Sir William Hillary (1771-1847)
Founder of RNLI
Heroic rescuer of shipwrecked mariners, he founded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and was behind the building of the Tower of Refuge.
A Yorkshireman by birth, William Hillary came to the Isle of Man in 1808 and eventually established a home at Fort Anne, overlooking Douglas Bay. This was an ideal vantage point from which to appreciate the dangers faced by sailors in the treacherous Irish Sea.
In 1822, Hillary took charge of the rescue of 97 men from the Royal Navy cutter Vigilant, which had been blown aground on the Conister Rocks as she tried to leave Douglas in a storm. This, and the subsequent sinking off Langness of the brig Racehorse, led him to write to the Admiralty in London seeking pensions for the families of three Manxmen who had died saving the Racehorse crew, and proposing the formation of a National Institution for the Preservation of Lives and Property from Shipwreck.
After being advised that it would be better to make the venture a philanthropical one, Hillary eventually succeeded in launching his National Institution with King George IV as Patron. His organisation later became the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Hillary was also instrumental in the building in 1832 of the Tower of Refuge on the Conister Rocks, to provide shelter for any seamen whose ships run aground there; none have done so since that day, but the tower remains as his main memorial.
Courage in the face of adversity