Henry Trengrouse - inventor of rocket powered ‘Bosun’s Chair’ rescue system and self righting lifeboat, savers of 1000s of lives

Henry Trengrouse

Henry Trengrouse - inventor of rocket powered ‘Bosun’s Chair’ rescue system which has saved 1000s of lives to this day, inventor of the self righting lifeboat, recognised in Cornwall and Russia but not by the British Government

Henry Trengrouse was born in Helston, Cornwall on 18 March 1772

He was educated at Helston Grammar School and became a cabinet maker.

On 24 December 1807 he witnessed the wreck of the Anson frigate off the Loe Bar, Cornwall, when over a hundred lives were lost and this disaster led him to devote his life to the discovery of some means for saving lives at shipwrecks. He spent much labour in attempting to devise a lifeboat, but produced no satisfactory results and turned his attention to the ‘Rocket’ life-saving apparatus, an early form of the Breeches buoy.

In addition to this, Trengrouse was dismayed at the then common practice of burying victims of shipwrecks in common graves in unconsecrated ground near the site of the wreck, having seen the dead from the Anson buried in the dunes at Loe Bar. He persuaded his local MP to work for a change in the law and from 1808 the practice was abolished.

Trengrouse invented the rocket powered rescue system for ships in distress, which he named the Bosun's Chair. It is estimated that his invention has ultimately saved over 20,000 lives and was what came to be known as the breeches buoy. He also devised the life jacket.

Although the British Government failed to recognise his achievements, the Russians invited Trengrouse to St. Petersburg to develop the invention: an offer that he declined. The Society of Arts awarded Trengrouse their silver medal and gave him a grant of thirty guineas.

Eventually the government ordered twenty of Trengrouse’s rescue systems and, having examined the equipment, decided to manufacture it for themselves, giving Trengrouse a mere £50 in compensation. The Czar of Russia gave Trengrouse a diamond ring in recognition of lives saved in the Baltic using his invention.

On his deathbed he told his son "If you live to be as old as I am, you will find my rocket apparatus along our shores", a prediction that was to become true.

Trengrouse died at Helston on 14 February 1854, a poor man financially. He is buried in the churchyard of St Michael's Church, Helston, and is commemorated in the naming of Trengrouse Way, a main thoroughfare in the town.

An example of his life-saving apparatus is on display at the wonderful Helston Folk Museum.

Disgracefully unrecognised by the British Government, he is honoured in Cornwall and in other Countries of the world.

This article has been kindly provided by Kernow Matters to Us and is the tenth in a series on Famous Folk of Kernow (Cornwall).