Shipwreck Mystery Solved!

Finally we have solved the mystery of the shipwreck we pass on our Helford River Cruise and maybe even found the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s novel.

The boat is called the ‘Iron Duke’ and was owned by mariner, artist and adventurer Percy ‘Powder’ Thurburn and was moored up on the creek in 1919 or 1920 and has remained in Watering Place ever since.

Powder, as he was known, was born in London, lived in Brixham in Devon and served in Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Royal Naval Patrol during the First World War.

Just like the heroine in Daphne du Maurier’s novel ‘Frenchman’s Creek,’ Powder and his partner Ann escaped London and Brixham in search of a place to live that was private and had access to the sea.

Pine Trees protecting Powder's House

Powder came up the Helford River turned down Frenchman’s Creek mooring up at ‘Watering Place’ beside the quay. Later he would build a wooden hut with a comical weather vane  – a model of a little house with a man who came out when the weather was bad and a woman who came out when the forecast was good!


When Powder moored up in 1919 or 1920 there was just an area of gorse, bracken and scrub land at the mouth of Frenchman’s Creek, known as ‘The Downs. ‘ He decided to rent the land and later bought it.

He built a wooden house with no telephone, gas or electricity! He planted wild daffodils, violets, honeysuckle, primroses and yellow coarse in the garden for Ann. About twenty years before his death in 1961 he donated the house and garden to the National Trust.

The pine and eucalyptus trees, at the mouth of Frenchman’s Creek were planted by Powder in order to shelter the house from the North wind.

All details are from the book: The Artist Who Loved Boats, Percy ‘Powder’ Thurburn by Tom Cross, David Hale and Pin Armitage.

Helford River Cruises view down Frenchman's Creek

Cruising along the Helford River in the Hannah Molly – magical!


Helford River Cruises offer hour and half cruises daily along Port Navas Creek, Helford River and Frenchman’s Creek. Champagne Cruises and Private Charters are available too. Contact us for availability.