Latitude 50° 18.993 N
Longitude 004° 07.505 W
Depth 10m
Accuracy 5m, scattered
Location Description Shagstone
Reference NMR 1067048, UKHO N/A
Craft type Steamship
Date built 1876
Year of loss 1890
Manner of loss Wrecked
Outcome Salvaged, Abandoned
Construction Iron
Propulsion Steam
Nationality United Kingdom
Departure port Calcutta
Destination port London
Hull length 114.3m
Hull beam 12.2m
Hull displacement 3554 tons
Armament None
Crew 147
Built Alexander Stephens & Sons
Master George Westrop Brady
Owners P&O Steamship Company


Built in 1876 by Alexander Stephens & Sons in Glasgow as yard number 174 and official number 73821, the Nepaul was owned by the P&O Steam Navigation Company and used as a Royal Mail steamship.  The keel was laid as the Theodor Korner for the Deutsche Transatlantische Dampfschiffahrtgesellschaft, one of four ships laid down in Linthouse new yard originally intended for the Hamburg to New York service.  When difficulties arose because of payment, three of the ships were bought by the Hamburg Amerika Company while P&O bought the fourth hull on the stocks for £94,291.

The vessel is one of the largest ever sunk in Plymouth Sound; she was 114.3m (375.2ft) long, 12.2m (40.1ft) in beam, 9.8m (32.1ft) in depth and had a gross tonnage of 3554 tons.  The steamship was propelled by a 600hp 2 cylinder compound inverted steam engine built by the shipyard and driving a single screw she was capable of 14 knots when originally built.  In addition to carrying mail, the Nepaul could transport 117 first class and 38 second class passengers and 3168 cubic metres of cargo.

The Nepaul had a turbulent career prior to being wrecked in Plymouth Sound but her maiden voyage in May 1876 from London to Southampton, Port Said, Suez, Galle and Calcutta passed without incident.  In November 1879 she was in attendance at the wreck of the P&O vessel Hindostan that was on a voyage from Southampton to Calcutta with a general cargo and 35 passengers when she was wrecked south of Madras.  In 1882 the Nepaul saw service as a transport during the Egyptian Campaign following the bombardment of Alexandria, returning to commercial service in 1883.  In 1887 she rammed and sank the Chinese transport ship Wan Nien Ching that was anchored in the Yangtze River below Shanghai with the loss of 73 lives, a subsequent leak in her bow required the ship to dock for repairs.  While approaching Marseille on route from London to China in 1888 the Nepaul struck Battoneau Island and the shock of the accident caused the captain to have a fatal heart attack. The Nepaul was refloated then towed backwards to Marseilles for an inspection.

The last voyage of the Nepaul from Calcutta to London started on 7th November 1890 where she loaded 13,000 packages of tea, 1,500 bags of wheat, 1,000 bags of rice, five boxes of indigo, dispatches, specie and nine passengers. She was under the command of Captain George Westrop Brady, the crew of 147 were chiefly Lascars while the officers and engineers were European.  On the way she called at Colombo, Aden, Suez, Port Said and Marseilles and on December 4th she left Marseilles for Plymouth. On the 10th December at 5.10pm the Nepaul had passed the Lizard and was doing 13 knots when the Eddystone light was sighted 13 miles off. At 6.27pm there was a light easterly wind and a slight swell but shortly afterwards the weather became misty and the vessel’s speed was reduced.  On the approach to Plymouth blue lights were burnt to request a pilot to guide them in but no vessels appeared.

At 7.20pm a light was seen off the port bow that was thought to be on the west end of the Breakwater and at 7:35pm a flashing light was seen off the starboard bow. At that time the captain put the helm hard a port and claimed to have ordered the engines stopped, although the engineers on board refuted this at the tribunal held after the incident. At 7:40pm a buoy was seen off the port bow and eight minutes later, while still turning to port, the Nepaul struck the Renney Rocks to the east of the Shagstone. She hit a rock one third of the way back from the bows and swung round with her head to the south-west. The Nepaul began to rapidly take on water so the watertight doors were closed, the pumps started and the boats lowered over the side. Distress rockets and guns were fired and were heard by the Great Western steam tender Sir Walter Raleigh. The Sir Walter Raleigh, the lifeboat Escape , the pilot cutter and another mail tender the Sir Francis Drake all came to the aid of the stricken Nepaul.

The captain was concerned about the three ladies and three children on board so he sent the passengers away in one of the ship’s boats.  The passengers were transferred to the pilot cutter, then to Millbay Pier and eventually to the comfort of the Duke of Cornwall Hotel.  Also on board were the rescued crew of the steamship Rothesay which had wrecked off Galle in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on a voyage from Cardiff to Batavia (Jakarta) so they too were put on the Sir Walter Raleigh. The crew spent the night and the next day saving the specie on board and what they could of the passengers baggage and the cargo which was insured by Lloyds’ for £100,000.

The Nepaul had struck at low water so two Government tugs were sent to try and haul her off at high tide, but at 5am this plan was abandoned as the water was now over her decks. Divers from HMS Cambridge found that the Nepaul had three large holes in her bottom thought which the sea was sweeping so at 4:30pm the next day the ship was abandoned.

After the wreck, some people assumed that the light that led Captain Brady to the Shagstone was the light of the small trawler Baroda that had grounded on the reef. The wrecking of the Baroda caused a great loss for the owner and a fund was raised on his behalf.

The wreck was subsequently sold for £166 and was broken up where she lay.  The Board of Trade enquiry found Captain Brady to be at fault and suspended his Masters certificate for six months.

Diving the Nepaul

What little remains of the Nepaul is scattered across the seafloor near the Shagstone in 10m depth, though the large boulders and kelp often obscures much of it.  The wreckage is extremely broken up and mixed with that of the Baroda and the Constance, but the large winches and anchors belong to the Nepaul, as do most of the steel plates and frames.  In the past divers have also found smaller objects such as cutlery and pottery with the P&O crest.

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P&O Steam Ship Nepaul (P&O)

The Nepaul shown aground on the Shagstone, although she went aground further east (Illustrated London News)