St Keverne

The Wreck of the SS Mohegan off The Manacles, near Porthoustock, 1898


Postcard showing the wreck of SS Mohegan off The Manacles. Posted to Miss Moseley, 78, Gerrard Street, Lozells, Birmingham, from Rhoda. Bound for New York, the Atlantic Transport Line's SS Mohegan sailed from Tilbury Docks on 13th October 1898. She was carrying passengers, crew, cattlemen and 1,286 tons of spirits, beer, and antimony. She sailed down the English Channel, keeping close to the coast as she passed Cornwall, but took the wrong bearing. This was noticed by the Coverack coastguard, which attempted to signal to her with warning rockets. The Mohegan, however maintained her course. James Hill, coxswain of the Porthoustock lifeboat saw the ship heading at full speed towards the Manacle Rocks and called his crew. The crew of the Mohegan were finally alerted to the danger, either by signals from shore or by the 'old Manacle bell' from the buoy, and the engines were stopped at 6:50 pm. The ship ran onto the Manacles, embedding the rudder into the rock and tearing the hull open. Dinner was being served at the time and with the loss of power the passengers made their way onto the deck, where attempts were made to launch the lifeboats. Captain Griffith had ordered the fitting of a high second rail inboard of the lifeboats to prevent their being rushed in the event of an emergency, but this now hampered the launching of the boats. Further problems were encountered when the ship listed to port then heavily to starboard. Only two lifeboats were launched, of which one was virtually swamped and the other capsized. The ship rolled and sank 12 minutes after hitting the rocks with the loss of 107 lives. Captain Griffith, Assistant Engineer William Kinley and all of the officers went down with the ship. Only her funnel and four masts remained above water. The Porthoustock lifeboat Charlotte was launched in 30 minutes and rescued most of the survivors from the wreck and the water, 44 people were saved by the attending lifeboats. Many of the recovered bodies were buried in a mass grave in St Keverne churchyard, which was given a memorial stained glass window by the Atlantic Transport Line. The remaining bodies were sent to London for burial, whilst eight were shipped to New York on the Mohegan’s sister ship Menominee.

Wreck of the Bay of Panama, near St Keverne, 1891


The wreck of the Bay of Panama, near St Keverne, in March 1891, by W M Harrison. The Bay of Panama was built by Hartland and Wolff in 1833 and was described as probably the finest sailing ship afloat. Because of her speed she was used on the Calcutta run, and on 18th November 1890 she left that port bound for Dundee loaded with a cargo of 13000 bales of jute. In March 1891 she met up with the worst blizzard Cornwall had suffered for over two hundred years. On 8th March distress flares were fired but because of the driving snow nobody saw them, and in the early hours of the following morning, the Bay of Panama was driven headlong into the cliffs just to the south of Nare Point. The Captain, his wife and six other crewmen drowned. Hardly able to see in the driving snow, and soaked by freezing water breaking over the deck, the Mate took charge and ordered everybody to the remaining rigging. Unfortunately the freezing spray turned quickly into ice, and many of them were frozen to death or died of exhaustion and cold. The Ships Bosun went completely mad, and flung himself off the rigging to drown. Only 17 of the 40 onboard survived. After being rescued, the men were fed and put to bed for the night in the village of St Keverne. The next day, wrapped in blankets they set off for Falmouth in a horse drawn bus but huge snowdrifts blocked the roads and the men were forced to carry on to Falmouth on foot. Joseph H James of St Keverne set out on foot for Falmouth to find out what was to be done with the ship and her cargo because telegraph wires and poles lay broken by the way side. He reached Falmouth utterly exhausted, but capable of delivering his messages, and a purse of gold was publicly presented to him for his bravery. Source: