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British Industrial History

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Henry Francis Greathead

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Henry Francis Greathead, 27 January 1757 - 1818 (Buried 21 November 1818)

Patentee of a design of lifeboat

1757 born at Richmond, Yorkshire, on 27 January 1757, son of John Greathead, the Supervisor of Salt Duties at Richmond in Yorkshire.

1763 The family moved to South Shields

Apprenticed to a boat builder and subsequently went to sea as a ship's carpenter (1777-1783).

1785 Henry returned to South Shields and set up in business on his own account as a boat builder

1786 Married Catherine Wood.

1789 A tragedy occurred at the mouth of the River Tyne when the Adventure struck a shoal and the crew were lost in sight of land. A group of Newcastle businessmen offered a prize of two guineas for the best plan or model of a lifeboat. William Wouldhave, a local parish clerk, was offered half the prize money and another man, Henry Greathead, was asked to build a lifeboat using the best features of Wouldhave's design (other accounts say Greathead won the competition). Appropriately called "The Original", she was launched in January 1790 and was in service for over 40 years saving hundreds of lives at Shields; she was recognised as the first purpose-built lifeboat[1]

1802 A further boat was built in 1802 by Greathead, named "Zetland"; she was placed at Redcar, where she had a long and honourable career. This boat, which had the builder's number of eleven, was 31 feet by 10 foot 6 inches. She remained in service until 1880, saving over 500 lives with the loss of only one crew member,

Numerous learned societies awarded honours to Greathead, and voted him money grants. The Royal Humane Society gave him 50 guineas and a gold medal; Trinity House of London gave him 100 guineas; Lloyds of London also gave him 100 guineas. in 1802, following a parliamentary petition the government awarded him £1200 in consideration of the value of his invention to the nation

By 1804 he had made thirty more such boats and did much to propagate use of lifeboats.

Later they left Shields

1814 his wife died in London in March 1814 as reported in the Newcastle Courant of 19 March 1814.

1818 Greathead died in Stepney, London, age 63. There is an inscription to his memory in the parish church of St Hilda, South Shields.

The Zetland has been preserved and can be viewed at at the museum in Redcar along with many other details of Henry's life and work.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1883
  • Guild of One Name Studies [1]
  • Biography of Henry Greathead, ODNB