20th March 2019

Shipwrecks of Falmouth: The Mohegan

Perhaps one of the most famous wrecks of the area – the mystery of why the Mohegan ended up on the Manacles still remains today.

The story

Originally constructed in Hull by the Earle's Shipbuilding and Engine Company for the Wilson & Furness-Leyland Line, the Mohegan – originally named Cleopatra -was never to serve the company, instead beingbought before completion by the Atlantic Transport Company of London in 1898.

The ship’s build is said to have been held up by a strike, resulting in the work being rushed. That led to major issues on the ship’s first voyage to New Yorkduring which she leaked badly. On her return she underwent major repairs and a refit.

It was on her second voyage that tragedy struck. Heading to New York once again, the ship was carrying around 60 passengers and 97 crew.

The first part of the voyage went well, butas the Mohegan passed Cornwall, things went badly wrong.


On 14th October 1898, steaming on an incorrect compass course, she smashed full speed into the Manacles Reef. Within 30 seconds, the engine room had been abandoned and soon after the whole ship was thrown into total darkness.

The Captain and officers were able to fire off some distress rockets and began to load passengers into the first couple of lifeboats. However, as the ship listed severely no further boats could be launched.

Within 10 minutes of the incident, the ship had sunk, with those on deck left to swim for their lives. Whilst some were able to hold on to the rigging that remained above the water, 106 people died.

The loss of life could have been even greater if it had not been for the actions of the coxswain of the Porthoustock lifeboat, James Hill. Having seen the Mohegan coming across the bay he quickly realised that it would most likely hit the Manacles and signalled for the lifeboat crew. On their way within 25 minutes, they managed to save many survivors.

The Captain and all of his officers were lost and it’s a mystery to this day why the Mohegan steered such an incorrect course. The wreck still lies off the Manacles at a depth of around 70 feet.