The Teignmouth Coal Boat was actually the SS Bretagne built in Christiania, Oslo in the Nylands Shipyard in 1903. On the 10th of August 1918, during the last few months of the 1st World War, she was about 4 miles N.E. of Hopes Nose, Devon, on passage from Barry to Rouen carrying a cargo of Welsh steam coal. The sea was calm in Torbay but there was a thick fog.
On an open bridge with no electronic instruments and only regular blasts on her steam whistle the crew kept a watchful eye in the surrounding fog. Suddenly, at about 10:30am, the bow of another vessel, a French steamer the Renée Marthe, loomed out of the mist and struck into the starboard quarter, fatally damaging the Bretagne.
When the ships came apart her fate was sealed. Despite the efforts of her crew, she slowly settled in the water and as the First Mate, Mr. Harry Watterson went back to get his possessions a wave slammed the door shut behind him and she sank with him still aboard. There she lay at 25 metres on a shale and sand bottom. At some point the navy swept the flimsy wooden bridge, funnel and masts which were a possible shipping hazard.
In 1966 the Bristol Aeroplane Company Branch of the British Sub-aqua Club (as known then) shared a chartered pleasure boat with the Bristol No.3 branch and departed from Teignmouth to dive a wreck known then only as the ‘Teignmouth Coal Boat‘. The wreck was usually buoyed by a local trawler on the morning and as it was about 6 miles off Teignmouth finding the buoy was a bit hit and miss particularly without modern navigation aids. Often when about 2 miles out the coast disappeared and with it any shore marks so it was all eyes to locate the buoy. On this particular day the wreck was located without problem and diving commenced.
The diving officer of that time (Ray Lewis) surfaced and asked for a rope as they had found the bell. A rope was passed and Ray disappeared with one end of it. After a few tugs it was hauled in and a barnacle encrusted lump, only vaguely bell shaped, was heaved up and over the side, shortly followed by Graham Llewellyn who had found it.
The ‘crud’ was scraped off and the words, “Bretagne 1903 Christiania” were revealed. Christiania, now named Oslo, was the name of the Norwegian town where she was built. The Bretagne had been located and the ‘Teignmouth Coal Boat’ had her rightful name restored. The bell was cleaned in a chemical bath at the local aero-engine works and came up gleaming, weighing in at 44 lbs.
It would seem that the intrepid divers who in 1966 visited the wreck of the S.S. Bretagne also known as the Teignmouth Coal Boat were not the first to take an interest in her. On the 11th June 1921 this all too brief paragraph, under the headings: LYMPSTONE / COAL FROM THE SEA, appeared in the Exmouth Journal:
A few of the fishermen have had some remarkably good luck in ‘discovering’ or rather removing coal from the sea. A good many people will remember a vessel being mined off Teignmouth during the war. The cargo consisted of a large quantity of coal and other things. By inventions of their own some of the men have been able to recover a good quantity which they have generously shared with others not so fortunate.
The above information was extracted from: