Born in 1813, Poole Lifeboat Station’s first Coxswain was Richard Sutton Stokes, who was appointed to the role in 1865 at the age of 52.
He lived in a cottage at Sandbanks near Harvey’s tearoom, which was ideal for the lifeboat station located at North Haven Point.
He was in charge of 24 crew on the station’s first lifeboat, Manley Wood, which was a 32ft lifeboat costing £210 and built by Forrest of Limehouse.
Coxswain Stokes worked as Lightkeeper of the North Haven light, a duty that he carried out faithfully for 37 years, and was also a fisherman.
He was Coxswain of the lifeboat for 17 years before he retired in March 1882 when the boathouse moved to Poole Quay at Fisherman’s Dock (the current Old Poole Lifeboat Museum). His duties at Sandbanks probably precluded his remaining an officer of the lifeboat after it had moved.
In the Life-boats Précis Book D (kept at RNLI Headquarters) the entry for 7 September 1882 says: ‘Committee voted the Silver Medal of the Institution to Richard Stokes late Coxswain of the Lifeboat. He had held that position for [nearly] 20 years in which period seventy two lives had been saved by the lifeboat.’
Four years later, on 11 March 1886, in bitter weather, he went to see to one of the lights and did not return. He had fallen on his way to his duty and was found dead, lying in the snow, by his son.
He was taken to Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour on a Coastguard galley and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church.