Residents in Helston, Penzance and Camborne were among those to report the quake, which struck shortly before 1am on Sunday in Mount’s Bay, close to The Lizard peninsula.
The epicentre was at a depth of 13km, with a magnitude of 2.7 on the Richter Scale, according to preliminary information, said the British Geological Survey (BGS).
A model used to gauge seismic intensity suggested the quake would cause nearby residents to feel swaying or light trembling, with the noticeable shaking of many objects.
Locals in Cornwall who reported the quake to the BGS described it as “a moderate rumbling” and “a bang and a judder, like a juggernaut had hit the house”.
Dr David Hawthorn of the BGS said it was “very common” for people to report hearing earthquakes as opposed to feeling them.
“That’s very common – it shakes things and that makes a noise,” Dr Hawthorn told BBC Cornwall. “One of the things we see very commonly is that earthquakes that occur during rush hour have much lower levels of reporting by people.
“They just assume that rumbling is a heavy goods vehicle or something falling off a shelf in the next building,” he added.