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250 Years of Lifesaving and Water Safety

Posted by Robyn Dawson

Being an island here in the UK, we are surrounded by coastline and as such have a huge amount of history and heritage in water safety and lifesaving. In fact, this can be tracked right back to the early 1800s and to just one man, a man called Henry Trengrouse. His name is not familiar to many people, but to our Commercial Director, George Trengrouse Shillito, (Trengrouse’s 5x Great Grandson) it is one he has grown up with.

To support Drowning Prevention Week this summer, George travelled to Cornwall, 250 years on, to uncover his name’s sakes family history and celebrate Henry’s early innovations and designs that went on to shape the modern approach to lifesaving we see today.

Henry Trengrouse was a humble Cornishman. In 1807 he witnessed a disastrous shipwreck in which hundreds of lives were lost. This tragedy drove him to conceive the idea of the Breeches Buoy - a rope-based rescue device used to extract people from wrecked vessels that were close to land but could not be reached. He spent many years of his life travelling to London, to speak to the Government to convince them of the idea yet met a huge amount of resistance at the time and spent over £300,000 of his own money trying to get his ideas adopted. Sadly, his ideas were not picked up until after his death. The Breeches Buoy became a commonly used lifesaving device, and he later went on to design the first cork life jacket, both of which helped to save many, many lives.

A visit to the Museum of Cornish Life in Helston, Cornwall uncovered a fantastic display dedicated to Trengrouse and his inventions. This included the rocket apparatus that George’s great grandfather donated to the museum back in the sixties as well as a powerful and enlightening collection of essays written by Trengrouse…

Excerpt from Trengrouse’s writings

“These disasters continue to exercise my mind intensely throughout the day and the night. I was led to consider what means could be applied to save those who so miserably perished within the call of their countrymen and their friends…

I have become possessed with the idea of devising the means for the preservation of life in cases of general shipwreck, for which period I have made great object the principle of my pursuits” 

Trengrouse, 1825

An estimated 235,000 people drown worldwide every year. Teaming up with the RNLI, George has embraced his lifesaving heritage and Henry's dedication to this global cause, by creating our dedicated rescue division, Red Rescue, which launched back in 2018.

Since then, we’ve been working with leading lifesaving authorities and professional lifeguards across the world to deliver lifesaving kits and equipment to the places that need it most. This innovative range of inflatable rescue boards is now helping lifesavers save lives all over the world.

“We believe you should never compromise on performance, reliability and most importantly safety. It fills me with immense pride that at Red Rescue we are following in Henry’s footsteps to introduce innovations, designs and technologies and carrying on his great work and continuing his name.” George Trengrouse Shillito.

For more information about Drowning Prevention Week and to keep you and your friends and family safe on the water follow the links below:

Drowning Prevention Week

Royal Life Saving Society