The Bencoolen on which much of Bude was built

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.


  • Richard M.Heard, Kilkhampton, Cornwall. says:

    The telegraph poles were tubular and had rivetted steel collars to extend their length. 4 poles used to stand in a square in a small garden behind the Strand Arcade ( or close by). A stout wire connected the top of each to form a handy clothes dryer. I possess part of one pole and a little roadside shed at New Buildings, Marhamchurch has 2 helping to support the roof. Today, alongside the Strand and the river there is a stone wall; in old photos there is a long row of short but stout wooden posts, passing through each was a wire hawser (still there in the 1950s). I was told the wire and maybe the timber posts came from the Bencoolen.

  • david marsh says:

    I remember one of the telegraph poles being dug up during building work in the entrance to the school field in Marhamchurch in the 1960s.
    As you approach Bridgerule church main entrance on the left hand side there is a inverted pipe used as a drainpipe; I also have one which I would like to give to the museum in Bude.

  • Roger Lawes says:

    Why is the Bencoolen referred to as a “steamer” in the opening text?
    Thank you

  • Roger Hunter says:

    Ìn the 1970s, I lived in Roseveare Flats in Bencoolen Road; the wooden floorboards were reputed to have been from the decking on the Bencoolen.

Leave a Reply to budeandbeyond Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.