Jul 29


Byline: The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has opened a box containing a bottle of 100-year-old brandy, a gift left in a Will to the charity which has been kept locked away for 24 years.
Page Content: Kept under lock and key since 1990, no RNLI HQ staff member had ever laid eyes on the bottle, until it was finally opened yesterday.

A generous bequest made by Mrs Mary Sennett who died in 1980, the historic bottle of brandy only made its way to the RNLI when the executor of Mrs Sennett’s estate passed away in 1990. The terms of this generous gift came with the simple stipulation that in 2014, when the brandy turns 100 years old, the bottle is to be sold at auction and the funds shared equally between the RNLI and the World Wildlife Fund UK.

Crew members training at the RNLI College were finally able to carefully unscrew the box and reveal an immaculately preserved bottle of F.Latour & Co Vieille Reserve Cognac from 1914 with an original 1914 seal.

David Baines, specialist wine expert at Charterhouse auctions, was on hand for a live valuation. With the perfect level of liquid, colour, an unbroken seal and unspoiled label, David was able to estimate that the bottle may reach between £500 and £1,000 at auction.

The RNLI hopes to auction the brandy in the autumn, though at this stage it is hard to tell what exact price the charity can expect it to fetch. More research will now be done to determine the exact value of the bottle and book the brandy into auction in the next few months.

Guy Rose, Legacy Income Manager says: ‘At this point it is still hard to know how much the bottle might fetch at auction, but we are really encouraged by David’s valuation and are hoping that potential buyers will be interested and inspired by the story and mystery behind it.

‘Where six out of 10 lifeboat launches are only made possible through gifts in Wills, after taking care of loved ones, any gift left to the RNLI is vital to the future of the charity’s lifesaving service.’

Just £59 pays for a pair of waterproof binoculars to help volunteer crews identify casualties in rough seas, £85 pays for a wetsuit so that a lifeguard may reach a swimmer in trouble and £330 pays for a new lifejacket to keep an inshore lifeboat crew member safe at sea.

Because of the indirect nature of the brandy’s arrival at the RNLI HQ in Poole 24 years ago, very little is known about the kind donor Mary Sennett and even less is known about the history of this antique bottle. A fitting gift, brandy has a long history with the RNLI as it was the standard practice since the very early days of the service until the late 1980’s to issue lifeboats with spirits, including brandy as an aid to help revive or sustain people. Coxswains were given strict instructions to ‘keep an eye’ on the issued bottle!

In the 1881 publication Treatment for Restoring the Apparently Drowned, the RNLI instructs:
‘On the restoration of life, a teaspoonful of warm water should be given; and then, if the power of swallowing be returned, small quantities of wine, warm brandy and water, or coffee should be administered.’ 

Joanna Bellis, Heritage Curatorial Manager at the RNLI says: ‘It certainly is a gift that fits perfectly with the maritime history of the RNLI, especially the most important aspect – saving lives.

‘We can’t say or prove that this bottle of brandy was kept on an RNLI lifeboat all those years ago. But it would be lovely if we could.’

For more information about leaving a gift in a Will contact Nicky_Comber@rnli.org.uk, 01202 663204.

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