The effects of a legacy bequest made in the 1890s to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) are still being felt today.

When Birmingham timber merchant James Stevens passed away in 1894, he left £50,000 to the charity. The sum (worth around £6.4m in today’s money) was used to pay for 20 lifeboats, all named the James Stevens but with a different number from 1-20, whose crews saved more than 1,000 lives between 1896 and 1937.

Among those with reason to be grateful for Mr Stevens’ generosity is current RNLI volunteer crew member Kirstan Gorvin, whose great-great-grandfather was saved from drowning in 1906 when his ship began to sink during a storm off the Cornish coast. All of those onboard were rescued by the crew of the St Ives-based James Stevens 10.

Kirstan, whose 16-year-old son also volunteers with the RNLI, said: “If James Stevens hadn’t remembered the RNLI when writing his will, I wouldn’t be here today, and neither would my children. It’s so inspiring to think that one supporter’s legacy has meant my family has continued through the generations, and we’ve been able to give back by joining the charity to continue saving lives at sea.

Coincidentally, unaware of the family connection, Kirstan and his wife bought the James Stevens 10 lifeboat in 2002. It was only while restoring the vessel that they found out more about their remarkable links.

Today, legacy gifts remain of huge importance to the RNLI, with six out of every 10 lifeboat launches only possible due to gifts left in wills.

Kirstan adds: “At the RNLI we say ‘legacies are our lifeline’. Having the right kit to protect us from the elements, funding for vital training and strong and capable lifeboats, are all crucial to enable us to carry out our 24/7 lifesaving work as safely as possible.

“Any gift – large or small – is greatly appreciated by all the volunteer crews across the UK and Ireland, as more people than ever need our help.”

Photo: RNLI/Karl Davies