Royal Humane Society
The Royal Humane Society is a British charity which promotes lifesaving
Lifesaving is the act involving rescue, resuscitation and first aid. It often refers to water safety and aquatic rescue however it could include ice rescue, flood and river rescue, swimming pool rescue and other emergency medical services. Lifesaving also refers to sport where lifesavers compete...

 intervention. It was founded in England in 1774 as the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned, for the purpose of rendering first aid
First aid
First aid is the provision of initial care for an illness or injury. It is usually performed by non-expert, but trained personnel to a sick or injured person until definitive medical treatment can be accessed. Certain self-limiting illnesses or minor injuries may not require further medical care...

 in cases of near drowning
Drowning is death from asphyxia due to suffocation caused by water entering the lungs and preventing the absorption of oxygen leading to cerebral hypoxia....



In 1773, physician William Hawes (1736–1808) began publicising the power of artificial respiration
Artificial respiration
Artificial respiration is the act of assisting or stimulating respiration, a metabolic process referring to the overall exchange of gases in the body by pulmonary ventilation, external respiration, and internal respiration...

 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
Thomas Cogan
Thomas Cogan was an English nonconformist physician, a founder of the Royal Humane Society and philosophical writer.-Life:He was born at Rothwell, Northamptonshire on 8 February 1736, the half-brother of Eliezer Cogan...

, another English physician, who had become interested in the same subject during a stay at Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

, 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.

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
Hyde Park, London
Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in central London, United Kingdom, and one of the Royal Parks of London, famous for its Speakers' Corner.The park is divided in two by the Serpentine...

, on the north bank of the Serpentine
Serpentine (lake)
The Serpentine is a 28-acre recreational lake in Hyde Park, London, England, created in 1730. Although it is common to refer to the entire body of water as the Serpentine, strictly the name refers only to the eastern half of the lake...

, 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
Serpentine (lake)
The Serpentine is a 28-acre recreational lake in Hyde Park, London, England, created in 1730. Although it is common to refer to the entire body of water as the Serpentine, strictly the name refers only to the eastern half of the lake...

 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
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. 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
Asphyxia or asphyxiation is a condition of severely deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from being unable to breathe normally. An example of asphyxia is choking. Asphyxia causes generalized hypoxia, which primarily affects the tissues and organs...

 in mines, wells, blasting furnace
Blast furnace
A blast furnace is a type of metallurgical furnace used for smelting to produce industrial metals, generally iron.In a blast furnace, fuel and ore and flux are continuously supplied through the top of the furnace, while air is blown into the bottom of the chamber, so that the chemical reactions...

s, or in sewers where foul gas
Sewer gas
Sewer gas is a complex mixture of toxic and non-toxic gases produced and collected in sewage systems by the decomposition of organic household or industrial wastes, typical components of Sewage....

 may endanger life."

Present activity

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. 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.

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 some 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
    Anthony Fothergill (physician)
    -Life:Fothergill was born in 1732, or, according to other accounts, 1735, in Sedbergh, Yorkshire. He studied medicine at the university of Edinburgh, where he graduated M.D. October 1763 with a dissertation ‘De Febre Intermittente,’ and afterwards continued his studies at Leyden and Paris. By the...

    , 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.
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