The evolution of Falmouth Docks is a subject very close to my heart having spent decades researching all aspects relating to the facility. The building of the old wooden wharves is of particular interest.

Silley Cox purchased 98 acres of harbour fundus from the Duchy of Cornwall estate during the economic slump in the early 1930s.

Falmouth Harbour Commissioners gave approval to docks plans for building the new Empire wharf in November 1931. A month later the heavy lift vessel Belpareil arrived in Australia to load timber at Sydney and Brisbane for Falmouth.

Determined to support inter-Empire trade in 1931 Docks boss John Silley had placed an order worth £30,000 for Turpentine piles and decking with two Australian firms.

Turpentine, or to use its botanical name, syncarpia glomulifera, is a hard wood found on the east coast of Australia in New South Wales and Queensland. The timber is highly resistant to decay and termites and is the Australian timber most resistance to attack by marine organisms.

Turpentine marine piles are used with the bark on. The bark contains silica and other substances that give the species its unique resistance to marine borers. They can also absorb the impact of ships without cracking. I speak here with some experience being a former pilot.

The Norwegian owned Belpareil loaded a total of 295 Turpentine piles in varying lengths from 72 ft to 75ft. and weighing eight tons along with 106,000 superficial feet of sawn brush box decking at Brisbane. The Brisbane Courier reported at the time "A group of prominent citizens saw the loading on the Belpareil.

Falmouth Packet:

Unique picture of five cable ships moored alongside the Empire with steam loco working. Picture: David Barnicoa

Those present included the Minister of Lands Mr W Deacon who marked one of the piles with a hammer declaring it first class quality in the name of the Queensland Government.

The total order for the Brisbane cargo was worth £16,500. More timber was loaded in Sydney. Owned by Norwegian shipping company Belships, Belpareil was a heavy lift ship designed to carry locomotives around the globe.

She once carried 20 locomotives and tenders and 28 carriages to China. Homeward bound the ships went tramping often carrying timber cargoes.

Built in Newcastle upon Tyne 1926, the Belpariel had three heavy lift derricks with a capacity of 100 tons suitable for carrying locomotives and coaches, as well as small vessels such as tugs and barges.

A fine model of the ship is on display at Norsk Sjofartsmuseum in Oslo.

Belpareil arrived at Falmouth in February 1932 discharging her timber cargo on the Western wharf.

Local docker Charles Medlin of Wellington Terrace was struck by a log when discharging the timber and subsequently died in hospital. Work on the new 660 ft long jetty started immediately. Another fatality associated with the new wharf construction occurred in August of the same year when 25 year old Alfred Pascoe of Albany Road fell into the harbour and drowned. The cross ties and beams for the Empire wharf came from Vancouver.

The tanker British Ensign 4,389 grt under the command of Captain Davies became the first ship to berth on the newly-constructed Empire wharf in March 1933.

The 400 ft tanker was berthed by Trinity House pilot Captain Lower. The demise of the Empire jetty occurred in 2005 when it was demolished. The top decking was rotten but some of the piles themselves were in relatively good condition.

Falmouth Packet:

Belpareil discharging Australian piles at Falmouth Docks in 1932   Picture: David Barnicoat

  • Mr John Silley served his apprenticeship as a marine engineer. He was associated with the firm of Messrs Silley, Weir, and Co Ltd, ship repairers. London, and in 1910 the firm amalgamated with Messrs R and H Green, Ltd., carrying on business under the name of Messrs Green, Silley, Weir, Ltd.

With Mr Alan Hughes, in 1918 he took over the firm of Messrs Cox and Co (Engineers). Ltd.. and the Falmouth Docks and Engineering Co Mr Silley was awarded the Derry Gold Medal by the Institute of Marine Engineers, and was afterwards served two terms as president of the organisation.

Mr Silley took deep interest in the welfare of Falmouth. He supported the plan for the building of a housing suburb for his workers at Swanvale. He was president of Swanvale Association. He also built a number of small bungalows at Theydon road, which were let to aged married couples and spinsters at a rent of one shilling a week.

He presented Falmouth and District Hospital with a new X-ray apparatus and fittings a cost of £1,200. On his death in 1941 his son Jack took over the reins of the Silley Cox and Co.