Sunday, 21 November 2010

Local Heroes - Francis Williams and Rev James Williams

Francis Williams and her husband the Rev James Williams of Llanfairynghornwy, were the founders of the first lifeboat station on Anglesey.

In 1823, Francis Williams witnessed the tragic shipwreck of the sailing vessel Alert off Carmel Head. The Alert, carrying passengers and some general cargo, was returning to Holyhead from Howth, Ireland when she was caught in the treacherous water between Carmel Head and Skerries. There were only three survivors with 140 people losing their lives.

After the shipwreck they vowed to do their utmost, to ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again. By 1828, they had raised enough money for a lifeboat to be stationed at Cemlyn. An Anglesey branch of the Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was formed later that year, when Rev Williams also oversaw the construction of the first lifeboat built at Holyhead. The Rev Williams was the first coxswain of the lifeboat at Cemlyn, and it was not unkown for Francis Williams to be one of the volunter rowers.

In October, 1835, it was decided by members of the Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck to award the Rev James Williams, a gold medal for his exploits in saving the boat Active at Cemaes Bay.

Of the rescue at Cemaes Bay, Barry Cox wrote in his book Lifeboat Gallantry: “The sailing vessel Active, anchored in Ramsey Bay, Isle of Man, during a northwesterly gale, started to drag her anchors then drifted out to sea as soon as they had been hauled up.

Many hours later, the smack drifted into Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, and tried to anchor but grounded a long way from the shore with every successive wave breaking over her. The Reverend Williams arrived after several unsuccessful attempts had been made to launch a boat and, ignoring the mountainous seas, rode a horse into the surf and drew near enough to throw a grappling hook over the smack’s bowsprit.

They were then able to launch a boat and pull out to the wreck whose crew of five were found in the cabin, too exhausted to move. All were landed safely.”

The Rev James Williams who died in 1872, was awarded a second gold medal for his bravey for saving lifes from the ship Sarah.

The Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was taken over by the RNLI in 1885. The Cemlyn lifeboat station closed in 1918, and at Cemlyn you will see a monument commemorating its achievements.

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