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
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 the scene.
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 months.
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 Manacles.
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 hand".
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 Mohegan lifeboat.
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 landed.
This story ties in with the known fact that Mrs. Grandin died in the Porthoustock lifeboat before it reached Porthoustock beach.
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 click here
*The Mohegan tapes on CD is no longer available