The Sailors' Friend
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Our family is proud to be descended from Henry Trengrouse, dubbed "the sailor's friend".

"Lizard and Meneage Summer 2000" newspaper, Extract pg 7

Henry Trengrouse

One section which is unique is that devoted to the life and works of Helston’s most celebrated son, Henry Trengrouse. The Trengrouse family owned property in Mullion and Helston. Henry Trengrouse became a cabinet maker and plied his trade in the town. During a severe gale in 1807 the frigate HMS Anson was wrecked on the Loe Bar. The ship had left Falmouth on the 24th December to join the Channel fleet. News that the frigate was in danger of being wrecked reached Helston and Trengrouse made his way through Penrose to the Bar along with many others to see if they could be of any assistance. The sea was tremendous and gradually drove the Anson on to the Bar where she became a total wreck. Trengrouse assisted in the rescue of people from the ship by crawling along the main mast which rested on the Bar and acted as a raft to those who escaped drowning. Trengrouse was so affected by the loss of life of upwards of 100 persons that he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to devising a life-saving apparatus.

Fireworks

After attending a firework display to celebrate King George III’s birthday, he suddenly conceived the idea that perhaps a rocket could convey a line to a stricken ship. He experimented with this method, having a flintock musket adapted to carry rocket launchers into which rockets similar to those used at the firework display could be fitted. Gunpowder poured into the barrel of the musket ignited when a spark was produced by the flint, the flame from the powder then ignited the rocket. Attached to each rocket was a length of line. The rocket was fired in

the direction of a stricken ship and, when the line was retrieved by someone aboard, heavier rope could be pulled from the shore to the ship, thus setting up a communication.

Trengrouse designed the Bosun’s Chair – a crude seat made from wood and rope which could be pulled over the ropes already secured to the ship from the shore. People could then be transported through the waves to safety. The Bosun’s chair gradually evolved into the Breeches Buoy.

Russian Support

Trengrouse had great difficulty in getting the government to adopt his invention. The Czar of Russia recognised his invention after trials had been carried out in the Baltic and the Black Seas. He sent Trengrouse a diamond ring and assured him that if he came to Russia he would give him practical support. Trengrouse declined and sent a message stating "My country first!" By this time Trengrouse had spent a fortune of some 3,000 perfecting his equipment only to find that successive governments ignored his efforts.

On his deathbed he said to his son "If you live to be as old as I am, you will find my rocket apparatus along our shores". His prediction came true and the adoption of the rocket apparatus by around 300 stations in Britain has saved thousands of lives.

When the use of the Breeches Buoy was withdrawn some years ago, HM Coastguard presented the museum with one of the last Breeches Buoys, a coil of rope, and a rocket launcher to be used in the area, a fitting tribute to Trengrouse’s pioneering work.

A fine oil painting of Trengrouse is on display in the museum along with all the original apparatus designed and made by him.

 

IN PIOUS

AND EVER GRATEFUL

REMEMBRANCE OF

HENRY TRENGROUSE

OF THIS BOROUGH,

WHO, PROFOUNDLY IMPRESSED BY THE GREAT LOSS OF LIFE BY SHIPWRECK, RENDERED MOST SIGNAL SERVICE TO HUMANITY, BY DEVOTING THE GREATER PORTION OF HIS LIFE AND MEANS, TO THE INVENTION AND ADOPTION OF THE

"ROCKET APPARATUS",

FOR COMMUNICATING BETWEEN STRANDED SHIPS AND THE SHORE, WHEREBY MANY THOUSANDS OF LIVES HAVE BEEN SAVED.

They rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.

1772 - 1854

 

Henry also built a model of a lifeboat that could not be sunk, the Bosun's Chair and the breeches buoy. Baring-Gould's Cornish Characters  notes "Henry Trengrouse's noble life was a failure in so far as that it brought him no pecuniary results - covered him with disappointment, reduced him to poverty". Photographs from our Trengrouse family album follow.

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