A murky truth behind South Shields lifeboat?

David Kidd has been researching the origins of Wouldhave's lifeboat
David Kidd has been researching the origins of Wouldhave's lifeboat

A South Tyneside-born retired teacher says he has unearthed the murky truth behind the invention of the lifeboat.

South Shields men William Wouldhave and Henry Greathead both made claims to be the inventor of the famous vessel in the early part of the 19th century.

The sordid squabble of who invented the lifeboat is neither here nor there

David Kidd

But according to evidence gathered by David Kidd, 61, from documents at the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle, neither claim is justified.

Mr Kidd has published a pamphlet entitled A Strange Kind of Patronage in which he reveals the “sordid squabble” surrounding the lifeboat’s invention.

He outlines how boat builder Greathead hoodwinked the committee at the Lit & Phil into believing his claim, leading to a petition in Parliament which supported him – much to Wouldhave’s anger.

Mr Kidd, who now lives in Crook, County Durham, said: “Being from South Shields, I was brought up with the story of the lifeboat, and the story that emerged from the records at the Lit and Phil was completely different.

“The lifeboat becomes an invention at the beginning of the 19th century when the Lit and Phil decided to find out more about this phenomenon at the mouth of the Tyne, after they heard about rescues taking place.

“Henry Greathead convinced the Lit and Phil that he was the inventor.

“As a result of the Lit and Phil’s intervention he got £1,200 and that angered Wouldhave, who wrote to the Lit and Phil saying they exercised a ‘strange kind of patronage’ and staking his claim as the real inventor.”

Mr Kidd believes that South Shields as a town should take credit for the invention of the lifeboat, not one individual.

He added: “The achievement of South Shields is that its people organised the first lifeboat service in history.”

An exhibition, The Lit & Phil and the Lifeboat, is on display at the Westgate Road venue in Newcastle until Tuesday.