of Mousehole men. The Penzance crew continued with reserve lifeboats and the Newlyn crew disbanded.

Pictured (Lower) at a Lifeboat fundraising event. sitting on the carriage, Mr.G.Howard, Conservative and Unionist M.P. (on the right) and John Strick Brownfield on the left.

John died in 1953 at the age of 80.



 top of page
George Dennis - Coxswain 1916-1920




Message from our Webmaster:

We have started our search into the history of George Dennis. He was born in 1874 his father was John Dennis and they lived in Mousehole.

If anyone has any more info on George, please contact us here: click for email link



 top of page
Frank Blewett - Coxswain 1920-1947

awaiting information



 top of page
Edwin F Madron - Coxswain 1947-1957

awaiting information



 top of page
Jack Worth - Coxswain 1957-1970

awaiting information



 top of page
William Trevelyan Richards - Coxswain 1970-1981

awaiting information



 top of page
Kenny Thomas - Coxswain 1982-1993

awaiting information



 top of page
Neil Brockman - Coxswain 1993-2008


Neil was only 16 when he joined the crew, although he had spent a considerable amount of his youth around the lifeboat station with his father, Nigel, who was a regular crew member. 

On the night of December 19, 1981, Neil turned up to volunteer alongside his father to go to the assistance of the crippled coaster Union Star. Coxswain Trevelyan took Nigel aboard but turned Neil down. Within two months of the disaster a new crew was trained and ready for service which included Neil. 

In 1993 coxswain Kenny Thomas retired and at the age of 28 Neil became the youngest coxswain in the RNLI fleet.

In 1995 Penlee Lifeboat was called out along with the Sennen lifeboat to the aid of the Newlyn crabber Julian Paul, which was adrift in Force 12 winds near the Wolf Rock. It took the 2 lifeboats over 10 hours to tow her to safety which earned Neil the RNLI's Bronze Medal for gallantry.

Neil retired in 2008 to pursue a career as a skipper for an offshore services company



 top of page
Patrick Harvey - Coxswain 2008-Present


Patrick Harvey or Patch as he'd rather be known is the current fulltime Coxswain at the Penlee Lifeboat station.

Patch is a Newlyn boy and like his father became a fisherman after leaving school. The knowledge of local waters and skills he gained from fishing puts him in a perfect position as Coxswain.

Patch first joined the crew in 1993 and soon after became second Coxswain to Neil Brockman and a full time employee of the RNLI. Upon Neil's retirement Patch became full time Coxswain and like his predecessors, Patch has the total respect and loyalty of his crew.

Patch comes from a lifeboat family, his maternal grandfather and great grandfather had both been members of the lifeboat crew. They are the 'Downing' family from Mousehole with stong links to the lifeboat dating back to the 1930's.