Sir William Hillary
|Born||4 January 1771|
|Died||5 January 1847 76) (aged|
|Occupation||Soldier, Author, Philanthropist.|
|Known for||Founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution|
|Spouse(s)||Frances Elizabeth Disney Fytche (1st wife)|
Emma Tobin (2nd wife)
Sir William Hillary, 1st Baronet (4 January 1771 – 5 January 1847) was an English militia officer, author and philanthropist, best known as the founder, in 1824, of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution..
Hillary's background was Quaker, from a Yorkshire family: he was the son of the merchant Richard Hillary and his wife, Hannah Wynne.He left Liverpool at age 26, and travelled to Italy. From his contacts there, he became equerry to Prince Augustus Frederick, the young son of George III, and spent two years in the post.
While Hillary was in Naples, the Prince and Sir William Hamilton sent him on a mission to Malta.There Hillary saw the election (July 1797) of the last of the Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta, Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim. On this trip he also sailed round Malta and Sicily in an open boat.
Hillary then travelled north with the incognito Prince, heading for Berlin. After a period there, he left the Prince's employ and returned to London in the autumn of 1799.
Back in England, Hillary married in 1800. He had departed from Quaker beliefs, and his wife was not a Quaker. He had been left property by John Scott, his father's business partner and nephew; and then inherited West Indian estates from his elder brother Richard, who died in 1803. He quickly dissipated a large fortune, and had to sell properties including the old Yorkshire home of Rigg House.
Hillary spent some £20,000, on creating the First Essex Legion, recruited largely from the Dengie Hundred and present-day Maldon District areas in Essex, after the end in 1803 of the Peace of Amiens, and was given the title Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant. The force numbered 1,400. He was rewarded with a baronetcy in 1805.
After experiencing financial troubles, Hillary settled at Fort Anne near Douglas, Isle of Man in 1808.
Hillary married heiress Frances Elizabeth Disney Fytche on 21 February 1800; she was the daughter of Lewis Disney Fytche (originally Lewis Disney) of Danbury Place, Essex, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Fytche. In the same year, their twins were born: a son Augustus William Hillary (d. 30 December 1855), and a daughter Elizabeth Mary.
In 1813, Hillary married a local Manx woman, Emma Tobin, daughter of Patrick Tobin,or Amelia Toben of Kirk Braddan, his first wife having died, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , which is however contradicted by other sources. Lady Hillary obtained a Scottish divorce from Sir William in 1812. Hillary's second marriage took place in Scotland, at Whithorn, then in Wigtonshire.
Of the twin children:
Elizabeth Mary in later life stayed with her mother. Augustus William spent time with his father; he was childless.
According to Mary Hopkirk, writing in the Essex Review, Lady Hillary continued to live at Danbury Place until her father's death, in 1823; at which point she moved to Boulogne.She met Frances D'Arblay in Paris in 1817, while on a continental voyage with her children. From Boulogne she moved to Blackmore, where she had property from her marriage settlement from her uncle Thomas Fytche, and a married daughter. She died in 1828.
Emma Tobin died in 1845.
Hillary witnessed the wreck of HMS Racehorse, in 1822, only two months after he had been a participant in the rescue of HMS Vigilant.He drew up plans for a lifeboat service crewed by trained people, intended not only for the Isle of Man, but for all of the British coast. In February 1823 he published a pamphlet entitled An Appeal To The British Navy On The Humanity And Policy Of Forming A National Institution For The Preservation Of Lives And Property From Shipwreck. He proposed a national and voluntary organisation, and pointed out the potential of new techniques such as those introduced by William Congreve (rockets), Charles Cornwallis Dansey of the Royal Artillery (kites), Frederick Marryat (signal codes), and George William Manby (life-saving apparatus).
Initially Hillary received little response from the Admiralty. He appealed to London philanthropists including Thomas Wilson (MP for the City of London) and George Hibbert of the West Indies merchants, and his plans were adopted. The National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was founded on 4 March 1824 at a second meeting in the London Tavern, Bishopsgate Street, London, with the king as Patron. Office premises were taken at 12 Austin Friars, in the City of London, and then moved in the same area.The first of the new lifeboats to be built was stationed at Douglas.
At the age of 60, Hillary took part in the rescue, in 1830, of the packet St George, which had foundered on Conister Rock at the entrance to Douglas harbour. He commanded the lifeboat, was washed overboard with others of the lifeboat crew, yet finally everyone aboard the St George was rescued with no loss of life.
Following the heroic rescue, the Master of the St George, Lieut. John Tudor (RN), wrote to Sir William expressing the gratitude of himself and his crew.
My Dear Sir – Allow me to return you (in the name of the crew of the St. George and myself) our most grateful thanks for the very great personal exertions of yourself, Lieut. Robinson (RN)., Mr William Corlett and the Life Boat's crew during the gale of yesterday morning.
I want words, Sir, to express to you what we then felt, and what we shall ever feel, for the noble and determined manner in which you persevered in coming to our assistance, after we had considered it our duty to warn you off, for, the vessel having bilged, the severity of the gale, the position of the wind, and the time of the tide, there did not appear to us (amongst the heavy breakers then rolling upon Conister) the slightest chance of escape for you, and which, from the crippled state of the life boat when she afterwards left the wreck, was so nearly proving to be the case. Trusting, Sir, that you may long live to preside over an establishment your philanthropy gave birth to, and in which your humanity has always placed you amongst the foremost and most active of its members – I have the honor to remain Your obliged, grateful, and
Most obedient servant— Lieutenant John Tudor (RN). Douglas, November 21st, 1830.
At a Meeting of the Committee of the Isle of Man District Association of the Royal National Institution, for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, held at the Courthouse, Douglas, 27 November 1830, presided over by the Chairman, High Bailiff James Quirk Esq, it was agreed unanimously that the following report be transmitted to the Secretary of the Royal National Institution:
That the thanks of this meeting be presented to Sir William Hillary, Lieut. Robinson, William Corlett Esq, and the crew of the life boat, for their very gallant and meritorious exertions in saving the lives of the crew of the St. George.
For the saving of the 22 crew members on board the St. George, Sir William and Lieut. Robinson both received the Institution's Gold Medal (the second of three Sir William was to receive).William Corlett and Issac Vondy both received Silver Medals with a purse of 20 guineas also distributed to the crew in recognition of their gallantry.
The incident prompted Hillary to set up a scheme to build the Tower of Refuge on Conister Rock. The structure, designed by architect John Welch, was completed in 1832 and still stands at the entrance to Douglas harbour; it was the subject of a poem by William Wordsworth.
As well as the Tower of Refuge, Hillary was instrumental in recommendations for the construction of a Breakwater at Douglas, to afford the harbour greater shelter and to provide a haven to ships plying the Irish Sea.Hillary had written a paper on the proposal before 1835, when formal proposals were put forward, and design plans drawn up by Sir John Rennie. Construction was long delayed, and it was not until 1862 when work finally started.
Hillary belonged to the precursor in the United Kingdom of the Order of Saint John, created a Knight (K.J.J.) in 1838.This group has been described by Jonathan Riley-Smith as consisting of "romantics and fraudsters". It failed to obtain recognition from the Order of Malta (the "Sovereign Order" of which it was putatively a part, or langue), leading to a break in relations in 1858. A fresh start was made in 1871, and a Royal Charter for the new group was obtained in 1888.
Hillary was one of the founders of the Order, and pressed for Sir Sidney Smith to be given a major post. After Smith died in 1840 he took on the roles himself.He became a Knight Grand Cross (G.C.J.J.) of the order, and at the time of his death held the position of Lieutenant Turcopolier.
What Hillary envisaged was a Christian reoccupation of Palestine, led by the Order of Malta.The background was of a revolt in Syria against Ibrahim Pasha, and a British naval intervention under Charles Napier on behalf of the Ottoman Empire in 1840, leading to the occupation of Beirut and Acre. Illness confined Hillary to his home on the Isle of Man, and in 1841 he began to sell off his possession; but he kept up a correspondence on his ideas with Sir Richard Broun, 8th Baronet, secretary of the order.
Hillary wrote on the project in the Morning Herald for 25 November 1841, as an "Address", published also as a pamphlet.Hopes were placed in a German translation of the pamphlet by Robert Lucas Pearsall of the Order, in Karlsruhe. When Frederick William IV of Prussia indicated that the concept of a sovereign state under the order was unacceptable, the idea had to be dropped, though a similar plan in Algeria was mooted in 1846.
Hillary died at Woodville, near Douglas, Isle of Man, on 5 January 1847. He was buried in St. George's Churchyard, Douglas.
Following the death of Lieutenant Governor Cornelius Smelt in 1832, Sir William was instrumental in the erection of a monument commemorating Governor Smelt. The Smelt Monument was designed by John Welch and is situated in the market square, Castletown, Isle of Man, facing Castle Rushen.
There are three memorials to Sir William Hillary in Douglas, Isle of Man:
In his lifetime, Hillary was awarded a Gold Medal by the Institution he had founded, in 1824. In 1825, he suggested his part in the wreck of the City of Glasgow (see List of shipwrecks in 1825) merited a further award; but was rebuffed. Further awards were made to him in 1828, for aid to the Fortrondoert, and in 1830.In 1938, the king, George VI, asked for a modification of the original RNLI medal by William Wyon, from 1824. The obverse from that time onwards had shown the head of the sovereign; but it was then replaced by Hillary's head, as founder, engraved by Allan G. Wyon.
Sir William Hillary & his volunteer crew go to the aid of the stricken St. George 20th November 1830
TO THE HONOURED MEMORY OF/LIEUT. COLONEL SIR WILLIAM HILLARY, BT./OF YORKSHIRE, ESSEX AND THE ISLE OF MAN/ LIEUTENANT TURCOPOLIER OF THE ORDER OF THE KNIGHTS OF ST JOHN OF JERUSALEM./BORN 1771. DIED 1847/SOLDIER, AUTHOR, PHILANTHROPIST./HE FOUNDED IN THE YEAR 1824 THE ROYAL NAVAL LIFE BOAT INSTITUTION/AND IN 1832 BUILT THE TOWER OF REFUGE IN DOUGLAS BAY./FEARLESS HIMSELF IN THE WORK OF RESCUE FROM SHIPWRECK HE HELPED SAVE 509 LIVES/AND WAS THREE TIMES AWARDED THE GOLD MEDAL OF THE INSTITUTION FOR GREAT GALLANTRY./WHAT HIS WISDOM PLANNED AND POWER ENFORCED/MORE POTENT STILL HIS GREAT EXAMPLE SHOWED.
Sir William Hillary, Bt. This statue was unveiled on 21 September 1999 by H.R.H. Prince Michael of Kent K.C.V.O.
In the presence of Members of the Douglas Corporation.
Sir William Hillary 1771-1847
Founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
A soldier who was created a Baronet on 8 November 1805 for his services to king and country.
He settled at Fort Anne, Douglas in 1806 where he witnessed a large number of wrecks on the rocks in Douglas Bay.
He died on 5 January 1847 and is buried at St. George's Church, Douglas.
"Followed to the grave by crowds who had witnessed his heroism and self-devotion in saving the life of many a shipwrecked mariner".
The Unique Tower of Refuge in Douglas Bay was planned by him in 1832 to save life and is a fitting and lasting memorial.
"SON TROAILTEE-VARREY AYNS DANJEYR"
This statue of Sir William Hillary by Amanda L. Barton of Kirk Michael was commissioned by Graham Ferguson Lacey of Bishopscourt and donated by him to the Borough of Douglas.
It was erected on Douglas Head at the expressed wish of the Mayor of Douglas, Mr Councillor John Morley, J.P. who died on 3 September 1999.
St Mary's Isle is a partially submerged reef in Douglas Bay on the Isle of Man. Prior to 1832 the rock was the property of the Quane family until John Quane, Attorney General of the Isle of Man, presented the rock to Sir William Hillary, in his capacity as President of the Isle of Man District of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to build the Tower of Refuge. Since then the custody of St Mary's Isle has been held by each president of the local lifeboat association.
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