Latitude 50° 18.267 N
Longitude 004° 06.624 W
Depth 5 - 15m
Accuracy 5m
Location Description Mewstone Ledges
Reference NMR 919778
Craft type Paddle steamship
Date built 1843
Date of loss 13th October 1954
Manner of loss Wrecked
Outcome Abandoned
Construction Iron
Propulsion Steam, paddle
Nationality United Kingdom
Hull displacement 806 tons
Armament None
Crew 31
Built Vernon & Co. Ltd.
Master Captain Rochford
Owners Cork Steamship Company


The 806 ton passenger steamship Ajax was built in Liverpool in 1843 by Vernon & Co. at a cost of £32000.  Her 400 h.p. engine supplied by Berry, Coutis & Co. drove the steamer’s two side paddlewheels yet she also carried a schooner rig in case the engine failed.  Operated by the Cork Steamship Company, the Ajax ran the route from London to Cork with a stop in Plymouth and was considered the finest steamer on the line.  The vessel could transport over 300 passengers and finish the journey in less than 30 hours, making it a very popular vessel.

On Thursday 12th October 1854, the Ajax departed Gravesend for Cork with 31 crew and 350 passengers.  On her final voyage Captain Tooker, her regular master, was taken ill and replaced by Captain Rochford, who only 3 months before had wrecked the steamer Minerva off the Skerries.  As the Ajax approached the Mewstone around half past four on the 13th the weather was fine and clear with flat seas.  The second mate noticed that the ship was steaming closer to shore than he thought safe and informed the captain.  Rochford ignored the advice and rebuked the second mate, just as the ship drove upon the well known and charted rock ledge that lies 150 yards off the south west corner of the Mewstone.

The vessel struck a pointed rock about 10ft from her bow which tore a hole in her iron hull flooding the forward compartment. The captain ordered the engineer to reverse the engines but having seen that there was more than four feet of water in the hold the engineer refused to do so, as that would have caused the ship to sink in deep water giving no time for the passengers to escape.

The passengers panicked when they realized that the Ajax was aground, fortunately the chief officer Mr. Steele managed to control the crowd and supervised an orderly evacuation. Boats came out from the Sound and from Millbay Pier to help rescue the passengers and crew, the passengers were safely transferred to Millbay and despite the problems no loss of life occurred.

With the passengers safely evacuated, the crew remained alongside the Ajax in another steamship to await the next high tide.  Though the captain was certain that the Ajax could be floated by the morning the ship had settled and all efforts to pull the Ajax off of the rocks had failed.  By midday her foremost funnel and standing rigging had fallen over, she had split in two so the vessel was declared a total loss.

Despite calm wind conditions and fine weather, the ship was wrecked on a well known hazard to shipping.  Amazingly, Captain Rochford would later be cleared of blame at a board of inquiry and later took command of another steamship.

In a sad postscript to the accident, on the 1st March 1866 the fishing vessel Matilda was passing the Mewstone when she collided with one of the engines of the Ajax, such was the speed of her sinking that only one of the crew of three survived. In November 1871 the Dab would suffer the same fate. The fishing vessel was found impaled on the engines of the Ajax and her three crew lost.

Diving the Ajax

The wreck lies on the north-east side of the Mewstone Ledge, scattered over an area more than 100m x 100m in depths from 5m to 15m. Wreckage in the area is from a number of ships including the Rothesay and Matilda so it is difficult to identify which is which. The site also buts up against the Mewstone cannon site which lies a little to the south. The seabed is rock reef topped with thick kelp and the ironwork from the wrecks is covered with weed so its hard to tell wreckage from rocks.

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Not the Ajax but a similar ship, the Sirius



Mewstone Ledge
Mewstone Submarine