The lifeboat was ordered direct from Henry Greathead at a July exhibition on Whitby quayside and delivered to the town on October 7th, 1802.
Greathead described his invention as unsubmergable due to the fact 7 hundredweight of cork was fitted externally as a fender beneath the gunnels and internally from the thwarts to the deck. During a refit around 1824 copper lined air boxes were to replace the cork with the addition of eight relieving tubes for draining away excess water. This was also the year that the “Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck” was formed. This later being renamed Royal National Lifeboat Insitution (RNLI).
On Christmas Day 1836, William Guy, the Lifeboat Bowman was called from Chapel to take his place alongside 21 other volunteers to man the boat to assist the brig ‘Caroline’. Tremendous seas and gale force winds caused much damage to the seaside properties yet the crewmen managed to launch the boat in the heavy breakers. It was during this failed rescue attempt that William Guy was washed overboard and drowned. The only person ever to lose his life from the Redcar Lifeboat.
In 1838 the title of 1st Earl of Zetland was bestowed upon the local landowner and this was an influence to give the ‘Lifeboat’ her name.
After some years associated with the Tees Bay Lifeboat and Shipwreck Society it was to be in 1858 that the RNLI took responsibility for the Zetland together with lifeboats at Middlesbrough and Saltburn. The Zetland continued to give good service until 6 years later (1864) when she was considered by the RNLI to be unfit for service, She was almost immediately replaced by the RNLI boat Crossley.
The Zetland now falling short of the RNLI requirements was to be broken up on the beach. This caused unrest amongst the townsfolk who had great affection for the vessel. With the help of Lord Zetland she was repaired at his expense and gifted to the people of the town who so willingly accepted his offer. With the arrival of the Crossley, a new boathouse was built leaving the Zetland to be housed in a brick shed to the East of the town. The RNLI designed lifeboats were very unpopular with the townsfolk as their size and weight plus their manoeuvrability did not match the handling of the Zetland.
In 1877 the ‘United Free Gardeners’ provided a new lifeboat independent of the RNLI but built to a similar design to the Zetland. A new life boathouse was also erected. The boat locally known as ‘Emma’ was to give additional service until around 1884.
With imminent development of Granville Terrace a new home was required for the Zetland, Whilst options were being discussed she was to be stored at Marske for safekeeping. In 1907 she was returned to the town and found a home in the then, disused “Emma” boathouse.
The Zetland has been in this location for 110 years and has only been out of the premises once when she was repainted and taken to Edinburgh where she was the centrepiece of the RNLI International Lifeboat Conference.
The National Historical Ships Register lists over 1000 historical vessels.
“The National Historic Fleet” is a sub-group of some 200 vessels, These are considered to be the most important and of “pre-eminent National or Regional significance”... Of these 200 vessels only six are older than the Zetland. She shares her listing alongside such vessels as the “Mary Rose”, “HMS Victory”, “The Warrior”, “HMS Trincomalee” and the “Cutty Sark”
As a point of interest the Zetland was saving lives before the Battle of Trafalgar and had saved almost 500 lives by the time the “Cutty Sark” was built 67 years later.