Mark Milburn’s Cornish Wreck Ramblings, Part 8: The digital age


As an early adopter of the internet, I have watched it grow over time and the last twenty years has seen it expand exponentially. Yet, only over the last few years or so, has this helped the wreck researcher. You still can’t beat going to the local county records office, or The National Archive but not everyone has the time for that. As more and more information becomes digitised, wreck information becomes more widely available on-line. Photos, newspapers archives and all sorts of information, new and old, just appears before your eyes, as you search.

Today, I received a notification from You-Tube that someone had commented on a video of mine. It was a few clips I put together from a dive on the wreck of the Caroni River, near Falmouth. It stated “RIP Captain Thomas Anthony Watson, age 99, on 15/01/17, 3rd officer on Caroni River when she was mined.” A previous comment on the same video by Sven, asked “If anybody finds an alarm clock in the central deck house, my uncle would like it back as he lost it when the Caroni River was mined in 1940 and he had to abandon ship.”

A remaning piece of the Caroni River

The Bay of Panama is a local shallow wreck but the hydrographic office’s co-ordinates were not right. Comparing the Google aerial view against the Bing view, you can see a shadow of the right size and shape on one of the views. The images were taken at different times, with different sand levels, the wreck was exposed with the low sand level. Another feature of Google Earth are the images. Every now and then there is an image of a shallow or exposed wreck. Most of the time these are recent images; the odd one is contemporary to the date of the wrecking.

Historic England (prev. English Heritage) have a website called PastScape. PastScape has thousands of historic records for sites on land and underwater. The underwater sites include anything which may be submerged including old quays etc., as well as wrecks. The wreck information isn’t 100% due to some of the sources and there are also duplicates, but there can be some great information that would normally be hard to find.

Whilst researching the Dispatch (1809), a new piece of information appeared. The Dispatch was originally reported as running aground near Lowland Point, near the Manacles. Within no time at all, the Dispatch was listed as being on Black Head. Survivors climbed up the rock face at Black Head; victims and horses washed ashore around Black Head. Years later, a cannon of the right age and type was found just below Black Head. The new piece of information that appeared on the PastScape website was from Lloyds of London. After running aground on Black Head, the Dispatch floated across Coverack Bay nearly full of water. That would have been in the direction of Lowland Point, where the original report stated that the Dispatch ran aground.

This photo was sent into me via email, it is the UB112.

In Cornwall we have many photo resources, which are being updated on a regular basis. One such site is At the time of writing it has 31554 items and growing, not all the items are photos, there are also recorded interviews. Using the search keyword of “wreck” brings up 456 items, on the day of writing.

On the local BBC News today, there was an item about the sale of a silver cup, presented to a well known smuggler and a publican. Henry Cuttace ran the Ship Inn at Gunwalloe, now called the Halzephron Inn, a famous haunt of smugglers and ‘salvors’. The Halzephron has several posters with stories of wrecks and the ‘salvage’ of the cargoes. One night there was a shipwreck and the customers drank up and went salvaging. They returned later and paid their bar bills with some of their ‘salvaged’ coins. The silver cup on the news was presented to Henry Cuttace for his bravery in saving three crew from the wreck of the Norwegian brig, ‘Elizabeth’. PastScape has a record on the ‘Elizabeth’ but it is not listed anywhere else.

PastScape has thousands of wrecks, the trouble is, knowing what you are looking for in the first place!

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

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