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Stanhope Medal
Stanhope Medal

The Royal Humane Society is a British charity which promotes lifesaving intervention. It 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 near drowning.[2]


In 1773, physician William Hawes (1736–1808) began publicising the power of artificial respiration and tobacco smoke enemas to resuscitate people who superficially appeared to have drowned. 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. Thomas Cogan, 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 Hawes and Cogan each brought fifteen friends to a meeting at the Chapter Coffee-house, St Paul's Churchyard, when the Royal Humane Society was founded.[2]

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 UK, 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 Serpentine 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 recognised "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."[2]

The Royal Humane Society established commonwealth branches in Australia in 1874, in Canada in 1894, and in New Zealand in 1898.[3]

Present activity

The society is now a registered charity whose motto is lateat scintillula forsan, " a small spark may perhaps lie hid."[2] Since its foundation the Royal Humane Society has made more than 85,000 awards. 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.[4]

Medals and awards

Between 1776 and 1998, approximately 135 gold, 1,336 silver and 11,230 bronze honorary medals were awarded by the Society. These included:

  • The Large Medal, which was two inches in diameter, in gold, silver or bronze, which was initially awarded for gallantry in saving life and for the successfully resuscitation of those apparently dead as a result of drowning or asphyxiation.
  • The Small Medal was one and a half inches in diameter version, which replaced the above and was more suited to being worn on the chest.
  • The Stanhope Medal, which was introduced in 1873 and named in memory of naval officer Chandos Scudamore Scudamore Stanhope, and awarded annually for the most gallant rescue to have been rewarded by the Society. It is made of 9 carat gold.
  • The Fothergillian Medal, which was the result of a £500 bequest by Dr Anthony Fothergill, the interest on which was to be used to provide a medal to be presented annually or biennially to the author of the best essay on the prevention of shipwreck, the preservation of mariners, or other circumstances left to the Society's discretion. It is no longer awarded.

See also

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