HMHS Rohilla
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William Riley of Birmingham & Leamington

The former Upgang lifeboat "William Riley of Birmingham & Leamington," was spotted on the internet auction website ebay in a visibly poor state in 2005. Once the boat was secured a meeting was held in Whitby at what was then the old 'tin shed' lifeboat house. It was agreed that there was sufficient interest in seeing the William Riley returned to Whitby for restoration. There was little doubt that any restoration was going to be an overwhelming task requiring significant cost and a band of willing supporters. A charity was formed with the sole aim of overseeing the restoration of the former lifeboat. From this the "Whitby Historic Lifeboat Trust" was borne and the work began in earnest, the following photograph gives some idea of the daunting task the trust faced at the beginning.

* Fundraising Ventures *

The former lifeboat had its first major fundraising venture in 2008 recreating the journey undertaken by the Tynemouth motor lifeboat "Henry Vernon" in 1914 to the wreck of the Rohilla. This was followed by yet another fundraising row, this time in Scotland. Since its restoration the boat has undertaken many fundraising events and had appearances in many parts of the country, during all this time it has actively sought to raise funds for the RNLI and the trust believe that its endeavours have raised in excess of £25.000.

In 2010, the boat participated in the spectacular Thames Great River Race the aim this time to raise funds for the St. Catherine's Hospice. The race attracts around 300 crews from all over the world and appeals to every level of competitor. during this event the rowers were chosen from members of the Fishermen's club. That same month a team of 40 rowers raised almost £5,000 for two good causes in memory of a Scarborough diver who tragically died in an accident off the coast near Hartlepool.

The boat took part in a mammoth lifeboat pull / row as part of the annual RNLI SOS Day 2012 at Torbay on the 28 January. The challenge was to row the boat between the original 1866 launch site at Mudstone (St Mary's Bay) to Brixham and then on to The Ladies Cove (Beacon Cove) Torquay. At the same time the WAG's pulled an Inshore Lifeboat on its trailer from Brixham to Torquay via Paignton. Later in the year the former lifeboat was one of many craft in the Royal Pageant.

BBC Coast 2012

The William Riley featured in an episode of the BBC Coast series "Peril From The Seas" in June with the story surrounding the loss of the hospital ship Rohilla. Months of negotiations in 2011 culminated in two days filming in September during which the boat was filmed both in and out of the harbour. Given the time allowed the BBC did a good job of telling the tragic loss of the Rohilla, Whitby's greatest maritime heritage.

The BBC filming was also the ideal opportunity to get close to the action and to capture a wealth of photographs, it was a really busy two day schedule beginning at the lifeboat station before moving to various locations around Whitby. The following images are just a sample of what a very interesting part of the Rohilla story.

The William Riley Opposite The Lifeboat Station
The Film Crew
The Film Crew

Scarborough Diving Club has successfully completed rowing the boat from Scarborough to Whitby on a number of occasion with the proceeds divided between the RNLI and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

Given how far the boat has come from the almost derelict condition it was found in it has proved to be more successful than anyone could have imagined.

Copyright © Colin Brittain 1999 - 2014