When, on the 18 June 1850, the SS Orion was wrecked off Portpatrick, the Reverend Clark, a survivor, wrote to the Reverend Edward Lyon Berthon: “Can not you think of a way in which boats, enough for all on board, be stowed on a passenger steamer without inconvenience?”. This led to Berthon's development of the Berthon Collapsible Lifeboat.
When the boat was demonstrated to Queen Victoria, the Prince Consort, the Princess Royal and the Prince of Wales, the latter commented that a cannonball would go through it easily. Berthon asked him what a cannonball would not go through, and the Queen was reported to have been greatly amused.
After the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the White Star Line’s owner, J. Bruce Ismay, required that every passenger boat under his control would thereafter be fitted with sufficient lifeboats for all passengers. In his speech at the close of the British Wreck Commissioner’s inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the Attorney General called for more life saving devices at sea, including lifeboats, and regulations that would ‘apply to the vessels of all countries’ to enforce this request.
In addition to ministering to his parish, the Reverend Edward Lyon Berthon of Romsey, Hampshire, ran a boat building and engineering enterprise. In 1877, he started a company in Romsey, building folding lifeboats and "other floating machines", which (originally designed as lifeboats) were the mainstay of his business.
The prototype was developed by him at HMS Excellent, Whale Island, Portsmouth where he was chaplain. A seaman was drowned in an early trial in 1854 after the boat was overloaded with a 13-inch mortar.