Hand sculpted memorial for Penlee lifeboat disaster victims has permanent clifftop home

The service was watched all over the world as it was livestreamed for families who could not attend the Cornwall event. Credit: Martin Brockman

The first memorial to commemorate all of the 16 lives lost in the Penlee Lifeboat disaster has been officially unveiled in West Cornwall.

Everyone onboard the Soloman Browne lifeboat and the Union Star vessel lost their lives during a storm on the 19 December 1981.

A service was held to remember them on Saturday (24 September) and the crew of the current Penlee Lifeboat, the Ivan Ellen, laid a wreath near the wreck site.

A near-two tonne granite memorial had to be carefully winched into place along Tregiffian Clifftop, near Tater Du lighthouse, overlooking where the Union Star went ashore 41 years ago.

The design features 16 albatrosses to represent all those who died on both the lifeboat Soloman Browne and the stricken vessel the Union Star.

Neil Brockman was a 17-year-old trainee lifeboat crew member in 1981 when he ran tothe boathouse to volunteer to go out with the rescue mission but was turned away on account of his father Nigel Brockman already being part of the team.

Neil said: "It's 40 years ago, but it's so it's really important for us to keep their memory alive. And what I love about it, we've all come together as one family to the families of Solomon Brown, the founders of the Union Star, all as one family."

The families worked with artist David Paton to come up with the wave and albatross design Credit: Martin Brockman

His brother Martin says it's fundamental both sets of families share a memorial together.

"As families, we are united in our shared tragedy and this memorial stone, at the site of our loved ones resting place, will be a special place of quiet reflection for us all but also for others and to ensure their memory lives on."

Local sculptor David Paton unveiled his work to families and friends on Saturday 24 September and says it was a "privilege" to work with them to create a piece of art which was "really meaningful".

He said: "It was fundamentally about all the people. That was really the rationale for the sculpture that it acknowledged all 16 lives from both vessels. It was quite emotional, a few tears which is important."

The Penlee lifeboat disaster: what happened?

On December 19 1981, a crew of eight people launched Solomon Browne from Mousehole in stormy seas and hurricane-force winds.

The Penlee crew was trying to rescue the stricken Union Star vessel, which also had five crew and three passengers onboard, including two teenagers.

Despite the formidable efforts of the crew, all 16 lives were lost.

The granite memorial was commissioned by the families of the eight Penlee lifeboat crew and the five crew and three passengers of the coaster Union Star.

£26,000 was raised by the community with some of the funds coming from The Countrymen's tribute song 'Lights of Mousehole' released to mark the 40th anniversary in 2021.