Belfast Telegraph

Lifeboat which saved 33 during Victoria tragedy to be restored

By Rebecca Black

A lifeboat which saved 33 passengers who had been on board the Princess Victoria ferry when it catastrophically sank in 1953 is set to be restored.

The Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat has been in Donaghadee, Co Down, since it was retired almost 40 years ago.

Yesterday Ards and North Down Borough Council announced that the North Down Museum has acquired the title to the lifeboat and is working with the Donaghadee Heritage Preservation Company to restore the historic vessel and ensure its preservation.

The Sir Samuel Kelly, built in 1950, was stationed in Donaghadee until 1976 and is best known for its involvement in the 1953 Princess Victoria ferry disaster. Of the 177 people onboard, only 44 survived, 33 of whom were rescued by the Sir Samuel Kelly.

Two years ago, television adventurer Bear Grylls revealed his grandfather, Sir Walter Smiles from Donaghadee, was among those who died in the tragedy as he threw his weight behind the campaign to preserve the historic lifeboat.

In 1979, the boat was stationed in west Cork where in August of that year it became part of the largest ever rescue operation in peacetime, which involved the entire Irish Naval Service's fleet when the Fastnet Yacht Race experienced a severe storm. The boat was retired by the RNLI after that operation and then purchased by National Museums of Ireland. She stayed at Cultra in 1980 before being released to the Donaghadee Lifeboat crew in 1987.

The Donaghadee Heritage Preservation Company hopes to restore the Sir Samuel Kelly and place it on display in a permanent museum and resource centre in Donaghadee. To date over £18,000 has already been raised for the project from donations and local fundraising.

Joan Smith, vice-chair of the charity, said: "Donaghadee Heritage greatly appreciates the help and support it has received from the council in connection with this project," she said. "The Sir Samuel Kelly has been languishing in Donaghadee for the past 30 years without anyone really taking ownership of it, and it is great that the council has stepped in and secured this important piece of our heritage for the town. We're delighted the lifeboat will stay in the town."

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