top of page

















At Gunwalloe a little way to the South, caves on the beach were said to be linked by a tunnel to the belfry of a nearby church, and another passage joined the Halzephron inn to Fishing Cove, the home of a local smuggler called Henry Cuttance. Gunwalloe was the site of a wreck on 19 January 1526 when the Flemish ship St Anthony, owned by King John III of Portugal, laden with bullion, plate, and silver, was driven ashore in "an outrageous tempest of the sea." Only forty-five of her crew survived. The local people spent all day and night salvaging silver. Two days after the wreck, three local magistrates, William Godolphin, Thomas St Aubyn and John Millaton, attacked the surviving crew and made off with two-thirds of the bullion!
The Portuguese King appealed to King Henry VIII. In answer to these charges, the three men stated that the chief ruler of the ship, fearing the country people helping the salvaging would take it home with them, had begged to the three to come to his aid. They declared that the ship's master entreated them to buy some of the salvaged goods in order that he could buy some necessities. This is all, they insisted, they took for themselves.

Another treasure ship, this time Spanish, was lost in the same place in the 1780s. The ship broke in two and spilled the coins and bullion into a gully. In 1845 a company was formed to dam the gully and pump out the water to recover the money. The night before everything was ready a gale came up and wiped out two month's work. In 1847 another attempt was made for miners to cut a path and steps down the cliff and sink a shaft twenty-five feet into the rocks, working only in low tide, then driving forty feet under the gully, the idea being that the coins would fall into the tunnel. No coins appeared but the sea did, and the miners barely escaped. The breach could not be sealed. In 1877 a Mr Boyd and two engineers had the idea of pumping out the mine and trying again but to no avail. The storms of Mount's bay produce vast movements in the sea bottom and periodically thousands of tons of sand can be scoured away overnight. Parts of Gunwalloe Cove can change by as much as twenty feet at a time.

One of the last sailing ships lost at Gunwalloe was the Austrian Diana which was crippled off of Wolf Rock by a gale on 8 December 1874. The ship drove ashore at Creeg-an-Pella, a small cove near Gunwalloe. Her crew was saved by rocket line but the ship finally broke up.


Mullion Cove

Mullion is the largest village o­n the Lizard. In the centre of the village, the 13th century church of St Mellanus is renowned for its richly-carved oak bench-ends depicting biblical scenes, including that of Jonah and the Whale. Mullion Cove has a pretty working harbour, protected from the winter gales that rage across Mount's Bay by two stout sea walls. The harbour was completed in 1895 and financed by Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock as a recompense to the fishermen for several disastrous pilchard seasons. You can still see the old pilchard cellar and net store. There are plenty of smuggling tales too. In 1801, the King's Pardon was offered to any smuggler giving information o­n the Mullion musket men involved in a gunfight with the crew of HM Gun Vessel Hecate.
























6m S of Helston, Mullion Cove at the east of Mounts Bay was a favourite landing place for contraband, and the locals burned with loyalty for the free-traders. On one occasion here, Billy of Praow was bringing ashore contraband brandy, when the cargo was captured by a government brig. When news of this disaster spread the local people raided an armoury at Trenance, and opened fire on the brig in the bay until the cargo was returned.

Another story centres around the Spotsman: the nickname of a prominent local smuggler. Returning from France with a cargo of brandy, the Spotsman succeeded in landing the goods between Predannack Head and Mullion Cove, at a spot called locally 'the Chair'. However, the custom house had organized a reception committee, which the Spotsman's friends told him about when he met them at Predannack, just as they were firing a furze beacon. A mad scramble back to the cliffs saved the day: the tubs were quietly moved off the rocks to a nearby mineshaft. When the customs men arrived on the scene, the coast was deserted, and despite the fact that they came within a hundred yards of the hidden brandy, the excisemen were deceived, and returned with only the smugglers' boat to show for the night's work. When the preventives departed the smugglers clambered down the cliffs and recovered their property undetected. Two tubs that had floated free were later picked up by a friendly fishing boat.

The Spotsman was fortunate to escape capture or injury on that particular run, but he wasn't always so lucky — on another occasion he was slow to reply to a challenge by another smuggler, and was therefore mistaken for a revenue man and shot. Fortunately he lost only his thumb in the encounter.

It was Lieutenant Drew, the chief Coastguard for the Mullion area, who is credited with smashing the smuggling ring in the district. Drew and a fellow coastguard interrupted a run, but the smugglers melted away into the night: the two men clambered to the beach to find a rope leading out to sea. Pulling on the rope, they hauled in 100 tubs! Aided by reinforcements summoned with flares, the men marked the tubs and put them under guard. In the morning, a crowd gathered to watch the Coastguards man-handle the contraband up the cliffs and take it to Gweek custom house. Drew interrupted other attempts to run goods in the area, notably at Angrouse Cliffs, where the firing of a furze beacon warned off the smuggling vessel hovering off-shore. Despite the warning, the preventives from Mullion and Penzance recovered nearly 100 tubs that had been sunken by the ship. By 1840 the game was effectively up.

Kynance Cove























Around the western shore of Lizard Point lie the sands of Kynance, and the high cliffs which form the outer horn of Mount's Bay. Exposed and precipitous, they lack shelter, and run from Vellan head to Gunwalloe where they give way to Loe Bar.
To ships coming down the Channel before a south-westerly gale, this six mile stretch of coast offered a dead lee shore for which there was no escape for anyone who failed to weather the Lizard or miscalculated a landfall in fog.

Mullion Cove, halfway along, was the only haven but had grave shortcomings. There was no pier in the little harbor until the 1870s and then it was inaccessible in bad weather. Half a mile offshore was another hazard, Mullion Island, which stands in the way of any ship trying to wear off the coast and make for the cove. Other equally dangerous rocks fringe the cliffs. To go South East are the menacing Lizard reefs; North West the dangers of Gunwalloe and Loe Bar. Any sailing ship to become trapped under these cliffs would meet with certain destruction.

A new lighthouse was established on Wolf Rock and those at the Lizard and Longships were improved. Steamships began to be used and the use of certain sailing ships declined, resulting in a decrease in wrecks from the late 1870s onwards, less than a dozen from 1877 to 1916 are recorded.

Mullion Cove

bottom of page