Beeching, James (DNB00)

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BEECHING, JAMES (1788–1858), inventor of 'self-righting lifeboats, was born at Bexhill, near Hastings, in 1788, and there served an apprenticeship to boat-building. Some little time after his apprenticeship had expired he went over to Flushing, and while there, in 1819, built the famous smuggling cutter known as the 'Big Jane.' On leaving Flushing he settled at Great Yarmouth, where he introduced the handsome build of fishing vessel now used at that port. In 1851 attempts were made, under the auspices of the late Prince Consort, to revive the activity of the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, the affairs of which were at a very low ebb. A prize of 100l. for the best model of a lifeboat, and another 100l. towards defraying the cost of building, were offered by the president of the institution, the Duke of Northumberland. Out of 280 models sent in from all parts of the world, many of which were displayed at the exhibition of 1851, that on a 'self-righting' principle, invented and exhibited by James Beeching, was awarded the prize, and with a few slight modifications suggested by Mr. Peake, master shipwright of Woolwich dockyard, one of the judges, has served as the model for the magnificent fleet of lifeboats now possessed by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (Encycl. Brit. 9th ed. xiv. 572). So confident was Beeching of the merits of his invention, that he built a boat on the same model before the prize was awarded, which boat became the property of the trustees of Ramsgate Harbour, and was instrumental in saving several hundreds of lives on the Goodwin Sands (Gilmore). Beeching died on 7 June 1858.

[Information supplied by Mr. Beeching's family; Exhibition Reports, 1851, i. 332; Gilmore's Storm-Warriors, London, 1878; Reports Royal Nat. Lifeboat Inst.]

H. M. C.