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The seas off Cornwall's rocky coast can be a dangerous place, and over the centuries numerous ships have foundered. But, as they say, it's an ill wind which blows nobody any good...

The wreck of the Albermarle

Nearly 300 years ago, on the 11th December 1708, the Albemarle, an East India Company ship carrying a valuable cargo of diamonds and other goods, was driven ashore near Polperro in a violent storm.

   An East India Company ship c.1700 An East India Company ship c.1700
Though it is believed most of her crew survived, little of the Albemarle's cargo of indigo, coffee, pepper, silks, let alone the diamonds, was ever recovered and the ship itself wrecked beyond recovery.

News of the wreck soon spread inland and a large crowd, led by a local parson, quickly gathered on shore at Polperro. The incident resulted in more activity and profit (legitimate and otherwise) for local people than the tiny port had known for years.

For weeks afterwards, the winter seas off Polperro turned blue with the melting of the indigo that had been among the Albemarle's cargo. Efforts were made to catch and prosecute those who had plundered the wreck and to salvage what cargo remained. A hatmaker at Looe named Abel Nicolas was accused by the East India Company for buying wool recovered from the Albemarle but local resident submitted a petition in his support. The real culprits were never brought to justice.

The loss of the Albemarle amounted to nearly 40,000 (an enormous sum in the money of those days). Attempts at salvage were subsequently made by a Polperro entrepreneur named Thomas Willcocks but neither he nor subsequent quests to locate the wreck appear to have proved successful. The hull of the Albemarle had sunk and its exact position was unknown, although there is a reference at the time of the wreck to the Albemarle being driven ashore at 'Lazey Cove'. There is no such name on modern maps, but Lazey Cove is believed to have been to the east of Polperro in the area of Talland Bay.

Even today, local residents in Polperro still debate whether the wreck of the Albemarle will ever be found and, if so, whether it will yield up any of its valuable cargo.

[Based on research by James Derriman]
edited by Jeremy Rowett Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum © 2000

Please visit our sister website, www.talland.org to learn about a more recent wreck - that of the French trawler Marguerite - whose remains can still be seen today - click here

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