The Suffolk Humane Society was formed in 1806 after the pattern of the Royal Humane Society of London, its purpose being to reward those who saved their fellows from drowning and those who resuscitated people who had apparently died. It took on additional duties the following year when it undertook the financing and administration of the Lowestoft lifeboat Frances Ann, the world's first sailing lifeboat and one of the most successful early lifesaving craft in Britain. The story of the Frances Ann, which was credited with saving more than 300 lives by the time she was replaced in 1850, is of great interest to maritime historians. The first craft intended for lifesaving to carry sail, she was the forerunner of a type of lifeboat that found favour on the east coast for the rest of the nineteenth century and beyond.
This pioneering lifesaving organisation continued to operate the lifeboats at Lowestoft and Pakefield, in spite of a sometimes chronic lack of financial support, until it handed over the two stations and their boats to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1873; it was not finally wound up until 1892.
The documents presented here detail its activities and finances; they are accompanied by an introduction and elucidatory notes.
An East Anglian by birth and upbringing, Robert Malster has been involved with the study of local history for more than half a century and is the author of a number of books on the region. He is a member of the Society for Nautical Research and of a number of historical organisations in Suffolk.