The Marine Medal

The Marine Medal

William Wyon (1795 -1851) was invited to design the Society’s first medal and he produced the well known design that is still used to this day. Wyon was a member of a family of renowned seal engravers and medallists and the chief engraver at the Royal Mint. There was a delay in obtaining the first medals because, when work was well advanced in June 1843 the obverse die broke owing to a flaw in the steel and Wyon fell ill, and it was not until 1844 that the Society received its first supply.

Previous Versions of the Marine Medal

Gold Marine Medal

Until 1874 the Society’s Medal was awarded only in gold or in silver. Following a succession of heavy gales the first gold medal was awarded on 21st January 1840 to Captain Collins of the “Rescius” for remaining by and rescuing the crew of the “Scotia” on 11th January which was on passage from Quebec to Glasgow. The second gold medal was also awarded for a rescue that occurred one day later when Captain Clegg of the “Huddersfield” rescued 93 persons from the “William Huskisson” which was sinking off Holyhead. At the February 1840 meeting a further gold medal was awarded to Captain C Symonds of the brig “Plumstead”, the first silver medal was awarded to his mate Dupre for saving the Captain and crew of the brig “Tropique”, and yet another gold medal was awarded to Charles Duncan for two separate rescue incidents. Clearly there was a long delay in the presentation of these awards as the Society did not receive its first supply until 1844 as previously mentioned.

During the lifetime of the Marine Medal, which has a blue ribbon, there have been three versions struck. Examples of the first and third type are known to exist in Gold but so far there have been no sightings of the second type in Gold. The silver version was introduced at about the same time.


Silver Marine Medal

The first version of the medal, “Type 1”, has undergone the most changes since its introduction. It began life in the form of a Medallion of 56mm in diameter. Three styles of the medal are known to exist:- (i) what the Society calls its 1st class medal which is frosted and glazed, (ii) the 2nd class medal which is polished and glazed, and (iii) the 3rd class medal which is polished and unglazed. To the best of our knowledge they were all made between 1840 and 1867. Details of the actual rescue used to be engraved on the rim that holds the glass in place on the Glazed Medallions, but not on the Medallion itself. In contrast the unglazed version has the details engraved on the rim of the Medallion.

The obverse of the medal has the figure of a sailor kneeling on a fragment of a wreck rescuing a child and its mother from drowning. In the background the crew of a boat can also be seen rescuing someone else from the sea, and in the distance there is a sailing ship. The inscription around the top third of the medal reads “LORD SAVE US: WE PERISH” and at the base is written “W. WYON, R.A.”

The reverse side has a wreath of oak leaves made from two branches with a hen cormorant in the centre with wings extended and bearing an olive branch in its beak. The bird was copied from the Liverpool Borough arms and is the “Liver Bird” which sits on top of the Royal Liver Building at Liverpool’s Pier Head. Between the design and the rim and fully round the circumference of the medal are the words “LIVERPOOL SHIPWRECK AND HUMANE SOCIETY 1839”.


Silver Oval Marine Medal

Other medals were made for the Society by William’s eldest son Leonard Charles Wyon (1826 - 1891) in 1862. It is not recorded which medals they were, but judging by the date, they were probably of the Oval Marine type.

The exact date of the introduction of the Society’s first “medal”, as opposed to the slightly larger  “medallion” is not known; however the Committee considered estimates for one in January 1861. The earliest known medal bears the date December 1867 and the latest known medal September 1874. The medal is oval in shape and measures 46mm from top to bottom and 38mm from side to side. The ornate suspension has a riveted claw to which a Liver Bird of 16mm height is attached by a hinge. Balanced on the bird’s head and wingtips is a straight bar slotted to take a 28mm wide ribbon.

The obverse is similar to the Medallion. The manufacturer’s name Yates & Hess is in place of W. Wyon, and within a 5mm border is the name of the Society and the date. The reverse has a similar wreath but in place of the Liver Bird there is a blank space to engrave the recipient’s name and the date of the rescue. The Society’s name is omitted. The edge still gives full details of the citation with the exception of the recipient’s name.

The last major change to the Marine Medal was made on 27 January 1871 when J. Mayer & Co. won the contract to make medals for the Society. They had been in competition with Elkington & Co. and Warrington & Co. both of whom struck medals for the Society at certain times. The medal now became smaller in size being approximately 38mm in diameter. It subsequently underwent several die type changes but has since remained true to this design. The alterations involved the method of suspension, the detail of the moulding both obverse and reverse, the thickness of the medal flan and the manufacturer. They may have been the result of changes in the manufacturer and in each case the dates of the changes are not recorded.

The Oval type medal was in process of being replaced about 1872 but the date of alteration is again not recorded. However at about the same time as this third type was introduced, the Society also decided to introduce a Bronze Medal in addition to the Gold and Silver Medals which were the only types the Society awarded prior to 1874.


Bronze Marine Medal

Numbers Awarded:     To 1st July 2016 the recorded totals of marine medal and medallion awards are:- Gold 66 and Gold Bars 7; Silver 2,503 and Silver Bars 239; Silver “In Memoriam” 51; Bronze 2,065 and Bronze Bars 37; making a grand total of 4,968 medals awarded for conspicuous gallantry in saving or attempting to save lives at sea or in rivers, lakes, inland waterways, etc. Since World War II, when the last Gold Medal was awarded, all subsequent medal awards have been either in Silver or in Bronze, and the Society no longer holds any stocks in Gold.

Some interesting gold medal awards:    There have been only three solo awards of the Gold Medal made, all for rescues on the River Mersey. The first was to Ferry Captain William Thomas Bloor in 1876 when he received his medal and a Gold Bar. Already the holder of the Society’s Silver Medal and six Bars, he was involved in several rescues over a twenty year period and was thoroughly deserving of an award. The second was awarded to Ferry Inspector Thomas Walker in 1891. He was also frequently involved in rescues and was already a holder of the Society’s Silver Medal and six Bars. The third and possibly the odd one out, was awarded to Assistant School Master Eyton Pritchard Owen in 1893 for rescuing one of three boys trapped on a sandbank at Crosby. The boys were not identified but the rescued boy is thought to have come from a prominent Merseyside family.

Probably the most famous of the 66 Gold Medals was the one awarded to Captain Arthur Henry Rostron for his action on 14th & 15th April 1912 as the Captain of the “RMS Carpathia”. He won one of nine medals awarded by the Society to the crew of the “Carpathia” for the “Titanic” incident; the other eight being Silver Marine Medals. All the Gold Medals awarded to deep-sea rescues were to Ship’s Captains who showed fine seamanship and professionalism of the highest order. Three Gold Medals were also issued as a result of enemy action during World War I and the last was awarded as a result of enemy action during World War II.

The General Medal

The General Medal


The Society’s General Medal, which has a red and white striped ribbon, was introduced in 1894 because for a long time difficulty had been experienced in providing suitable honorary awards for lifesaving acts for which the Marine or Fire Medal were not appropriate. Records of its designer have never come to light, but its reverse is the same as is found on the Marine and Fire Medal and its obverse is the imprint of a Cross Pate (similar to a Maltese Cross) with superimposed crown. At the bottom are the words “FOR BRAVERY IN SAVING LIFE, 1894.”

Only one Gold Medal has ever been awarded; it was for a gallant but unsuccessful attempt in 1894 to save the life of a man who had been caught in some machinery, the would-be rescuer himself becoming entangled in it and suffering serious injury.

To 1st July 2016 there have been 446 Silver General Medals and 72 Silver Bars and 869 Bronze General Medals and 16 Bronze Bars awarded, and of these 1,400 awards, over 1,200 were for the stopping of runaway horses. Practically every one of these heroic deeds took place on the streets of Liverpool when, more often than not, it required the rescuer to leap out in front of one or a pair of frightened horses stampeding down a cobbled street pulling a heavily laden wagon at speed. It was not unusual for the rescuer to be seriously injured on these occasions.

The Fire Medal

The Fire Medal

In January 1875 local charities in the Liverpool area were bequeathed the sum of nearly £300,000 by a Mr Roger Lyon Jones, a former Liverpool City Councillor. The Society was fortunate enough to receive £2,000 of this windfall. Later in 1882 the executors for this estate informed the Society that they were prepared to donate a further £500 “upon condition that the amount be permanently invested and the interest applied in the first instance to found a medal for reward of bravery in cases of rescue of life from fire and other dangers not specifically named in the original constitution of the Society and for bestowing other honorary and pecuniary awards, grants or annuities in such cases, and subject thereto to the general objects of the Society.”




The design of the Fire Medal, which was carried out by Elkington and Company in 1882, is particularly interesting and was taken from a painting by Sir John Everett Millais (1829 - 1896), President of the Royal Academy. Reproduced on the obverse of the medal, it depicts a fireman in the act of rescuing children from the staircase of a house on fire, with the words “FOR BRAVERY IN SAVING LIFE” at the bottom. The reverse of the medal is identical to that of the Marine Medal and its ribbon colour is bright red.


The In Memoriam Medallion

The In Memoriam Medallion

The In Memoriam Medallion was introduced in 1877 to recognise the gallantry displayed by those who lost their lives whilst attempting to rescue others. It has always been awarded in Silver and is presented to the next of kin. Prior to its introduction, in memoriam awards were usually given to widows, the first probably being a sewing machine awarded to the widow of Mr A Gore Kelly who died in March 1867 attempting to save the crew of the schooner “Harmony”.

The In Memoriam Medallion is double the thickness of the Marine Medallion. It is framed and glazed and the silver band of the framing presents a flat edge upon which details of the lifesaving attempt are engraved. The glass is slightly convex with bevelled edges and the whole represents a truly beautiful piece of medallic art.

The records show that 51 in memoriam medallions have been awarded up to 1977, since when there have been no further awards of this medal although a small stock of them is still held. The majority of those awarded were for incidents of a “marine” nature, but a small number were for attempted rescues of a “general” nature. It is remarkable that several of the medallion awards were to the parents of children; a sure sign that the saving of life is instinctive in all of us.

The Camp & Villaverde Medal

The Camp & Villaverde Medal

In 1872/1873 two additional medals for saving life at sea became available to the Society, and in the absence of anything being found to the contrary we believe that these two medals were deemed to be of equal merit to the Society's Marine Medal.

The Camp and Villaverde Medal has its origins in the wreck of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company's steamship "Tweed" which was carrying over 150 passengers and crew when it became a total loss on striking the Alacran Shoal in the Gulf of Mexico on 12th February 1847 and only 50 or 60 survived. Some two days later the Spanish brig "Emilio" arrived on the scene and sterling rescue work by Captain Bernadino Camp, his mate Mr Don Guilliermo Villaverde, and the crew of the brig resulted in the rescue of the survivors. Although the Society was not involved in making awards to Camp and Villaverde for their rescue work, a subscription was opened in Liverpool in 1847 for the purpose of rewarding these gallant Spaniards but the amount raised did not meet the expectations of the promoters and the money was left in the hands of John Bramley-Moore, the Mayor of Liverpool. It was not until September 1872 that Bramley-Moore, having made the amount collected up to £100, donated it to the Liverpool Shipwreck & Humane Society to found a medal for saving life at sea which was to bear the names of Camp and Villaverde.


The obverse of the medal is the same as the Society's Marine Medal and the reverse differs from it only in the wording around the oak leaves which reads "CAMP & VILLAVERDE MEDAL FOR SAVING LIFE AT SEA, 1847”. According to the records the first of these medals was awarded in 1874 and the last in 1944, at which date a total of 37 Silver and 8 Bronze Camp & Villaverde Medals had been voted.

The Bramley-Moore Medal

The Bramley-Moore Medal

Less than one month after donating the funds to found the Camp & Villaverde Medal, John Bramley-Moore, who grew rich as a trader and performed great service to the general maritime welfare of Liverpool, donated a further £500 to the Society on condition that it was applied to the founding of a medal bearing the inscription on its reverse "BRAMLEY-MOORE MEDAL FOR SAVING LIFE AT SEA, 1872". Since the award of the first of these medals in 1874, the records show that it has been awarded once only in Gold (in 1894 to Captain William Haskell), 22 times in Silver and 17 in Bronze, the last being in 1945.

The Society still has a few of these two medals in stock, but the decline in marine life-saving cases reported to the Society and the availability of our standard medals is  the reason why these particular medals are no longer awarded.

Swimming & Life-Saving Proficiency Awards

Swimming & Life-Saving Proficiency Awards

The Society previously made awards to encourage school children in the practice of swimming with the object of saving life.  These awards are no longer competed for due to the restrictions in the current educational curriculum.

In 1885 the Swimming & Life-Saving Medal was introduced for award to school children in the Liverpool area. Originally a silver medal was awarded to the best boy and best girl at each school that entered a minimum of eight swimmers competing against each other. In the next few years the number of competitors increased each year reaching as many as nineteen in the sixth year but, due to the high cost of manufacturing silver medals they were later downgraded to bronze. The silver medal was then only awarded as a special end of year championship prize.  The Society was obliged to withdraw the silver medal altogether from its awards.

The Swimming Medal is possibly the Society’s most attractive medal and must have been highly prized by its winners. Having a blue and white striped ribbon, it has an ornamental back-plate with a laurel (left) and oak (right) leaf surround with superimposed two oars and a trident, and again superimposed a roped lifebelt and within it a shield bearing the Liver Bird crest. The swivel suspender consists of two open mouthed dolphins with twisted tails. The reverse of the medal is plain for inscription.

From 1885 to 2016 the Society has awarded 1,238 Silver and 964 Bronze Swimming Proficiency Medals. Since the Silver Medal was withdrawn, the Society has also awarded many framed Swimming Proficiency Certificates and also Costume Badges to winners and runners-up at each school.