Mystery of twin box marking sea tragedy

The refurbished box that is on display at the Caister Lifeboat Experiece. Its newly discovered twin

The refurbished box that is on display at the Caister Lifeboat Experiece. Its newly discovered twin is in in much worse condition. - Credit: Archant

A rusted hunk of metal poking out of the dunes has turned out to be a history-laden donation box relating to one of the nation’s biggest lifeboat disasters.

The original one from the 1901 Beauchamp tragedy has been restored and takes pride of place at the Caister lifeboat experience, But the discovery of a sister unit has stunned local experts who never knew it existed.

It was unearthed by crew member Andrew Turner who was strolling in the dunes on Sunday and immediately recognised the familiar design. Quite how it came to be there has stumped everyone involved with the independent service which boasts a proud life-saving record.

The infamous Beauchamp lifeboat disaster saw the loss of nine of 12 crew during a daring rescue one night while the waves were at their worst.

That the boat was launched for what turned out to be a false alarm added to the tragedy.

In the aftermath a fund was set up to benefit the seven widows and 47 children who lost a father.

A donation box was set up near the memorial in Caister cemetery.

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Within three days a new crew was formed, some of them touring the country as heroes collecting vast sums of money in places like Luton and Leeds where over £1,200 was donated alone.

The fund was capped at £10,000 but the final total was much higher meaning the families were able to live comfortably, the last of the Caister widows, Alice Brown, dying in 1986.

However, there are no records of a second box and crew members have only been able to speculate about how it came to be lost in the sands of time on the dunes.

Mr Turner said it was possible the box was fixed to the old lifeboat station which was washed away in storms in 1943 and has appealed to the public for any memories or information.

He added there was a theory the box had been dumped when the appeal reached its target, although that seemed unlikely.

Derek George, 78, whose direct descendent Charles George perished in the disaster, tagged the discovery as “amazing”.

He said: “The disaster in 1901 was a national disaster. The mayor of Great Yarmouth instituted a fund which was to be capped at £10,000 but it grew to over £12,700.

“The memorial was erected in marble and a collection box was put there at the same time but I did not even know there was another one.

“In all the pictures I have ever seen I have never seen a second one. I think it is reasonable to assume that it was down the boat shed. It was fortuitous that Andrew discovered it.”

He added the organisation was tempted to leave it as it was, rather than restore it.

Of the dead, eight were found the next morning and the ninth, Mr George’s great grandfather, was not found until April 12 the following year at Kessingland, decomposed and headless.

His wife, he said, was able to identify the body by the darning of the socks, each family having its own style of stitch.

The door is missing on the newly-discovered box although the padlock remains. A tractor was needed to tow it out of the sands and wheel it back to the boat shed for comparison with its twin.

Do you have any information about the box? Email liz.coates@archant.co.uk