James Cross, Lifeboatman

Commemorative Tankard My family have lived in the same part of Essex for over two hundred years. The earliest record I can find is a Thomas Cross who was born in Little Clacton in 1789. Thomas was my great, great, great, great grandfather. The family moved to Great Clacton soon afterwards and then (once it was created in 1871) to Clacton-on-Sea.

Coming forward a couple of  generations from Thomas, we find my great, great grandfather James Cross. He was born in Great Clacton in 1844. By all accounts, James loved boats and loved the sea. When the Clacton-on-Sea life boat service was set up in 1878 he signed up very quickly and soon became the second coxswain on the boat.

Over the following years James was involved in many sea rescues. One of the most famous was in 1881 when the French lugger Madeline was wrecked on Gunfleet Sands. The Clacton life boat saved the lives of the sixteen crewmembers. This was big news at the time and the French Government presented James and the coxswain with gold medals. The tankard in the picture dates from the same year and we’ve always assumed that it is associated with the same event. The tankard has been in our branch of the family for as long as my father can remember. We assume that the medal is in some other branch of the family. There’s a photo of it on this page. I should try to track down that part of the family. The engraving on the tankard says:

Presented to
James Cross
By The Subscribers
To The Fund
Raised In Recognition Of
Brave Services Rendered In The
Clacton On Sea
Life Boat

James remained second coxswain of the life boat until 1884. On January 23rd of that year, the boat was called out to investigate some flares that had been seen off the coast. The rescue went tragically wrong and the life boat very nearly capsized. Most of the crew managed to hang on, but James Cross and Thomas Cattermole were washed away and drowned. James left a wife, Sarah Jane, and seven children, including my great grandfather Albert. I remember knowing this story when I was young. The old lifeboat house on Clacton Pier had crew lists and news cuttings on the wall and I used to enjoy going to read them. The lifeboat has now moved to a new building. I should go along and see it they still have that information on the wall.

Fifteen years ago, when I started researching my family history, no-one seemed completely clear exactly where James fitted into the family tree. Filling in the details of his life was one of the earliest (and most satisfying) successes that my research had. These days, of course, this information is all on the internet and far easier to find. One of the motivations for writing this post was to see it any other relations find it and get in touch. As I said, James had seven children so he should have plenty of descendants.

When I was visiting my parents last month I finally got my act together and took some photos of the tankard. Shiny tankards aren’t the easiest things to photograph, but I out of the dozen or so photos I took, there were a few that were usable. Hence, the photo at the top of this entry which gives me an excuse to write something about my family history.


  1. Hi
    My husband John is the grandson of Ada Cross who was the youngest daughter of the said James Cross and she married Arthur Frost.
    John has the medal you mention which was given to Ada by her mother Sarah cross and she gave it to John on his 21 s birthday.
    Contact me by email if you wish. I have done quite a bit of family history too.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.