Henry Trengrouse The inventor of the rocket line apparatus

Henry Trengrouse The inventor of the rocket line apparatus

Henry Trengrouse The inventor of the rocket line apparatus that fired a rope to stricken ships on the rocks, and enabled the crew to be taken off.

Henry Trengrouse born 1772 and educated at Helston grammar school. He was a Helston cabinet maker when he stood helplessly on the beach at Loe bar near Porthleven on 19 December 1807 when the frigate H.M.S. Anson, a 44 gun warship, was driven onto the coast. 120 men drowned because they could not get across the short distance from the wreck to the shore because of the boiling surf.

The Anson, had left Falmouth and got as far as Ushant when bad weather forced to turn back. Captain Lydiard apparently mistook the Lizard for Falmouth. The Anson was forced on to a lee shore. Loe Bar was a great bank of sand that separates the estuary of Helston's river Cober from the sea. This six-mile stretch of sea from Rill Head to Porthleven is the deadliest of all lee shores, and any vessel that failed to weather the Lizard was almost certainly going to become a wreck.

60 yards from shore she was overturned and, though her broken masts formed a bridge to the shore. Some of the sailors managed to use them to reach the shore, but more than a 120 men drowned in full view of Trengrouse and hundreds of other onlookers.

People on the shore could not throw a line out to the ship against the force of the gale. Later when watching a firework display on Helston Green to celebrate George III's birthday, Henry Trengrouse decided that a rocket-powered line might be the answer. His thought was that if lightweight rockets were put the ships, then grounded ships could help themselves. The rockets accelerated gradually, so the line would not snap. In an on-shore gale, the most likely scenario with a grounded ship, the rocket would be carried by the wind to the shore which was an easy target to hit.

His invention was ignored by the British Government, but the Russian ambassador invited Trengrouse to St. Petersburg to develop the invention. He apparently declined out of British patriotism. The Society of Arts awarded Trengrouse their Silver Medal and a thirty guineas. Eventually the government ordered twenty of Trengrouse's 'Rocket Life Saving Apparatus', examined them, decided to manufacture it themselves, and gave Trengrouse the derisory sum £50 in compensation.

During the 1800s a rival idea, the mortar which was fired from shore to ship, was more popular. However it is Henry Trengrouse’s rocket that has stood the test of time. Lightweight versions are still carried on lifeboats today and must have saved thousands of lives.

122 Meneage Street, Helston was once the home of Henry Trengrouse. In 1841, almost destitute, Henry went to live there with his wife and daughter.

He died penniless in 1854. He is buried in the churchyard of St Michael's Church, Helston, and is commemorated in the naming of Trengrouse Way, a main thoroughfare in the town.


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