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SS Ponus – A Gyllyngvase Shipwreck

January 20, 2016


Once you’ve checked into the Rathgowry guesthouse, then go and put on your flip flops and stroll down to Gyllyngvase Beach to grab a glass of something cool and refreshing. Then, look out to the water and imagine seeing a blazing shipwreck up on the rocks between Gylly & Swanpool beaches!

To tell you the story, I have plundered the following information and pictures from our very own local hero and diving professional – Mark Milburn from Atlantic Scuba Dive Centre.  Check out his website for footage from the BBCs One Show.
In his spare time (!) Mark does a lot of historical research on shipwrecks (& other topics) and works closely with English Heritage. 


The SS Ponus was a British cargo steamer built in 1902 by Russell & Co, Port Glasgow.  It was originally built for the Anglo-American Oil Company of London and was known as the SS Kennebec.

In 1912 she was purchased by Tank Storage & Carrying Company and in 1914 renamed to SS Ponus.  In 1916 she was purchased by Standard Transportation Company, Hong Kong.

The ships vital statistics were: weight= 5077 tons, length = 123.4m, beam=15.9m & draught=8.4m.


On November 3rd 1916, SS Ponus was nearing the end of her voyage.  She had been chartered by the Admiralty and was traveling from Trinidad to Britain.  While off of the coast of Cornwall, she encountered a southerly gale in very heavy seas in Falmouth Bay.  Her anchor could not hold her in place and she was driven ashore on Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth, Cornwall.

SS Ponus wreckSome of her crew reached the shore in the ship’s lifeboat, but 19 sailors had to be rescued by volunteers from the Falmouth lifeboat in three separate trips.  

The Second Mate of the Ponus remained aboard but the tanker caught fire, so he jumped overboard and improvised a raft.  After boarding the raft it became pinned against the burning vessel leaving him in a precarious situation.

Rescue was near at hand however, through the capable hands of Second Lieutenant Badger and Lieutenant Frank Stephens of the Royal Engineers and Royal Naval Reserves.  They went to the rescue of the Second Mate in the rough seas in a dinghy!  It was a high risk rescue, but they caught hold of the him and rowed him ashore – tied to the dinghy’s stern as it was too small to have him aboard.


SS Ponus Wreck

The ships fire was said to have lit up Falmouth for 3 days and painting were made by local artists to capture the event. 

Unfortunately all attempts to get the ship off the rocks failed and she was stuck fast.   To add insult to injury she was broken in half in winds of 75-85 miles an hour during the great gale in January 1917.


SS Ponus

The wreck sat just off Gyllyngvase Beach for a year and a half before the Harris Brothers marine salvage company towed the bow parts into the docks and broke it up for scrap in August 1918.




Unsurprisingly the Cornish Coast is littered with shipwrecks – some still full of treasure – but that is a story for another time!  Alternatively look at some of Marks other material here.

Generic shipwreck

If you are feeling adventurous then why not get in contact with Mark at Atlantic Scuba dive centre and book a diving trip out into the bay and if you’re lucky he will tell you about the long list of Falmouth wrecks that he has documented (& dived) – and if you are really lucky he might tell you some good stories about treasure!

So come on, give us a call and book into the Rathgowry guesthouse – for fantastic accommodation and friendly hosts!  Once that is done you can head out into the depths of Falmouth and Cornwall to bring history to life. 🙂

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