ROBERT WILLIAM WEATHERHEAD Died 06th January 1898Buried 10th January 1898

Written by Sarah Goodsell

Inscription reads In loving memory of Robert William the beloved husband of Fanny Weatherhead who died Jan 06th 1898 aged 52 years. He was one of the famous rowers of the 6 oared Galley Sultan. He accomplished many feats of strength and endurance in his calling. Also of Fanny Weatherhead wife of the above died June 29th 1918 aged 69 years.

On Wednesday 11th November 1891 Robert William Weatherhead volunteered to be part of a crew of mostly Folkestone fishermen that were about to make a third attempt to rescue the crew of the ship “Benvenue” which had been grounded during a storm off the coast of Sandgate. Two other attempts had been made during the day to try and rescue the ships crew who had taken to tying themselves in the rigging on the mizzen mast as the hull had disappeared under the water but the previous rescues had been unsuccessful. During the second attempt, the lifeboat had capsized and one of the crew members had drowned, the others had to swim back to the shore, finally reaching the beach exhausted where they were pulled out of the waves by the crowd that had gathered there.

The third rescue crew were experiencing great difficulty getting the lifeboat “Meyer De Rothschild” down the beach and into the stormy sea so soldiers from Shorncliffe Camp were called upon to help with the launch. It was reported that my Great Great Grandfather in the quest to urge the men in their efforts said “if you don’t make haste the Dover boat will have the honour”.

The lifeboat was eventually launched and it managed to come alongside the Benvenue. Robert Weatherhead fastened the lifeboat anchor to the shrouds to steady the lifeboat and the crew descended from the rigging and into the boat. Once all men were down Robert cut the rope to free the lifeboat and the fishermen then decided to sail the boat to Folkestone Harbour. As the lifeboat was mooring Robert Weatherhead was heard to say “why we have 27 people aboard beside our crew” 5 of the Benvenue crew had unfortunately perished, the Captain, two apprentices, the steward and an able seaman all had been washed overboard as the ship sank and the huge waves had engulfed the hull. In total the sailors had been stuck in the rigging waiting to be rescued for 16 hours!

A Thanksgiving service was conducted at the Parish Church in Folkestone at midday on Thursday 12th November 1891 to give thanks for the safe rescue of the sailors and the bravery of the three lifeboat crews. An offertory was raised and shared out among the Benvenue crew. A mystery gentleman a few days later provided a dinner for the various lifeboat rescue crews at the Guildhall Vaults Folkestone. A toast was raised to the brave men and their health. Robert Weatherhead or “Old Bob” as he was more familiarly known was reported in the local newspaper to cause roars of laughter by the quaint way in which he delivered his speech the whole tenor of which seemed to be conveyed in the following words “that he and his mate Philpott were very good men, there could be no doubt about that and they took a lot of beating” (David Philpott was a fellow fisherman who had formed part of the same rescue crew) During the evening songs were sung rendered by many including “Old Bob”.

Speeches were made and the vicar addressed the meeting and each man went up to get their individual medal. One was given to Folkestone and one to Hythe to be kept in their archives.

A public meeting was held in the Town Hall a few months later to present medals to the three lifeboat crews who had risked their lives. Sir Edward Watkin designed the medals to commemorate the gallant deeds of the crew and Queen Victoria’s profile adorn one side of the medal and the words “He bravely did his duty” was on the other.

Robert Weatherhead was also a victualler and licensee of the Cinque Port Arms Folkestone from Wednesday 11th December 1889 to his death in 1898 upon which his wife Fanny Weatherhead was granted permission to take over the licence on Wednesday 15th June 1898 and held it until 1901. Robert also took part in many local rowing regattas and he was quite successful in these rowing competitions hence the reference to the Galley Sultan and the crossed oars on the headstone.

Source of reference The Folkestone Chronicle, Folkestone Express, Folkestone Herald

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