Mark Milburn’s Cornish Wreck Ramblings, Part 11: The Burnside


Mark Milburn’s Cornish Wreck Ramblings are back! This week: The mystery of the Burnside…

Locally the name “Burnside”, has caused arguments in families and cost some people 1000’s of hours and pound notes. So what is “Burnside”?

The Burnside was a wooden steamship, designed by Theodore E. Ferris – USSB design #1001, a 82m long, coal-fired, triple expansion engined ship of 3,500 tons. At some time just after the great war, the Burnside was heading to the UK.

The story from there is a little muddled. It was possibly carrying coal or empty brass shell cases, no one knows for sure. It caught fire, somewhere near Falmouth and was abandoned, turning over and expelling its cargo. As the ship turned over, it also extinguished the fire. A day or so later, it was seen still floating upside down, stuck somewhere in Gerrans Bay.

That location is unknown but most likely on the shallow Inner Bizzies pinnacles, which are only a few metres below the water at low tide, although a little way offshore. It was being held fast by either its masts or funnel. The Navy were called in to get rid of it and it took them two weeks! Why did it take so long? What exactly happened?

The ship is well known locally amongst salvagers and wreck hunters. Many have looked in vain, hoping to get a ‘hit’ from the engines and boilers with a magnetometer. No one has found it, or any remains. Several stories have come to light… Some say it is on the Manacles; there is a lone triple expansion engine there, the wood rotted away whilst the boilers disappeared. There is a lone boiler off Porthoustock, are they related? Near Nare Point there is another lone boiler, thought to have ended up there after some violent explosion, some believe it is from the Burnside. If it is, where is the other boiler and the engine if the boiler was from the Burnside?

A local newspaper of the time reported that the bow of the Burnside washed up on a local beach during the time the Navy were there. This was probably after an attempt to blow the ship to pieces to sink it. Another newspaper report stated that it was then towed further out to sea and shot at by the Airforce as well as the Navy, to help break it up and sink it. This would reduce the ships’ timbers into smaller fragments until the weight of the boilers and engine caused it to sink. This may well explain why no one has ever found the Burnside; it may now rest in deep waters, the wood rotted or eaten away, leaving very little left for anyone to find.

For now, the whereabouts of the Burnside shall remain a mystery. Just another mystery from around the Cornish coast.

Find out more about Mark and Atlantic Scuba at

Mark Milburn

Mark Milburn

Mark Milburn is the owner of Atlantic Scuba in Falmouth, Cornwall, England, and is an SDI/TDI/NAS/RYA Instructor and a Commercial Boat Skipper. Although often referred to as a maritime archaeologist, he prefers to call himself a wreck hunter. Find out more about Mark and Atlantic Scuba by visiting

scroll to top