Ponus Wreck

The Ponus was a 5077 ton oil tanker.It came ashore near Gyllyngvase Beach in November 1916. It’s cargo caught fire and kept Falmouth lit for three nights. It was heavily salvaged but there’s still quite a lot of remains.

Today it is well broken and often a lot is covered in sand. Still a nice rummage dive, the highest point is only about 2m. This is primarily a shore dive but does make an easy boat dive.


The SS Ponus was a British Cargo Steamer of 5,077 tons, built in 1902 by Russell & Co, Port Glasgow, Yard No 492. It was built for the Anglo-American Oil Company of London as the SS KENNEBEC. In 1912 she was purchased by Tank Storage & Carrying Company and in 1914 renamed to PONUS. In 1916 she was purchased by Standard Transportation Company, Hong Kong. On the 3rd November 1916 she ran aground off Swanpool Point in Cornwall and was driven ashore at Gyllyngvase Beach, near Pendennis Point, Falmouth. Length = 123.4m, Beam = 15.9m, Draught = 8.4m, Tonnage = 5077 Gross.

Gale Force Winds

On November 3rd 1916, SS Ponus was nearing the end of her voyage. She had been chartered by the Admiralty and was travelling from Trinidad to Britain. While off of the coast of Cornwall, she encountered a gale. Her anchor could not hold her in place and the British Oil steamer SS Ponus, was driven ashore on Gyllyngvase beach, Falmouth in Cornwall. She then caught fire. All the crew were safely landed, with the aid of the Falmouth lifeboat. Unfortunately, all attempts to get the ship off failed and she was stuck fast. A subsequent High Court case was filed by the owners, for negligence over anchorage. Thomas Jewell, an assistant examination officer at Falmouth, had the case against him dismissed in court. She broke in half in winds of 75 to 85 miles an hour during the great gale in January 1917. The gale caused great coastal damage. A year and a half later, in August 1918, Harris Brothers marine salvage company towed the bow part into the docks and broke it up for scrap.

Overview about the Falmouth rescue

On the 3 November 1916, the tanker SS Ponus was stranded during a full southerly gale in very heavy seas in Falmouth Bay. Some of her crew reached the shore in the ship’s boats but 19 sailors were taken off by volunteers from the Falmouth lifeboat. The Second Mate of the Ponus remained aboard, the tanker later caught fire so he improvised a raft which after boarding, became pinned against the burning vessel. Second Lieutenant Badger and Lieutenant Frank Stephens, of the Royal Engineers and Royal Naval Reserves, went to the rescue in the rough seas in a dinghy. They caught hold of the Second Mate, and brought him ashore tied to the dinghy’s stern as it was too small to have him aboard. In 1916 Silver Medals were awarded to Lt E Badger RE and Lt R Stephens RNR, for the rescue in a 12ft dinghy of one man on 3 November 1916 in a whole south south westerly gale and a very heavy sea, from the Ponus. The lifeboat had launched to the vessel three times and rescued 19 men but the second mate was left aboard. Before the lifeboat could reach the vessel again the he jumped overboard as the vessel was on fire. It was impossible to get him into the dinghy so he was tied to the stern and rowed ashore. Very great risk was run in effecting the rescue.

Mentions From the book “The Enemy Within” 310 APPENDIX November 5, 1916—A fire broke out in the S.S- Ponus and it was put ashore in Falmouth bay. From Royal Navy Log Books of the World War 1 Era HMS MANTUA – January to October 1916, 10th Cruiser Squadron Northern Patrol, British Home Waters (Part 2 of 3) 23 August 1916 At Patrol Lat 59.7, Long -8.5 12.30pm: Altered course to intercept sailing vessel 1.00pm: Signalled Norwegian barque SEMEDOL[?] with armed guard from COLUMBELLA on board 2.28pm: Observed sailing vessel ahead 3.05pm: Altered course to close 3.18pm: Signalled Norwegian barque ALCYON with armed guard from MOLDAVIA on board 5.00pm: Read warrants No 51, 52, & sent two prisoners to cells for 14 days 6.00pm: Considerable SW swell 8.12pm: Observed steamer 8.15pm: Altered course to intercept 8.54pm: Signalled Admiralty Oiler PONUS No 77 Sick list 3

From the New York Times Painting on ‘page 4’ credited to Claude Hamilton Rowbotham (1864-1949). Titled “Oil Tanker on Falmouth Beach 1916 – Ashore and on Fire”. Signed and dated 1916, coloured etching, 29 x 29 cm. Collated from various sources by Mark Milburn