Ben’s father James Jacobs (born c.1827) was one of the first volunteer crew members of the Brook rowing lifeboat station when it opened in 1860. James served in the crew up until 1892 and continued to help launch the lifeboat from Brook beach up to his death, from pneumonia, aged 71 in 1898.

Of James and Jane Jacobs’ four surviving children, both Ben and Phil followed in their father’s footsteps and volunteered for most of their lives on the Brooke Lifeboat with Ben elected coxswain for 25 years.  On March 9th 1888, Ben and Phil as very young men were nearly drowned in the terrible rescue of the fully-rigged ship Sirenia, aground on Atherfield Ledge, and losing their fellow crewman Reuben Cooper overboard.  Four years later and now second coxswain, Ben sat next to John Hayter in the rescue of 394 people aboard the German passenger liner SS Eider. After that extraordinary rescue, John Hayter retired and Ben was elected coxswain by the rest of the crew. 

In February 1916, Ben’s last great lifeboat rescue was to save eight of the ten crew of the Norwegian barque Souvenir from Brook Ledge in horrendous conditions and he was awarded the RNLI Silver Medal.

Ben and Phil never married, they remained living at Cliff Cottage, Brook Green, all their lives. Descended from a long line of longshoremen, the brothers fished and earned money working as gardeners and general labourers on the Seely Estate.

 

 

 

 

Jack Seely describes Ben as a remarkable man:

Ben was more than six feet high, and of immense strength. One of my older friends said to me the other day, ‘Ben was as strong as a horse, braver than any lion, and gentle as a new-born lamb.’

He was the most skilful man in getting a boat off the beach in a rough sea that I have ever known. Single-handed he would run a fifteen foot boat, stern on, to the water’s edge. With a swift movement he would spin her round with her bow pointing seaward. He would then grip the stern, and bending forward till his body was almost horizontal, he would push her out to sea. He would hold her for a moment in a vice-like grip, keeping her bow pointing exactly to each oncoming wave, then, at what he judged to be the right moment – and he was rarely wrong – he would push her through the breaking wave, jump in over the stern, grab the oars, put them between the thole-pins, and standing up to his full height, push her with the weight of his whole body and his strong arms over the next wave and the next, and so out to sea.

The combination of skill, nerve, balance, was wonderful to behold.

Launch! JEB Seely.

Ben grew up barely able to read and write. Most likely nominated by the Seely family, in later life the County Council appointed Ben as an Educational Representative to the local school at Hulverstone.

He took immense pains with his task, teaching the children to row, play cricket, bait a line, spot a hare in its form – all the things of which he was a master.  He would always add: Now, you pay attention to your schooling. I never had enough of it, and I’ve been sorry ever since.

Stories passed down by those who knew Ben describe how, at a full moon in Spring, Ben was known to suffer extreme mental disturbance. We are told it took five men to hold him down. In hindsight, it may be worth considering that this timing coincided with the anniversary of the tragic Sirenia incident when he, his brother and fellow crewman, Reuben Cooper, who was washed overboard. Reuben drowned in the dark while Ben and Phil managed to get back into the lifeboat. 

Jack Seely and Ben became lifelong friends despite their completely different backgrounds. Ben’s great niece, Dot Lobb, recalls: Once when Uncle Ben was ill he had a letter from General Seely saying, ‘We said we’d always tell each other if we weren’t well’. Our grandmother kept and treasured that letter.