Marking 275th anniversary of Hythe lifeboat pioneer, Lionel Lukin

Contributed by editor on May 18, 2017 - 10:00 AM


By Ray Duff
This year sees the 275th anniversary of the birth of a remarkable engineer and pioneer of the lifeboats.



Lionel Lukin was born at Dunmow, Essex on May 18th,1742 and went on to design the first self-righting lifeboat in the world amongst much else.

He called his design an 'unimmergible boat' in 1785 and sent early versions of it to be tested at Ramsgate and Margate harbours.

Top: The beginning of the engraving on the headstone. Below: The grave near the west end of the cemetery  Photos: Ray Duff

The boat conceived while working as a coachbuilder in London.

His experiments began with a Norwegian yawl in 1784 on the Thames and following early successes in 1785 he patented his method of constructing craft using watertight compartments and lightweight materials, so the vessel would stay afloat even when having taken on water.

His other inventions included a raft for rescuing persons under ice, which was presented to the then Royal Humane Society.

He also invented an adjustable reclining bed for hospital patients which was presented to various infirmaries of the time. Another invention was for a rain-gauge so that he could keep daily records of meteorological observations, which he undertook for many years until his sight failed in 1824.

In retirement he moved to Hythe and died there 12 years later on 16 February 1834 at the remarkable age, at the time, of 91 years.

The headstone on his grave at St Leonard's Church churchyard; which is to the left of the main entrance door; describes him as the 'inventor of the lifeboat principle'.

Indeed both sides of the headstone, the longest such in the Churchyard, list his many achievements; though it can be tricky to read them today.

Further details of Lionel Lukin's life and work can be found here: 

Finally, it should be noted that in just seven years time, in 2024, there are a number of major maritime anniversaries relevant to Shepway.

- 190th Anniversary of the death of Lionel Lukin. (1834)
- 200th (Bicentenary) of the founding of the RNLI (1824)
- 200th (Bicentenary) of the birth of Samuel Plimsoll (1824)
- 100th (Centenary) of the death of seafarer Joseph Conrad (1924)

These and one other historical Centenary, the first excavations of the Roman Villas on East Cliff, Folkestone in 1924 could make for a bumper local festival if various groups could come together to organise it!

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