One Friday evening, just as we had done for years, we went out for a dive. No-one could decide on a location, so we decided on a random location near the St Anthony’s light house, Falmouth. We jumped in around 15m and landed on sand. Swimming around there was more sand, a small piece of iron and more sand. A Spotted Ray, a Thornback Ray and more sand. After thirty minutes of sand we turned and started heading shallower. Whilst swimming, still on sand, I saw a small reef. We swam towards the reef, almost excited to see something other than sand. As we got closer I could tell that it wasn’t a normal reef. It was a uniform shape, about eight metres in length and not quite a metre across or high. It was a series of cut granite blocks, edge to edge. I knew it was special and tried to signal the others, showing it was square, apart from one block that had a bevelled edge on one side. The others just smiled and looked at me, not quite knowing what I was trying to show them. I kept looking at it. I knew what it wasn’t but couldn’t put my finger on what it was. We swam onwards, across more sand.
Once we got home I fired up the laptop and was thinking what I could enter into the search bar. As I typed in Granite Ballast, I knew it was either ballast or maybe even cargo. I’ve heard stories that when ships arrived into Falmouth, they would deliver their cargo and instead of loading up with chippings for ballast, they would take a return load of granite blocks. So it is more likely it was cargo. Whatever it was it went down with the ship. It was the only way to explain how they ended up in a perfect straight line so close together. I searched the records of lost ships but couldn’t find anything that close to Falmouth. There were a couple of missing ships that listed granite as a cargo, one was too far away and the other was in ballast.
I decided to contact English Heritage to see if they had any idea. After a couple of days I had a response. They had come up with the same two names as I had found. The only difference was the location of one of them. The original reports said it sprung a leak one and a half miles south east of Porthallow, and this was its assumed place of sinking. In the Royal Cornwall Gazette dating 4th August 1892, the headline read ‘A Barge foundered at St Mawes’.
‘Whilst the barge FANNY, belonging to the Coverack Stone Company, was proceeding from Coverack with a cargo of stone, bound to St. Mawes to discharge, and when some distance off Porthallow, she sprang a leak which the crew were unable to master with the pumps, and quickly foundered in deep water. Messrs. Lowry and German took to the boat and pulled to St. Mawes. The FANNY is one of three flats purchased on the Thames, and used to carry stone from Coverack to the company’s works at St. Mawes.’
The granite blocks we had found were about a mile from St Mawes, tying into the headline. The fact that the two man crew ‘pulled for St Mawes’ in the original text was also a bit of a give away. Why pull seven miles to St Mawes if you were just one and a half miles from Porthallow? So, out of the two names, the most likely is the ‘Fanny’. The Fanny was a Thames spritsail sailing barge of thirty seven tons, owned and operated by the Coverack Stone and Syenitic Paving Company, from Coverack in Cornwall.
It foundered en-route from Coverack to St Mawes. The Coverack Stone & Syenitic Paving Company specialised in Syenitic granite. Syenite is a coarse-grained rock with a general composition as granite but with the quartz either absent or present in relatively small amounts. Used mainly as a cladding material it was used in many structures around Cornwall and England. A lot of the stone from Coverack Stone & Syenitic Paving Company ended up being used in road construction. This cargo of granite had been worked into exact uniform sizes, one of which had an angled face, not something what you would then crush into road chippings. On January 14th, 1896, a winding up order was presented at court for the Coverack Stone & Syenitic Paving Company:
In the Matter of the Companies Acts 1862 to 1890 and in the Matter of the Coverack Stone
and Syenitic Paving Co. Limited.
NOTICE is hereby given that a petition for the winding up of the above named Company
by the High Court of Justice was on the 14th day of January 1896 presented to the said Court
by Robins and Company Limited whoso registered office is at 13 Victoria-street -Westminster. And
that the said petition is directed to be heard before the Court at the Royal Courts of Justice
Strand on the 29th day of January 1896 and any creditor or contributory of the said Company
desirous to support or oppose the making of an Order on the said petition may appear at the time
of hearing by himself or his Counsel for that. purpose and a copy of the petition will be
furnished to any creditor or contributory of the said Company requiring the same by the undersigned
on payment of the regulated charge’ for the same.
We have been trying to find any of the company’s records with no avail. So, we are awaiting replies from both the Imperial War Museum and Tower Bridge, which were both being clad with Cornish granite in 1892. Although the online records state that the granite came from De Lank quarry in Cornwall, this would be one source. More than one source would be likely. When Rennie’s London Bridge was built in the 1820’s, records stated that the granite came from Hay Tor in Devon. Yet Hay Tor museum state it only supplied granite ‘in part’, quite a lot came from the Falmouth area.
Have you ever come across an underwater mystery that you just had to solve? Tell us about it in the comments section below.