Newlyn: The Last Port for the Mayflower

We all know a little of the story of the Mayflower. Every schoolchild is told something of that famous fleet of ships that sailed to America in the last days of the summer of 1620.  And in the US I am sure that many would hope to perhaps trace their roots back to those 102 intrepid travellers. Those few who journeyed to the New World and became part of our human history.

The memorial on the Barbican, Plymouth

Setting off

The history books tell us that the fleet of 11 ships left from Plymouth, in Devon, England. And against great adversity crossed the vast, wild Atlantic ocean. A journey that took them 66 days. When they reached their new home they named the colony New Plymouth in honour of their point of departure.

But there is a small part of that famous story that the history books leave out completely.

It’s not really important in the grand scheme of things. It really adds nothing to the tale. Other than connecting my small part of the world to that great adventure.

You see Plymouth may not actually be the final port-of-call from which the Mayflower and the Pilgrims set sail.  After her departure from Plymouth she was unexpectedly forced to make one final stop before heading for the Americas.  It is thought that she dropped anchor at a tiny port in Cornwall called Newlyn.


The Last Port

Newlyn was and is a small fishing community on the southern side of Mounts Bay not far from Penzance.  It is one of the last places in Cornwall to maintain a fishing fleet of any size. Many of the crabs, lobsters and fish served in Cornwall’s popular sea food restaurants comes from this little harbour.  But Newlyn is hardly a well-known place and, apart from one small plaque high up on the wall of a house, it’s connection to the Mayflower is almost entirely forgotten.

When the Pilgrims left Plymouth as well as stocking up with the necessary dry goods the Mayflower had taken on barrels of fresh water. But their journey had hardly begun before they realised that this water was contaminated.  Fearing cholera it became vital that they find a new supply. According to the research of historian Bill Best Harris, finding themselves just off Mounts Bay, the Mayflower decided to stop at Newlyn.


A place in history

The Old Quay which still stands at Newlyn is said to be of Medieval construction. There is little doubt this is where the Mayflower would have moored up while they took on the clean water that they desperately needed.  I can’t tell you whether any of the Pilgrims came ashore to stretch their legs. Or how long the Mayflower remained in port.  In all likelihood the transaction would have been completed as swiftly as possible so that they could catch up with the rest of the fleet.


The departure point at Plymouth was destroyed long ago. But when you walk on that rough old quay at Newlyn it is possible that it is the last place that these pioneers touched ‘home’ soil before heading off to become the stuff of history!

Further reading

Who was Pirate John ‘Eyebrows’ Thomas?

Cornwall’s Leviathan

Shipwrecked on the Cornish coast

Health & safety

Just a little side note, while researching this story I visited the Mayflower steps in Plymouth which are so named in20160625_185846 commemoration of the ships departure.  While there I took a photograph of this wonderful Health and Safety notice.

I realise these are not the original steps. But it still tickled my childish sense of humour to think of those brave people setting out on their journey. A journey filled with so many unknown dangers, passing a sign warning them of slippery steps and how to stay safe at sea.  Some times the past is another planet!

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12 thoughts on “Newlyn: The Last Port for the Mayflower

  1. The pilgrims originally started their journey from Leiden in Holland in July 1620 in a boat called the Speedwell and met up with a second group on the Mayflower at Southampton a month later. The Speedwell was in such a poor state that they had to stop at Dartmouth for repairs, but on their next attempt got only as far as Plymouth before having to stop again. They decided to abandon the Speedwell, and some of the crew and passengers transferred to the larger Mayflower, which did eventually leave from Plymouth in September 1620 with 102 of the original 120 pilgrims on board.

    1. Mayflower passengers were Pilgrims, Puritans ads other co-religionists opposed to the Anglican Church of England PLUS other civilians not affiliated with the Protestants,

    2. The Mayflower originally left from London and met up with the Speedwell in Southampton. They stopped in Dartmouth because the Speedwell was leaking badly. After major repairs, the two ships left for the west. But off Cornwall, they realized the Speedwell simply wouldn’t make it, so returned to Plymouth where the Speedwell was sent back to Southampton and only the Mayflower left for the west. The story of a stop in Cornwall cannot be confirmed. I have searched all the available records and there is no proof of the stop to replace the water taken on in Plymouth. Actually, they didn’t take on much water because it was not clean. Most drinking was of beer. And there was only the one ship, the Mayflower, that made the journey. There was no fleet.

  2. I’m not sure if you’ve covered it before, but Newlyn also contains possibly the most important hut in the country – the tidal observatory hut just next to the harbour light. This is the point from which sea level is measured in the UK.

    1. Hi Bruce, I’ve not covered it myself but I know that Cornwall Live has written about it.

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