The RNLI is offering a reward of £1,000 for the safe return of the historic gold medal awarded posthumously to the coxswain of the Penlee lifeboat.


A reward of £1,000 is being offered for the return of an RNLI gold gallantry medal, awarded posthumously to the coxswain of the Penlee Lifeboat.

William Trevelyan Richards made the ultimate sacrifice when he launched the Solomon Browne on the stormy night of 19 December 1981 to go to the aid of the coaster, Union Star, off the Cornish coast.

The vessel’s engines had failed around eight miles east of Wolf Rock Lighthouse in heavy seas and hurricane force winds.

After several attempts to get alongside the coaster, the lifeboat crew rescued four of the eight people on board. But rather than turn back to shore, they made a final heroic rescue attempt – and all radio contact was lost.

Richards and his crew all perished in the disaster. It was the last time the RNLI lost an entire crew in action.

William Trevelyan Richards, Coxswain of the Penlee Lifeboat

William Trevelyan Richards. Credit: RNLI

For their selfless bravery and sacrifice, Richards was award the gold medal, while the rest of the men were awarded gallantry medals.

Richards’ gold medal was being stored at the RNLI’s head office in Poole.

But, earlier this year, it was discovered missing.

Despite an extensive search and police investigation, it has not been found.

Determined that it should be returned safely, the charity is now launching a fresh appeal for any information, with the help a £1,000 reward, which has been donated by a long term RNLI supporter specifically for this purpose.

The chief executive of the RNLI, Paul Boissier, said: “We are extremely concerned about the whereabouts of the medal and anxious to secure its safe return. It is an important and significant part of the RNLI’s heritage, but its primary value lies in its emotional significance, particularly to the families of the crew of the Solomon Browne and the local communities in Newlyn and Mousehole.”

Wreck of the Union Star Penlee Lifeboat disaster

Wreck of the Union Star. Credit: RNLI

“Thanks to the generosity of a dedicated RNLI supporter, we are now able to offer a reward of £1,000 for information that leads to the recovery of the medal. The medal is still out there somewhere, and someone must know something. We just hope that the reward will encourage anyone with any information to come forward,” stressed Boissier.

The medal was stored in a facility with multiple layers of security. A thorough search of the heritage collection and internal investigation was carried out, and the RNLI has been working closely with the Police and those affected by the medal’s loss.

The charity is especially interested in hearing from the member of the public who contacted Dorset Police anonymously with information and are appealing for them to get back in touch.

In its 192-year history, the RNLI has only awarded 151 gold medals to its lifeboat crews.

Penlee Lifeboat Memorial

Monument at Penlee Lifeboat Station to the crew of the Solomon Browne. Credit: Geof Sheppard

The medal has been compared to the UK’s Victoria Cross in its significance and recognition.

William Trevelyan Richards is the only RNLI volunteer to be awarded it posthumously.

Anybody with any information about the medal’s location is urged to contact Dorset Police, quoting crime reference number I02 136, to contact the RNLI direct or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 in the United Kingdom or +44 1202 663234 if calling from outside the UK.