Mark Milburn’s Cornish Wreck Ramblings, Part 9: ‘Thar be gold!


There are always stories of lost gold, ships or planes carrying gold, lost at sea and never found. Some are just stories, some are not. Around Cornwall we have hundreds of stories, ranging from buried pirate treasure, to planes laden with gold heading off to foreign ports.

One such story is the tale of the Ballarat. The Ballarat was an 11,120 ton P&O liner, on it’s way from Melbourne to London with Australian troops. It also had a cargo of copper, lead/silver alloy, antimony ore, gold bullion and general cargo. On the 25th April 1917, she was torpedoed by UB-32. It did not sink until the following day, allowing all the 1752 on board to be saved.

Over the years it has been subject to salvage, mainly for it’s copper and lead. Commercial salvors, Risdon Beazley located the wreck in 1954 but no salvage was recorded until 1985, although it had been buoyed for salvage in 1960, which was lead and copper ingots. The 1985 salvage operation reported that the Ballarat had been previously heavily salvaged. There have been many technical dives on the Ballarat, with dozens of reports of port holes and crockery being sent in to the Receiver of Wreck.

The original inventory stated the ship was carrying 500 tons of copper, 250 tons of lead/silver alloy and 2 tons of gold. What happened to the gold? Is it still there? Has it been removed secretly? Lying in 90m of water, we may never know for sure.

Another story is of a plane, leaving the St Eval airfield during the hours of darkness. It was supposedly carrying gold to buy fuel for our ships in foreign parts, crashing not long after taking off. Divers have continuously looked for aircraft wrecks in the area, hoping to find the two tons of gold said to have been on board. That would have been a lot of fuel. Official records only list small training planes working from St Eval, nothing big enough to take two tons of gold.

Eventually we tracked down someone who was stationed at St Eval during WWII. He worked on the small training aircraft, servicing and maintaining them. He recalled a hanger that was kept closed during the daytime. He said he once caught a glance inside the hanger, through a small door and there was a larger plane inside. He couldn’t recall what is was, may be a Dakota or something of a similar size. A Dakota would have been big enough to carry two tons of gold. Is there any truth to this story? Hard to say unless someone finds the gold. We can’t find any official records though…

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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