Details found and extracted from ‘Reports of the Royal Humane Society,

volume XVIII 1847-49, page 37’














 “ROYAL HUMANE SOCIETY – Medallion Cases for 1847”


Case 14,359


On the 9th June, 1845, whilst at anchor off Sheerness, when reefing, owing to a point slipping through the hand of one of the seamen named Stephen Bax, he fell from the fore-topsail yard (of HMS Spy), striking the fore-rigging and spars in the chains, broke his arm, and received violent contusions in many parts of his body.


Lieut. & Commander Wooldridge, being on deck and seeing the man sinking, jumped after him, dressed as he was, with the hope of getting a rope round him; finding, however, when he was in the water, from having heavy clothes on and a thick pair of wash-deck shoes, and not being a very good swimmer, he was too heavy to trust himself too near a sinking man, he swam round him, occasionally lifting him, and encouraging him by talking to him.


Mr. Birtwhistle, mate, the moment he saw the danger, threw off his jacket and shoes, and sprang after them, and being a strong swimmer and disencumbered, kept the man up, and was unquestionably his main support, as Capt. Wooldridge had as much as he could do to take care of himself. The tide was running very strong at the time, and they had therefore drifted about four times the ‘Spy’s’ length from her, when they were all eventually picked up in a very exhausted state by a boat crossing the harbour.



Signed:  S.O. Wooldridge

Lieut & Commander R.N.


21st November 1846




This action resulted in the Royal Humane Society’s highest award, the Honorary Silver Medallion, being made to Alexander Charles Birtwhistle R.N., then mate of the brigantine HMS ‘Spy’.









Additional notes - extracts from the Archives of the Royal Humane Society, now maintained by the LMA (London Metropolitan Archives) in Northampton St., London:


From the “Case Book 1843 – 1850”

·          Summary description – “Lt Woldridge first jumped overboard to save him (Stephen Bax) but being exhausted Mr Birtwhistle also jumped overboard and rescued both”.

·          Witness to the Accident – Lieut. R. Strong of HMS Retribution.

·          Case first considered at committee meeting dated 19 August 1846 where it was referred for further particulars;

·          Following submission of the above statement, the case was considered at a second committee meeting on  17 Feb 1847 where it was referred to ‘Great Court’ (?for ratification);

·          The award was presented on 20 March 1848 by H John Barrow esq., Admiralty.



The above text is also reported (with minor editing) in the book ‘Blue Jacket; or Chips of the Old Block’ by William Henry Giles Kingston describing Naval actions and other instances of naval bravery during the period 1839 – 1852. under the section LIVES PRESERVED BY NAVAL MEN