If you visit the churchyard at St Mawgan (St Mawgan in Pydar Churchyard) you’ll see an unusual wooden boat cut out as a gravestone for some mariners’ graves.
The memorial to these ten unlucky sailors is made from the stern of the boat they were in when they died. Their boat drifted onto Tregurrian Beach in a small cove called Beacon Cove, which is just beyond Watergate Beach, so the stern of the boat was used to create their memorial.
Supported and elevated from the ground by two pieces of wooden baton inscribed upon the boat shaped plaque it says:
“Here lie the bodies of
Jacob Williams, David Roberts,
Owen Hughs, Thomas Collins,
Charles Cawley, Richard Cutler,
William Loyd, William Eliott,
Thomas Brown, Jemmy
who were drifted ashore in a boat, frozen to death at
Tregurrian Beach in this Parish on Sunday
13th December 1846.
Jacob Williams was a Swede. The tenth man wasn’t really known, which is why his full and proper name isn’t on the memorial like the others, he was simply known to them as Jemmy and his death was sadly registered as Unknown Male Aged 21.
The full list of shipwreck victims, as recorded on the GRO Index is:
- Jacob Williams, Sweden Aged 28
- David Roberts, Liverpool Aged 16
- Owen Hughes, Caernarvon Aged 27
- Thomas Collins, American Aged 27
- Charles Camley, Hull Aged 24
- Richard Cutler, Plymouth, Devon Aged 32
- William Loyd, Caernarvon Aged 28
- William Eliot, Plymouth, Devon Aged 21
- Thomas Brown, Isle of Bute Aged 22
- Jemmy Death Registered as Unknown Male Aged 21
The sailors had actually been ship wrecked off the coast of Ireland some days before, they broke their oar and the boat just drifted. The survivors had frost-bite and were taken to the Coastguard’s cottage to recover. Some died in the next few days.
The official verdict was that the deceased died from the effects of starvation and intense cold.
The Tregurrian Beach is now known as Watergate Bay; it used to bear the name of Tregurrian, the hamlet at the top of the hill.
This boat memorial was mentioned in Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins, 1861.
Wilkie Collins described the grave in St Mawgan thus:
“Within the church-yard, the bright colour of the turf, and the quiet grey hues of the mouldering tombstones, are picturesquely intermingled all over the uneven surface of the ground, save in one remote corner, where the graves are few and the grass grows rank and high. Here, the eye is abruptly attracted by the stern of a boat, painted white, and fixed upright in the earth. This strange memorial, little suited though it be to the old monuments around, has a significance of its own which gives it a peculiar claim to consideration. Inscribed on it, appear the names of ten fishermen of the parish who went out to sea to pursue their calling, on one wintry night in 1846. It was unusually cold on land—on the sea, the frosty bitter wind cut through to the bones. The men were badly provided against the weather; and hardy as they were, the weather killed them that night. In the morning, the boat drifted on shore, manned like a spectre bark, by the ghastly figures of the dead—freighted horribly with the corpses of ten men all frozen to death. They are now buried in Mawgan church-yard; and the stern of the boat they died in tells their fatal story, and points to the last home which they share together.”
Source: Rambles Beyond Railways, Wilkie Collins, 1861.
This quirky memorial was also mentioned in The Country Life Picture Book of Devon and
Cornwall” by Peter Pettit (Country Life 1982). ISBN 060036822X, 9780600368229
St Mawgan Churchyard is somewhere you might want to pop into, when you’re out walking and exploring as this is a fascinating memorial to see.
This article is part of a series that points out unusual places, little curios and things to see while on your travels. Little secrets and hidden gems.