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Exploring Falmouth and the naval history behind Return of the Obra Dinn


This piece contains spoilers for Return of the Obra Dinn.

Waves lap gently against the struts of the pier as seagulls wheel, dive, and caw overhead. Halyards on anchored sailboats gently clink in time with the movements of the water. A gentle rumble emanates from the engines of the docked Merchant Navy vessels, underscoring the whole scene.

This is the harbour of Falmouth as it exists today. Situated at the mouth of the River Fal it remains a busy and important shipping hub for England’s South West corner. Looking out from the pier towards the docks on a drizzly Saturday morning it’s not hard to imagine the haunted corpse of a single ghost ship slowly drifting in to port. This is how Return of the Obra Dinn begins, the titular ship borne into the bay with damaged sails and a slaughtered crew. The player is hired by the East India Company to investigate the grizzly fate of the ship’s crew and find out just how this came to pass.

Set as it is during the early 1800’s, Return of the Obra Dinn presents with us a period of naval history rife with intrigue and spectacle. Cornwall and Falmouth in particular fast became a hub for the activities of the British navy and the East India Company. Falmouth was an integral part of the Post Office’s Packet Service from around 1690 onward. From it, packet ships were dispatched to all over the British Empire delivering important messages. This often involved running from privateer ships or those of Britain’s enemies, who were numerous in this period given the British’s love for going to war with just about anyone.