Author Janet Gleeson was inspired to put pen to paper after seeing Sir William’s letters while volunteering at the RNLI HQ in Poole. She describes him as a complex man, who was dynamic and great with people. He was even brave enough to go out on some of the very first lifeboats, despite never learning to swim.The book was launched this week at the charity’s Lifeboat College.
Janet, who is a successful writer of novels and non-fiction as well as an antiques expert for The Antiques Roadshow, said: 'I was volunteering for the RNLI and was shown Sir William’s letter collection in the archive. I just thought, what an amazing story, and I saw that nobody had properly researched him, despite his incredible life.
'What kind of man was he? He was interesting – a man of many facets – not just a goody-goody, he had flaws in his personality which made him more interesting to me. But he was also brave, dynamic – to set up a charity campaign like he did, he needed to have a clear vision. He was also very good with people, a great networker – some very modern traits really. He was a mover and a shaker. The Richard Branson of his day.'
Janet, who lives in Wareham, carried out research at the RNLI HQ in Poole, as well as in London, the Isle of Man and Essex, where Hillary spent his early married life. He was married twice, explains Janet, the second being more successful than the first. 'He had a chequered love life,' she adds, 'he was something of a ladies man!'
The book, which is entitled The Lifeboat Baronet: Launching the RNLI, is an in-depth look at the life of the man responsible for establishing the life-saving charity in 1824. It traces his journey from Regency rake to national hero, following him as he leaves his slave-owning family in Liverpool, mingles with royalty, marries an heiress and, during the Napoleonic Wars, heads the largest volunteer army in Britain.
Financial and marital disaster eventually forced Hillary to seek exile on the Isle of Man, where a harrowing shipwreck inspired his historic campaign to set up a charity to save lives. He also frequently took to the lifeboats himself, braving terrifying storms and saving hundreds of lives, despite never learning to swim.
Janet Gleeson draws on previously unpublished letters – many written by Hillary himself – revealing the RNLI’s development as well as the tribulations of his private life. She became interested in Hillary while volunteering in the Heritage Department at the Poole headquarters of the RNLI. As part of her volunteer work, she was asked to transcribe historical letters, which led her to the story of the remarkable man behind the RNLI.
Notes to editors
• For more information on the book go here: http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/index.php/the-lifeboat-baronet.html
• For review copies please contact The History Press (01453 883300)
• The book is available to buy online at the RNLI Shop: http://bit.ly/rnlibaronet
• Images of the book cover and Janet with the book at the Lifeboat College in Poole attached.
• Janet has written three novels - The Serpent in the Garden, The Thief Taker and The Grenadillo Box – and non-fiction books The Arcanum: Extraordinary True Story of the Invention of European Porcelain, The Moneymaker, and An Aristocratic Affair: The Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer.
• She studied English and the History of Art, then joined Sotheby’s in London and later Bonham’s. She used her expertise in antiques when she joined Reed Books in the 1990s to edit and write many of the Millers’ antiques guides
• Currently Janet also assists in her capacity as antiques expert for BBC TV’s Antiques Roadshow programme and contributes regularly to Homes and Antiques Magazine. Janet’s latest project is a novel relating to the Chinese porcelain trade, the research for which necessitated a trip to China earlier this year.
RNLI media contacts
For more information please telephone Joanna Quinn, RNLI Public Relations Officer on 01202 336194 or Joanna_quinn@rnli.org.uk.