Blog

The 250 year story of the heroic Liverpool Pilots

22 July 2016 by Sarah

(L-R): Geoff Topp (Chairman of the Liverpool Pilots -Retired Division), Ben Whittaker (Exhibition Curator at the Merseyside Maritime Museum) and Chris Booker (Chairman of the Liverpool Pilots). All on board the Spirit of Falmouth, moored outside the Museum. Copyright Gareth Jones

(L-R): Geoff Topp (Chairman of the Liverpool Pilots -Retired Division), Ben Whittaker (Exhibition Curator at the Merseyside Maritime Museum) and Chris Booker (Chairman of the Liverpool Pilots). All on board the Spirit of Falmouth, moored outside the Museum. Copyright Gareth Jones

Our new exhibition, In Safe Hands: The Story of the Liverpool Pilots, opens today. It explores the vital role of Liverpool’s marine pilots, who navigate ships in and out of the city’s port.

Liverpool waters are some of the toughest in the world. Ships entering Liverpool Bay and the River Mersey face serious hazards and rely on the skills and knowledge of our local pilots to ensure their safe passage.

In 2016, we celebrate 250 years of the pilots and thank them for providing this heroic and time-honoured service. Did you know the only organisation in Liverpool that is older, is the City Council?

Ben Whittaker, Curator of Maritime History and Technology at Merseyside Maritime Museum, said: “Not enough people know about the job the pilots do; they ensure safe passage of the ships that bring us the many things we take for granted in the modern world, which is why we want to highlight their work through this exhibition in their 250th year.

Ben Whittaker, Curator at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, looks on at the In Safe Hands: the story of the Liverpool Pilots exhibition. Copyright Gareth Jones

Ben Whittaker, Curator at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, looks on at the In Safe Hands: the Story of the Liverpool Pilots exhibition. Copyright Gareth Jones

“Liverpool waters can present many hazards to shipping, such as shifting sandbanks, strong currents and rapidly changing tides. The pilots take control of ships entering or leaving the River Mersey, using their expert knowledge of local conditions as well as ship navigation skills, to ensure their safe passage. It is a dangerous job and the exhibition will highlight many acts of bravery where pilots have saved lives and cargo from disaster. This includes the heroic role they played during both world wars.”

Treasures from the Royal Yacht Mary, one of the most famous shipwrecks in local waters, will be on display, as an example to illustrate the dangers of navigating ships in the age of sail. Never-before-seen items include a hat band from HMS Thetis, on which 99 men tragically died in 1939, including a Liverpool pilot, and a modern pilot’s smart jacket, which has fascinating hidden features like an integrated lifejacket with automatic inflation by pulling a chord, a safety light and strobe light, and a concealed whistle.

Retired Liverpool Pilot and hero, Geoff Rafferty visits the exhibition. Geoff was one of two apprentices on no.4 pilot boat, William M Clarke who, after hearing a cry of distress in the River Mersey one night, launched a pilot punt and managed to locate and save a young man from drowning. And all while still in his pyjamas! Copyright Gareth Jones

Retired Liverpool Pilot and hero, Geoff Rafferty visits the exhibition. Geoff was one of two apprentices on no.4 pilot boat, William M Clarke who, after hearing a cry of distress in the River Mersey one night, launched a pilot punt and managed to locate and save a young man from drowning. And all while still in his pyjamas! Copyright Gareth Jones

You can learn about the four young apprentices who died in the Second World War trying to rescue colleagues in stormy seas. Or find out about pilot ships, including a famous incident in 1881 when the aptly named pilot boat Leader led 12 ships into Liverpool’s port during a heavy storm.

If you get to the exhibition today, you may even catch a glimpse of the pilot boat Spirit of Falmouth berthed outside, as part if its Round Britain challenge. The ship will be outside the Museum until 14:00 tomorrow. It is used by the excellent charity Turn to Starboard, which uses sail training to support Armed Forces personnel affected by military operations. If you see the crew, do stop and say hello!

And take a look at the pilot boat’s livery – built in 1980s Liverpool, the boat has been painted to look as it would have done in 19th century, marking the 250th anniversary of the Liverpool pilots! Thank you, pilots.

www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/pilots and #liverpoolpilots 

The Spirit of Falmouth, moored outside Merseyside Maritime Museum until tomorrow at 14:00 in C19th pilot boat livery. Used by charity Turn to Starboard. Copyright Gareth Jones

The Spirit of Falmouth, moored outside Merseyside Maritime Museum until tomorrow at 14:00 in C19th pilot boat livery. Used by charity Turn to Starboard. Copyright Gareth Jones

  1. Iain Kenworthy-Neale says:

    Fascinating stuff. Always interested in our maritime heritage. Thank you.

  2. Barbara Coleman says:

    Excellent exhibition. A complete revelation! Have recommended it to our friends.

  3. Mike Howard says:

    Sadly, the article about the new exhibition, In Safe Hands, does not mention one of the most relevant exhibits currently on display. I refer to the ex Liverpool Pilot Boat EDMUND GARDNER, now safely secured in Canning Number Two Graving Dock.This magnificent ship, the largest object owned by National Museums Liverpool, is preserved as she was when she came out of service in 1981. More importantly, visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the ship every Tuesday and Wednesday. These tours are conducted by a dedicated group of volunteers who guide visitors to every part of the ship and relate the story of the lives of her crew and the many Apprentice Pilots and Pilots who served in her.

    • Sarah says:

      Hello Mike, yes you’re absolutely right that the Edmund Gardner is the largest item in our collection, and we’re very proud of it too! I’m pleased to say the Edmund Gardner tours are a key part of the exhibition events programme, promoted regularly through our social media. Thank you to her Pilots. This is an excellent opportunity for me to mention that the tours are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays this month (September) at 11am, 12.30pm and 2.30pm – and they’re FREE! Full details here: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/exhibitions/dazzle-ship/

  4. Sarah says:

    Thank you for these positive comments Iain and Barbara! We are very glad you enjoyed the exhibition

  5. Jayne Kinley says:

    Went to see this exhibition in August as my Grandfather was a Mersey Pilot during the ww2. Was amazed to see his name on the wall for the SS.Dossinia, Harry Kinley with John Snowball. Thank you.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Jayne. So glad you enjoyed it. And very glad you could see the name of your grandfather on the wall. Our curator will be interested to hear your story too. Will let them know!

      • Sarah says:

        Hi Jayne – do you have any photos of your grandfather we might copy please? For further details about how to do this/where they might be used, please contact our Pilots exhibition curator Ben Whittaker directly (ben.whittaker@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk) Many thanks!

(Comments are closed for this post.)



About our blog

Welcome to the National Museums Liverpool blog! Written by our staff and volunteers, we’ll give you a peek behind the scenes of our museums and galleries.

Subscribe

RSS RSS Feed

Disclaimer

We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.