The shipwreck of the Bencoolen - history of Bude

Wreckage of the SS Bencoolen on Summerleaze beach, Bude circa October 1862

By Ralph Gifford - Culture24

On the north coast of Cornwall, just a few miles from the Devon border, sits the seaside town of Bude. Like many coastal towns in the county it is now a place living off the revenue brought in by throngs of tourists who come to enjoy its expansive and beautiful beaches.

But Bude originally grew because of its small harbour, offereing sailors refuge against the North Atlantic when its seas grew too treacherous to safely leave port.

To get into the harbour the boats had to navigate a small channel which could prove equally as dangerous as the wind and waves of the sea.

Across the centuries, the residents of Bude have been witness to more than their fair share of shipwrecks. However one ill-fated ship, the Bencoolen, has played a part in the town’s history like no other.

Having set sail from Liverpool for Bombay on October 21 1862, the fully-rigged, 1,415-ton cargo vessel came into difficulty when it met gale force NNW winds, breaking its main mast and leaving the captain unable to steer. At roughly 3pm the Bencoolen grounded in huge seas on Summerleaze beach, Bude, just metres from safety.

The sea was too rough to launch the lifeboat, so the rocket brigade quickly set to work. The rescuer's efforts were in vain, as the extract below, from 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.

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North Atlantic UK

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