Kisbee, Captain Thomas, RN


Thomas Kisbee was born in Farset, Huntingdonshire in 1794. He joined the Royal Navy in 1808 and obtained a commission in 1826. He was appointed as a coastguard at Great Yarmouth in 1827, where he stayed for 15 years. Later he became the Chief Coastguard Officer and lived at Beach Watch House, Great Yarmouth and was involved in many rescues. At this time, he developed the idea for a life buoy to supplement the rocket apparatus earlier devised by Manby and Dennett.

In 1841, as a Lieutenant he was transferred to HMS Driver, a steam warship. She was 1,058 tons and 280 horse power, carrying four large guns, two 68-pounders and two 84-pounders with a crew of 175 men, including marines. She set sail for China to partake in the First Opium War between 1842-43 and then was ordered to New Zealand. In 1846, HMS Driver arrived there via Hong Kong, Swann River, Hobart and Sydney. She was the first steamer to visit the colony and excited much interest. .On returning to Portsmouth, via Rio de Janeiro in 1847, Kisbee had participated in the first steam paddle ship to circumnavigate the world and had sailed 75,600 miles. During the voyage 32 men had died.

In 1848, Thomas Kisbee was promoted to Commander and he was later retired with the rank of Captain. He then moved to 26 Claremont Terrace, Victoria Road, Great Yarmouth.

It was reported in 1841, Thomas Kisbee constructed and brought into practice an apparatus for saving lives from stranded vessels. The apparatus was light and simple and could be carried to a wreck by two or three and was useful when the first communication had been effected by means of Manby's or Dennett’s Rockets. The apparatus consisted of a net made of small line capable of bringing a woman and child, or a man with his bag onto the shore. A float or circular buoy, its diameter 32 to 34 inches, circumference 19 inches and made of common rush was covered with unbleached calico, dressed with three coats of oil or thin paint. It weighed six to seven pounds and was quite sufficient in keeping a man’s head and shoulders above water. A pair of petticoat trousers made of stout canvas was attached in front and back of a hoop attached to the Kisbee’s Ring, the waistband being 14 inches, supported a man. So in effect it is an early Breeches’ Buoy. This was been tried twice in the sea off Great Yarmouth in 1841. Lieutenant Kisbee had also developed a sort of telegraph with words “Look for a line”, “Haul in if ready”, “Shout” etc.

In 1842, by order of the Lords of the Admiralty, Kisbee’s life-saving apparatus was tested. The esplanade in front of Kimberley Terrace at South Beach was thronged with spectators. Kisbee’s float was used when a sailor of HMS Defence revenue cruiser was hauled to and fro between the jetty and the shore.

In October 1847, Royal Naval ships were fitted out with Kisbee’s life buoys for trail and the officers were requested to report on the quality of the buoy at the end of the year.

In 1862, the Admiralty directed that two of Kisbee’s new life buoys are to be supplied to each ship in commission.

In July 1855, Thomas KIsbee was awarded the silver medal of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for his gallant conduct in assisting the rescue of 199 people shipwrecked on the Norfolk coast. He had received many honorary rewards in acknowledgement of his brave services. The citation read: Thomas Kisbee has invented a useful float or life buoy, which has been useful in saving lives.

In 1840, the Royal International Shipwreck Institution at Paris presented an honorary medal to Kisbee for the zeal, skill and courage manifested by him in saving lives from shipwreck on the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk on several occasions in by means of his apparatus. He was their Honorary Vice President.

Thomas Kisbee died on 27th May 1877 aged 83 years and was buried in the Old Cemetery. After Kisbee died in 1877, his house was auctioned when his address was stated as 26 Claremont Terrace, Victoria Road. Twenty years later, 26 Claremont Terrace, Victoria Road was auctioned again, when a description of its location was given: on the corner of Victoria and Duncan Roads. The house is now 26 Victoria Road. 

Yarmouth July 1877 and May 1897