A new exhibition exploring the Isle of Man’s remarkable maritime heritage and honouring the 200th anniversary of the RNLI opened at the House of Manannan on Saturday 17 February 2024.

‘All at Sea’ uncovers some of the tragic events in Manx waters which motivated Manx resident, Sir William Hillary, to establish a national maritime lifesaving institution.  The story of the Herring Fleet Disaster features in the exhibition in which 36 men and 50 boats were lost in Douglas on 20 September 1787. Just one incident of thousands in only 12 nautical miles of Manx waters, ‘All at Sea’ presents stories of some of those shipwrecks and their inextricable link to the foundation of today’s RNLI.

Two hundred years ago, Hillary’s mission was to ensure the preservation of life, to assist vessels in distress, to preserve vessels and property, to prevent plunder, to support those rescued and to provide suitable rewards for rescuers. His was a vision to save all at sea. An eyewitness to the hardships during and after sea rescues, Hillary himself helped save an estimated five hundred lives in Manx waters. These events directly influenced his idea for what would become one of the most respected organisations in the world.

Allison Fox, Manx National Heritage Curator for Archaeology says: “Over 2,000 ships have tragically met their final fate around the coast of the Isle of Man. All have a place in our Island’s history from trawlers to merchant vessels, paddle steamers, lifeboats and leisure crafts. The fate of more than twenty vessels are explored in ’All at Sea’, alongside lifesaving equipment, medals and poignant objects from the Island’s shipwrecks. The gold medal awarded to Sir William Hillary for founding the RNLI has kindly been loaned to the exhibition by the RNLI Heritage Collection Trust. The medal features three men pulling another from the sea alongside a quotation from Psalm 69: ‘Let not the deep swallow me up’. Manx National Heritage extends thanks to all those who have supported the exhibition including researcher, Adrian Corkill, and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.”

‘All at Sea’ is on display until 5 January 2025 at the House of Manannan in Peel. Admission is free, with donations welcome. Visit www.manxnationalheritage.im

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