We’ve all read about the wreckage of the Bencoolen in 1862. Indeed, there are many reminders around Bude, such as the Bencoolen Bridge, the Bencoolen Inn, and even the Bencoolen Wreckers. The Bencoolen is the most famous of all the Bude shipwrecks. It would have been a dramatic sight in full sail, for it was a fully-rigged 1415 ton ship, which had no connection with Bude whatsoever, apart from its demise.
The Bencoolen was en route from Liverpool to Bombay carrying a cargo of iron telegraph poles. She drifted helplessly in heavy seas under gale force NNW winds, wrecked broadside on, a terrible sight, at Summerleaze beach. The captain was allegedly drunk an died along with 29 others who drowned. The crew numbered 33 so there were some survivors. The lifeboat couldn’t be launched but a rocket-line was fired and a raft launched.
1881’s A Picturesque Guide to North Cornwall, records:
“In five minutes the rocket apparatus was put to work; the first rocket fell short, the next failed, the third fell over the ship where the despairing crew huddled on the poop.
A man who rushed forward and clutched the line was washed overboard with it in his hand. A huge roller then broke over the apparatus rendering it useless.”
On November 14th, the West Briton reported:
“Within two hours from the time she struck, she was in fragments, and 24 men had drowned within a cable’s length of the breakwater at Bude. Of the 33 crew, only six were rescued alive, with a further six being pulled from the sea dead. The rest of the crew drowned and perished.”
The figurehead is in the Castle, Bude, and the bell is at the Methodist Chapel of Roscarrock, so not too far away.
The saddest part is that the ship was wrecked only metres from safety. Photos from the collection of Ray Boyd.