Our HistoRY

Answering the call in 1866

In December 1865 a group of men met in the Mechanics Institute at South Shields to discuss the establishment of a Volunteer Life Brigade similar to that formed at Tynemouth some 12 months earlier. A preliminary meeting on 15th December 1865 agreed that a Brigade should be formed and the Town Clerk Mr T. Salmon led a deputation to meet the Tyne pilots who enthusiastically agreed to apply to the Board of Trade.

The Mayor of South Shields Alderman Thomas Moffett called a public meeting in the Old Town Hall in the Market Place and 40 men were enrolled. A copy of the notice still hangs in the Watch House. Archibald Stevenson and Samuel Malcolm were appointed Honorary Secretaries. The Board of Trade formally accepted the services of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade on 30th January 1866.

Always Ready


South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade was the first such organisation to save life from a shipwreck using the breeches buoy. On 2nd April 1866 the schooner Tenterden of Sunderland was wrecked on the South Pier which was still under construction at the time. Seven people including a woman and child were rescued from the stricken vessel. This epic rescue inspired the famous illustration “Saved” by T. D. Watson. In about 1946 an old lady visiting the Watch House was reported to have looked at the painting and simply said, “I was that child.”



Over the years hundreds of men, more recently women, and dozens of officers have rendered unstinting service but one man is regarded as the “Father of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade”. He served as Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer and President over a remarkable span of 69 years, in addition to being President of the Tyne Lifeboat Society. He combined the two principal roles for almost 40 years until 1906 when he became the Brigade’s first President, serving until his death in 1935 at the age of 92. Malcolm was a man of great energy and enterprise. The construction, design and improvement of the Watch House during the first ten years were largely due to his unstinting efforts and powers of persuasion. In 1911 he succeeded in getting the Board of Trade to obtain Royal approval for the Long Service Medal to be instituted for members of lifesaving brigades throughout Britain. Members of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade still proudly receive this award today. In 1926 at the age of 83, Samuel Malcolm carved a commemorative plaque, which still is still displayed in his honour, to mark the Brigade’s Diamond Jubilee.

Help Us to Help Others