The coastline from Start Point to Dartmouth is strewn with shipwrecks of all shapes and sizes, from warships and schooners to cargo ships, steamers, submarines and emigrant ships, many of which involved the local population in rescues and recovery of lost cargo.
As a result of so many shipwrecks in the area, in 1836, South Devon’s Start Point Lighthouse was built to alert ships to the danger of Start Point and its surrounding rocks. However, this didn’t stop the heavy loss of life associated with great storms and even submarine gunfire during the wars. One such storm which had a catastrophic outcome was the Great Blizzard of 1891, during which at least seven ships were lost at Start Point alone with very few survivors.
As a consequence of these shipping disasters, the boom in ship building and repairs in the Port of Dartmouth flourished.
Cargoes lost over the centuries on South Devon’s rocks range from china clay, timber, tea, tin, coal, clothing, bricks, jewels and silver. One significant wreck near Start Point found by a group of local divers still contained its precious cargo of Islamic gold coins, jewellery, gold ingots and nuggets dating back to 1635.
But this treasure was outclassed by their subsequent find of a nearby wreck site where over a period of time a collection of Bronze Age axe heads and rapiers together with a still brilliant gold torque dating from circa 3,000 years ago was found. The artifacts proved there was a shipping trade dating from this period, leading to the rewriting of history books. Some of the finds can be seen in the British Museum.