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The Royal Humane Society was founded in England in 1774 as the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned,[1] for the purpose of rendering "first aid" in cases of drowning and for restoring life by artificial means to those drowned.

Dr William Hawes (1736-1808), an English physician, became known in 1773 for his efforts to convince the public that persons dead from drowning might in many cases be resuscitated by artificial means. For a year he paid a reward out of his own pocket to any one bringing him a body rescued from the water within a reasonable time of immersion. Dr Thomas Cogan (1736-1818), another English physician, who had become interested in the same subject during a stay at Amsterdam, where was instituted in 1767 a society for preservation of life from accidents in water, joined Hawes in his crusade.

In the summer of 1774 each of them brought fifteen friends to a meeting at the Chapter Coffee-house, St Paul's Churchyard, when the Royal Humane Society was founded. Gradually, branches of the Royal Humane Society were set up in other parts of the country, mainly in ports and coastal towns where the risk of drowning was high and by the end of the 19th century the society had upwards of 280 depots throughout the kingdom, supplied with life-saving apparatus. The earliest of these depots was the Receiving House in Hyde Park, on the north bank of the Serpentine, which was built in 1794 on a site granted by George III. Hyde Park was chosen because tens of thousands of people swam in the Serpentne in the summer and ice-skated in the winter. Boats and boatmen were kept to render aid to bathers, and in the winter ice-men were sent round to the different skating grounds in and around London. The society distributed money-rewards, medals, clasps and testimonials, to those who save or attempt to save drowning people. It further recognized "all cases of exceptional bravery in rescuing or attempting to rescue persons from asphyxia in mines, wells, blasting furnaces, or in sewers where foul gas may endanger life."

Financial rewards are no longer given, nor does the society give advice on how to save life, however, the awards granted include bronze, silver and gold medals and Testimonials on Vellum or Parchment. The Society may also give recognition those who have contributed to the saving or attempted saving of life, though they may not have put their own life at risk. In these instances, a Certificate of Commendation may be granted. In addition, Resuscitation Certificates may be granted to those who, though not professionally trained to do so, carry out a successful resuscitation.[2]

The society is now a registered charity whose motto is lateat scintillula forsan, " a small spark may perhaps lie hid." Since its foundation the Royal Humane Society has made more than 85,000 awards

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


  1. ^ New Scientist, Vol. 193 No. 2586 (13-19 Jan 2007), p. 50
  2. ^ The Royal Humane Society official website Retrieved on 13 November 2008

See also


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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