As early as 1783 the Royal Humane Society of London gave credit in its Report to the philanthropic efforts of the Mayor and Corporation of Liverpool towards the preservation of life. A “Receiving House” existed for resuscitation purposes and a surgeon had been appointed.
A number of independent Humane Societies existed in the United Kingdom and the first mention of a Liverpool Society was in the Royal Humane Society Report of 1825, but the organisation was rather a life-saving service of the Liverpool Corporation Dock Committee than a Society.
Work had started in 1822 when the Dock Committee sought and received advice from the Kingston-upon-Hull Humane Society (est. 1800). Receiving Houses (resuscitation centres) were established at 8 Liverpool docks and arrangements were made for doctors to attend (gratis) at each.
Seventeen years later the inadequacies of the system were highlighted by a disastrous hurricane which swept the Irish Channel and the River Mersey on 7th and 8th January 1839 and resulted in many wrecks and the loss of over 100 lives during the two days and two nights of the hurricane. No funds apart from Parish Relief existed at that time to assist sufferers and there was no provision for awards to rescuers. Public feeling was wrought to the highest pitch by the sad events of the storm and the exertions of the brave men who were so eminently successful in saving life. A public meeting was held in the Rooms of the Liverpool Underwriters Association on 9th January, at which the Mayor, Hugh Hornby Esq presided, for the purpose of raising emergency funds to meet the pressing needs of the occasion and to form a permanent fund. Within a few days £5,000 was subscribed and after ample relief had been given to sufferers, and appropriate rewards to those who risked their lives in saving others, a substantial balance of £3,291 6s. 3d remained.
At a meeting of subscribers many of whom were local merchants and shipowners on 28th April 1839, the application of the surplus of the emergency funds to the formation of the permanent Society ensued. Subsequently in 1888 application was made for the Society to become a limited company with dispensation from using the word “Limited” in its title. In May 1963 the Society’s name was entered in the Central Register of Charities.
The objects of the Society evolved over a period of years and are now:-
To assist in the saving of human life in cases of shipwreck, fire and other dangers, in and near the Port of Liverpool, or involving vessels registered in Liverpool.
To recognise the actions of persons instrumental in saving human life from danger by the granting of medals, rewards and relief in cases which the Society may think deserving.
To encourage the teaching of techniques and methods of rescue and life saving on land and sea and in the air.
Awards: Over the years the Society has created several types of awards – some are no longer used and new or revised awards have replaced them. During its first 33 years the Society had only one medal at its disposal (called “The Society’s Medal”), available in gold or in silver and awarded, with just one or two exceptions, solely for rescues from shipwreck and/or drowning. In 1872 the Camp & Villaverde Medal and the Bramley-Moore Medal were added for rescues at sea, in 1882 the Society’s Fire Medal was introduced, followed in 1885 by the Society’s Swimming Proficiency Medal and in 1894 by the Society’s General Medal. In 1874 a bronze version was added to all the medals then at the Society’s disposal.
Number of awards: During its first hundred years, from 1839 to 1939, the Society awarded 6,589 medals and bars and by 2016 that number had risen to 9,283. There has also been a very large number of framed Parchments, Certificates, Resuscitation Certificates, In Memoriam Certificates and Swimming Proficiency Certificates awarded, as well as numerous Letters of Commendation and pecuniary awards. Certificates (called Votes of Thanks in the early years) and pecuniary awards have been awarded for practically the whole of the Society’s existence, and the others were added during the last century. (The Society’s awards in the 19th century also included medallions, bars of various types, a cup, sextants, barometers, binoculars, watches and clocks.)
The award of a Parchment was created in 1947 and a Resuscitation Certificate in 1955 following growth in the number of resuscitations being reported following rescues. Finally in 1961 an In Memoriam Certificate was instituted as an alternative to the existing In Memoriam Medallion.
Stanhope Gold Medal: In 1962 the Society was first invited to submit their most meritorious case during the past year to the Royal Humane Society for consideration for their Stanhope Gold Medal. Invitations also went to the Royal Humane Societies of Australasia, Canada, New Zealand and New South Wales. This medal is awarded to the most deserving international case of the year and The Liverpool Shipwreck & Humane Society nomination has won the medal on six occasions since – Ian Richard Howard 1978, John McNabb 1980, David Michael Garner 1985, James George Smith 1987, Elaine Walsh 1990 and Frank Skelhorn 2010.