Historic lifeboat images go on show at Poole Museum

The launch of Yarmouth lifeboat SGE in 1938 Image copyright RNLI
Image caption A team of six volunteers was brought in to help restore the Beken collection, which includes this image showing the launch of Yarmouth lifeboat SGE in 1938

Nearly 1,000 glass plate negatives of lifeboats dating back 150 years have been restored by the RNLI and are going on show.

Images from the archive of a family who have photographed maritime activity off the Isle of Wight for generations will form an exhibition at Poole Museum.

The Beken family, from Cowes, made a successful business out of taking photos of boats around the island.

Over 400 lifeboats were built there in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

Image copyright RNLI
Image caption Another image restored by volunteers was this one of the Weymouth lifeboat, Lady Kylsant, pictured here on 26 July 1929

The Beken family worked as pharmacists but the sight of yachts sailing past his bedroom window prompted a young Frank Beken to start capturing images on film in 1888.

He later tried to photograph the yachts from his own boat but the cameras available at the time were not suited to rough seas, so he designed a new style of camera in a wooden box-frame that he fired by biting a rubber ball held between his teeth.

Image copyright RNLI
Image caption Frank Beken, here pictured in 1955, is famous for having captured the final image of the Titanic as it set sail from Southampton on its fateful voyage in 1912

The Beken family photographed new lifeboats as they rolled out of JS Whites' yard, and when they were trialled on the water. The result was a large collection of images dating from the late 19th Century until the early 1980s.

Last year, the RNLI received £30,100 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to preserve and digitise the nearly 1,000 glass plate negatives in the collection.

Image copyright RNLI
Image caption This image of Poole's RNLB Anthony Robert Marshall was another of the fragile glass plates cleaned, scanned and repackaged as part of the project
Image copyright RNLI
Image caption The restoration work was carried out at the RNLI's headquarters in Poole in Dorset
Image copyright RNLI
Image caption The volunteers also researched the history behind the images - this one is thought to show the Yarmouth lifeboat SGE during its sea trials in the Solent in 1938

The work will be shown alongside glass plate images of current lifeboat stations and crew taken by photographer Jack Lowe.

Using a Victorian camera and an old ambulance converted into a darkroom, he has been travelling around the UK and Ireland on a mission to visit every one of the 238 RNLI lifeboat stations.

He photographs the view from each station along with the crew and coxswain or senior helm using wet plate collodion process, an early photographic technique that records the image on a glass plate.

Image copyright RNLI
Image caption Jack Lowe has been using Victorian camera equipment for the project - here he is pictured with the Dunmore East lifeboat station crew
Image copyright Jack Lowe
Image caption Mr Lowe has been travelling around the country in an ambulance converted into a mobile darkroom to capture images of every life boat crew, including this one in Poole

The exhibition "Calm Before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats" will be on display at Poole Museum from 26 January until 22 April.

Image copyright RNLI
Image caption There are 85 images on show at the exhibition, spanning a period of nearly 100 years
Image copyright Beken
Image caption Frank Beken famously captured this image of the Titanic leaving Southampton on 10 April 1912. Taken from Isle of Wight it is thought to be last photograph of the ship before it left UK waters

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