Samuel Lake AM

b. 12/12/1841 Dartmouth, Devon.  d. 08/01/1887 Marseilles, France.

DATE OF AM ACTION: 20/06/1866 Bombay, India.

Samuel Lake AM

Samuel Lake was an engineer and inventor whose entrepreneurial spirit played a major part in the affairs of Dartmouth in the later part of the 1800s. The son of a Dartmouth shipbuilder, and born in 1842, Lake had a modest upbringing and at the age of 13 he set sail from the Dart as cabin boy on a schooner. His travels took him to India where he served the colonial authorities in Calcutta. Whilst there, Lake spearheaded a daring rescue. He displayed great bravery and saved the lives of 450 Muslim pilgrims, who were returning from Mecca aboard the barque, Diamond, when she sank off Bombay.

Returning to Dartmouth a hero, Lake was presented with the Albert Medal by Sir Paul Henry Seale, then MP for Dartmouth. It was only the second Albert Medal ever awarded, and the award was equal in merit to the George Cross, which replaced it in 1949. It wasn’t Lake’s only award. In 1880 he received the RNLI’s Vellum Award, one of the organisation’s highest accolades, and again given for saving a life, this time off Milford Haven. Lake was also posthumously awarded the Swedish Gold Bravery Medal in 1887 for saving the crew of the Swedish ship Ida, when it was wrecked off Corsica.

A friendship forged in India helped Lake embark on his entrepreneurial lifestyle. James Armeson was a business partner from Bombay. The two men, joined by a third known as Capt Twyman, built up a fleet of 20 sailing trawlers in the Dart. For the crews he built Coombe Terrace Cottages, the first houses in the country to be made from poured concrete. He also built Redwalls, a large house in Townstal Road, and the main sewer from Duke Street to Ford Cross!

Lake was fascinated by the idea of using steam and worked with George Parker Bidder to develop steam trawlers, the pair inspired by watching sailing vessels struggling with the entrance to the Dart. Bidder had plenty of experience of commercial steamships, so he felt the use of steam would benefit the local fishing industry, in which Lake was a major player. The men commissioned several steam trawlers for experiment, built along the Dart by Follets at Higher Sandquay, Gibbs’ Yard at Galmpton, Moores’ Yard and Phillip’s. They used steam power for hauling nets and raising anchors as well as for propulsion. One, the Edyth, was equipped with a steam capstan designed by Lake, known as a lifting screw. The Edyth was placed at the disposal of the Commissioner for Irish Fisheries. These inventions succeeded in showing that the steam engine did not scare the fish away, but there were other problems and the venture was not financially viable – it was an idea ahead of its time.

Lake was busy in other industries, both in Dartmouth and beyond. He participated in the formation of the Torbay and Dart Paint Company and was involved in developing the Sandquay brick works and many local quarries. He became a town councillor, but moved to London where he was contracted to build Milford Haven Docks, and later the docks at Felixstowe. He worked on Brunel’s Great Eastern Project and used the money to buy Castle Hall in Milford Haven, once the home of Lord Nelson’s famous love, Lady Emma Hamilton.

But Lake’s main achievement in Dartmouth was the planning and promotion of the improvements to the Embankment which shaped the town as we know it today. He was an engineer and benefactor. A plaque on the wall of Dart House, now the Harbour Office opposite the embankment, honours his name and is dedicated to his achievements. There are two schools of thought as to whether Lake Street was named after him. Some say it was, others say it refers to the flooding that historically blighted that reclaimed part of the town. But documents show the street was registered as Lake Street after his death.

Historians say that Samuel Lake was a clever engineer, but a man who over reached himself financially. He died in Marseilles after superintending mining in Corsica. Lake’s family lived in Coombe Terrace until 1920.



The ship ” Diamond,” of Calcutta, from Jeddo for Calcutta, having on board the master, his wife, the mate, and another European, a crew of 47 Lascars, about 400 passengers (Mahommedan pilgrims), and a cargo of salt, experienced bad weather, and being dismasted, bore up for Bombay. About noon on the 20th June, 1866, she was observed passing the Bombay lighthouse, but as it was blowing heavily, assistance could not be given to her, and she drifted on to the rocks at Breach Candy. A heavy sea was breaking over them at the time, the place being quite exposed to the force of the south-west monsoon. Attempts were at once made by people on the spot to render assistance, which were not then successful; but on the two following days they were renewed, and by the unceasing exertions of those who took part in rendering assistance, the whole of the passengers and crew who remained on board (some having jumped overboard and swam ashore, or reached it by means of spars, &c., and sonic having lost their lives in the attempt), were safely landed. The rescue of the shipwrecked persons was attended with much difficulty and danger, as, in consequence of the heavy sea breaking on the beach, several of the boats were capsized and damaged. Amongst a large number of persons who rendered much valuable assistance on this occasion, two gentlemen, viz., Messrs. S. LAKE, of the Bombay Reclamation Company’s Works, and VV. H. MILLETT, Third Officer on board the Peninsular and Oriental Company’s steam-ship ” Emeu,” made themselves conspicuous by their gallantry. Mr. LAKE: took command of the first boat that put off to the wreck on the 20th June. The boat was capsized, but the crew were saved by clinging to her. He also formed one of the crew of another boat which made an attempt to board the wreck on the following day but which became waterlogged and unmanageable, and was driven on shore where she was stove. The boat was repaired, and Mr. LAKE again went in her. This time she succeeded in reaching the wreck. Mr. LAKE volunteered to go on board for the purpose of giving confidence to the shipwrecked people. • He went on board and rendered great service in assisting the almost helpless passengers into the boats. When it became dark he swam ashore, promising to go on board next day. At daybreak he went off again in a surf boat, and remained for some hours exerting himself in putting the passengers over the ship’s side, until all had left the wreck. Mr. MILLETT was in command of a lifeboat sent overland to the scene of the wreck by the Superintendent of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, at Bombay. Upon her arrival, on the 21st June, Mr. MILLETT, accompanied by Mr. H. B. Greaves, the Company’s Dockmaster, and a crew of 12 Chinamen, proceeded in her to the wreck, and in two trips brought ashore some of the passengers. On the following day he made seven trips,- and succeeded in landing in safety altogether 120 people. During the time he was engaged in this service the sea was very heavy, and the boat was continually filled with water. On two trips Mr. MILLETT was washed out of the boat, and was with difficulty saved, but he continued his work until the last passenger was landed.