This remarkable design was the brainchild of the Rev. Edward Berthon in response to the shipwreck of ‘SS Orion’ off Port Patrick, Scotland in 1850 with considerable loss of life. A model of his prototype was displayed at the 1851 International Exhibition in London and attracted the attention of Queen Victoria. He continued to develop his design for a collapsible boat and in 1860 became Vicar of Romsey, Hampshire where he built a shed in the vicarage garden to meet the increasing demand for his boats ranging in size from 7ft. – 30ft.
There are no complete records of the number of collapsible boats built at Romsey from 1873 to 1917 but at least 1400 boats were supplied to the Navy, Army, French Navy, Passenger and Troopships. The Berthon Collapsible was the forerunner of a long history in building lifesaving vessels. The most recent built by Berthon is the Shannon class lifeboat for the RNLI.
The Army and Navy stores London sold considerable numbers of the smaller Berthon collapsible boats in 1889 as yacht tenders, loch and river fishing craft. These 8ft. dinghies were made from canvas and oak. They served well on board smaller craft as they could be folded away for storage in the cabin of a small yacht such as ‘Kelpie II’ with a Berthon dinghy mentioned in her log entry.
Watch Brian May, owner and MD at Berthon Boat Company, and Ross Monson, Berthon Refit Manager, demonstrate how to build an original Berthon Collapsible Boat in this short video.