The Shipwreck of The Mohegan
- taped memories 1966 -
|In October 1966 a tape recording was made of
interviews with three St. Keverne people who had either
witnessed the tragedy or who had heard first hand
accounts of it within their families over many years.
Joe Rogers was born in Rosenithon in October 1893
and was five years old at the time of the disaster. Some
of his recollections are his own, others are from members
of his family who were personally involved both during
and after the events of 14 October 1898.
Joe, as a child, remembered being disturbed by the
rocket which was fired from Tommy Noye's field above
Porthoustock because the noise reverberated to such an
extent that the windows rattled. His sister, Dora, heard
screams from the front steps of the Rogers family home in
Rosenithon, while his mother and Janie Tripp went off to
Porthoustock to help. They were the first two women on
Next morning Joe was taken to the shore by his father
and he vividly remembered seeing the Mohegan's four
masts and red funnel sticking up above the water.
Joe's grandfather, William Matthews, and his great
uncle, Captain John Matthews, both of Porthoustock, saw a
man jump off the prow of the Porthoustock lifeboat as it
grounded on to the beach and disappear up through the
village and up the valley.
Tradition has it that this was Captain Griffiths of the
Mohegan and substantiated the story that the vessel had
been deliberately wrecked.
Joe recalled that four survivors stayed with his
grandparents at Porthoustock, including the boy John
(Jimmy) MacFarlane who was best remembered for his
swearing and for playing the mouth organ. He had two
broken legs and was at Porthoustock for about six
Joe was out with his father the day after the wreck and
they found a body washed ashore which they took by cart
to St. Keverne. He recalled the story of Miss Noble who
stayed at Rosenithon with the Rogers family after the
loss of the Mohegan, Miss Noble commented to Joe's
parents about the chaos on board because the lights went
out on the Mohegan so soon after striking the
The second person interviewed was Bentley Tripp
who was born in 1901, the son of George Martin Tripp and
Ellen Jane (nee Peters).
Bentley had been brought up on stories of shipwrecks and
the sea as his father was a fisherman and a lifeboat crew
member at Porthoustock.
Bentley himself was a fisherman with first hand
experience of the coastal waters off St.Keverne and he
knew the Manacles "like the back of his
Bentley recalled that, from the story told to him by his
father, the Mohegan appeared from the east into Falmouth
Bay and looked like a floating town because of all the
lights. However, she then turned and took a course
straight for the Manacles.
His father, George Martin Tripp, was a stroke-oarsman in
the Porthoustock lifeboat and on the evening of 14
October 1898 the sea was moderating with a heavy swell.
When the "Charlotte" was about half way to the
Manacles by Maen Garrick (the rocks due east of Manacle
Point) it came across an upturned lifeboat from the
Mohegan. One (or two) people were rescued from the keel,
but, according to Bentley's version, there were
twenty four people dead underneath it. They went on in
darkness towards the cries and screams coming from the
vicinity of the Manacles and came across the second
George Tripp had told Bentley that there was one young
lady about 28 or 29 in a Mohegan lifeboat. She had long
hair which had become entangled with ropes at the bottom
of the lifeboat. Frank Tripp, a crew member of the
"Charlotte" who was "a good man on land
and sea" took an axe and cut her hair to free her.
(Ed. This is a very similar account to that of the rescue
of Mrs.Compton Swift except that in the other version she
had been trapped by her foot). However, when Frank Tripp
was using the axe to cut her hair, the
"Charlotte" rolled and the axe blade struck the
leg of another passenger and badly cut it. The result of
this unfortunate incident is that the other passenger who
had been rescued, Mrs. Lizzie Small Grandin, bled to death
in the Porthoustock lifeboat before she could be
This story ties in with the known fact that Mrs. Grandin
died in the Porthoustock lifeboat before it reached
Bentley's mother, Janie Tripp, and Mrs. Margaret Ann
Rogers had rushed to Porthoustock as soon as the rocket
had been fired and witnessed the scene on the shore. They
remembered the distress on the beach as the lifeboat
landed because families had been split up and members
were missing. The local doctor, Dr. Spry, was rendering
help to the victims and asked Janie Tripp to escort two
elderly male survivors up to a cottage in Porthoustock
village but, en route, in the darkness she took fright
and returned to the beach.
Bentley recalled that the next morning bodies from the
wreck came ashore on all the beaches between Lowlands and
Godrevy and that they were carried in farm carts up to
St. Keverne village. The bodies were laid out in the
church, although some of the more affluent Americans were
embalmed and taken back to the USA. A firm of embalmers
came from London to St. Keverne as embalming was not
carried out by any local firm of undertakers.
He remembered that his father had said that,after the
"Charlotte" had landed on Porthoustock beach, a
person dressed in brown fireman's overalls jumped off
the side and ran up through Porthoustock village as
"if fired from a gun".
Next morning a man was seen taking a boat and rowing
across the Helford River. Was this person Captain
Griffiths? Rumour had it that he knew the area well and
had deliberately lost the ship in order to get, as a
shareholder of the Atlantic Transport Company, the full
insurance. However, if Captain Griffiths had local
knowledge, why did he run the Mohegan on to the Vase Rock
when he could have run her inside the Voices or on to the
Lowlands without any loss of life?
The last person to be interviewed on the tape in October
1966 was George Lory of St. Keverne, the village
carpenter and undertaker. He had been born at Trevalso in
1881 and was 18 at the time of the disaster. He recalled
the story of how Mrs. Grandin had died in the
Porthoustock lifeboat as a result of "having her leg
cut off" accidentally by Frank Tripp's axe. He,
too, believed that the Mohegan had been wrecked
deliberately. He referred to the embalming of some of the
bodies in the house where St. Keverne garage now stands
and supported the tradition that Captain Griffiths had
been rescued and then disappeared.
George told how the last body was picked up some seven
or eight weeks after the disaster.
He recounted that there had been a lot of ale on board
the Mohegan and that some of this was washed ashore. This
ale was of good quality and was enjoyed by the locals,
Mr. Lory included.
St Keverne Local History Society is grateful to Mrs
Collen Rogers for permission to reproduce these
recordings. To listen to all of the tapes