Know I Died Happy

Found September 1866, Ventnor harbour, Isle of Wight.

In a corked wine bottle, stamped “Patent, Powell and Co., Bristol”:

Her first voige to England.
June 17, 1866.
The Spanish Queen, bound for Bristol with timber from Quebec, having left on the 5 of March, and owing to the rough weather, which has lasted 9 days, the old ship leaks like a sieve, and we are settling down fast. All hands are out at the pump, and the captain is ill upon deck, but is riting a note to put it in a flask. It is my last wish if this bottle is picked up that it may be published in some papers, as I have a Dear father and mother, and I should like them to know I died happy. There is no hope for us. I shall not throw this over till the last.
Hands in number, 23.
I remain yours.

The message was retrieved by William H Whitewood, who waded into the harbour up to his knees. It was photographed by Mr Frederick Hudson, and passed to the coastguard. Mr Hudson wrote to the Times, offering to send copies of the photographs to the parents of George Mills, saying, “They may prove some slight consolation to them in their bereavement.”

[The Times, 18 September 1866]

Miss Charlesworth’s Compliments

Found 11 January 1909, Wexford Bay, County Wexford.

In a tightly-corked mineral bottle:

To the press, police, and public of Ireland. Miss Violet Charlesworth presents her compliments and hopes she has not caused them any worry. Her journey from Cork to Rosslare has been very pleasant indeed, and she hopes to visit Ireland again soon. Au Revoir. This bottle was thrown through the porthole as our fine steamer was passing the great Tuskar Lighthouse. How powerful are these lights. –V.G.C.

Violet Gordon Charlesworth was a 24-year-old fraudster who, in January 1909, faked her own death in order to escape huge debts. Charlesworth had obtained tens of thousands of pounds from numerous sources by falsely claiming to be an heiress who would receive a £100,000 estate on her 25th birthday. With that date approaching, she faked her death by pretending to fall from her motor car over a cliff and into the sea at Penmaenmawr, Conwy, Wales.

Newspapers reported various apparent sightings of Charlesworth after her death, at Holyhead, Anglesey, boarding a steamer for Ireland, in Bray and then Wexford. Detectives at nearby Rosslare regarded the message as a hoax. By the end of January, Charlesworth had been found, alive and well, in Oban, Scotland. She was charged with conspiracy to obtain money under false pretences, and sentenced to five years’ hard labour.

[Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 13 January 1909]

The Sea is Offal Heavy

Found October 1892, Broadsea, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire.

In a bottle:

Oct. 7th, 1892.–At Se.–Smack Prince Wales.–Dear Mother.–We R lying to in a horaken of wind of Orknes, and the sea is offal heavy. Harly posabel to us to live in it. If I never see you anie mor God will provid for you. The two other men is keeping up with a good harth; love to all from your son, CHARLES GILBERTSON.

Newspapers called this misspelled message a “characteristic letter”.

[Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 15 October 1892]

All Well

Found 30 August 1868, San Buenaventura Beach, California.

In a water-tight bottle, written in the margins of a printed form, much mutilated:

[Printed text, in five languages:]

WHOEVER finds this paper is requested to forward it to the Secretary of the Admiralty, London, with a note of the time and place at which it was found; or, if more convenient, to deliver it for that purpose to the British Consul at the nearest Port.

[Written text:]

HMS Erebus and Terror. 28 of May 1847. Having wintered in 1846-47 at Beechey Island in Lat. 74* 43’ 23” N. Long. 91* 39’ 15” W. After having ascended Wellington Channel to Lat 77* and returned by the West side of Cornwallis Island. Sir John Franklin commanding the expedition. All well.

[Written at foot:]

Party consisting of 2 officers and 6 men left the ships on Monday, 24th May, 1847. G. M. GORE, Lieut. CHAS. F. DesVOUX, Mate.

[Written in margins:]

1848. H. M. ships Terror and Erebus were deserted on the 22nd April, five leagues N. N. W. of this, having been beset since Sept. 12, 1846. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls, under the command of Captain F. R. M. CROZIER, landed here – in lat. 69* 37’ 24”, lon. 98* 4’ 15”. A paper was found by Lieutenant IRVING under the cairn supposed to have been built by Sir JAMES ROSS in 1831, four miles to the northward, where it had been deposited by the late Commander GORE in June, 1847. Sir JAMES ROSS’ pillar has not, however, been found, and the paper has been transferred to this position, which is that in which Sir J. ROSS’s pillar was erected. Sir JOHN FRANKLIN died on the 11th of June, 1847, and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men. JAMES FITZJAMES, Captain H. M. S. Erebus. F. R. M. CROZIER, Captains and senior officer, and start on tomorrow, 26th, for Back’s Fish River.

Explorer Sir John Franklin’s fourth and final Arctic expedition set sail from Greenhithe, England, on 15 May 1845, with 24 officers and 110 men. Franklin was attempting to navigate the Northwest Passage, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific via the Arctic Ocean. The entire expedition was lost. The last recorded sighting was in late July 1845. The first traces of the expedition were found by search parties in 1850.

Numerous searches took place over the following decades, and the first note was found in 1859. Other Admiralty Forms were found, with duplicated updates scrawled in their margins, on land and at sea. It is thought that, with their ships icebound, the starving men set out onto the ice, where they were driven to cannibalism, before eventually succumbing to the elements.

[New York Times, 17 September 1869]

Please Send This to My Aunt

Found 3 August 1881, Oak Beach, Long Island, New York.

In a bottle:

YACHT MARGARET, July 14, 1881. We were wrecked in a heavy north-east wind off Faulkner’s Island soon after the sloop Commerce left us; two of the crew were washed off while furling the jib topsail. Please send this to my aunt, and address Mrs. W. H. Parsons, Rye, N. Y.

[New York Times, 7 August 1881]

Sixteen Days Without Water

Found March 1896, Waipu Cove Beach, Bream Bay, New Zealand.

In a bottle, written in pencil:

A lost and starving man’s request. – Should any person happen to find this bottle, will he be kind enough to make it known at some newspaper office that will report of what my fate has been. – i.e., lost at sea in an open boat off the coast of Australia. I am nearly exhausted for want of fresh water, and don’t know where I am. Sixteen days without water is awful. God forgive me. – ANTONY W. SHORT.

Bream Bay is in the Northland Region of New Zealand’s North Island, more than 1,200 miles from the coast of Australia.

[New Zealand Herald, 20 March 1896]

Seen Whale

Found September 1894, River Carron, Scotland.

In a bottle:

11th August, 1894. — Seen whale. Boat capsized; drowning off Dunbar. To my wife, Jeanie Bryce. God help you. Forget and forgive. — D. Bryce, Bo’ness.

The River Carron runs into the Firth of Forth, at the mouth of which sits Dunbar. Borrowstounness, commonly known as Bo’ness, is also on the south bank of the Firth of Forth.

[Aberdeen Evening Express, 4 September 1894]

A Pretty Little Boy

Found May 1873, off Scottish coast, near Dundee.

In a soda-water bottle, corked and sealed with wax, inside an 11ft shark:

On board the Beautiful Star, Sunday, 1st September, 1872.
We have cross’d the line, and all’s well. Last night the Captain’s lady had a pretty little boy.
“Heaven bless the little stranger,
Rock’d on the cradle of the deep;
Save it, Lord, from every danger,
The angels bright their watch will keep.
Oh, gently soothe its tender years,
And so allay a parent’s fears—
A father’s love, a mother’s joy;
May all that’s good attend their boy.”

The 11ft shark was one of three caught within the space of a few weeks by Scottish fisherman. The shark’s carcass was presented to the Dundee Museum, and opened in front of a large crowd. Inside were found parts of cod, dogfish and seal, a man’s bonnet, and a soda-bottle containing a note written “in a lady’s neat hand”. The bottle was smashed open, and the note was read aloud to the spectators, who took pieces of the broken bottle as souvenirs.

The Beautiful Star was an Aberdeen-built clipper that sailed between Britain and Australasia. Enquiries found the ship in Lyttelton, New Zealand, where a Captain Bilton confirmed that the captain in command in 1872 had his wife on board, and “she was confined as stated”.

[Huddersfield Chronicle, 21 February 1873]

Death Stares Us In

Found 22 March 1892, Dog Island, near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Picked up by fishing boat captain Samuel Chance, in a moss-grown, long-necked and tightly-corked bottle, hastily scrawled on a piece of wrapping paper, with $15 in paper money:

The finder, whosoever it may be, will use this money as his own. We are sinking. Death stares us in —

“Here the note breaks off, and there is no signature, neither is the name of the vessel given,” reported the New York Times. The bottle appeared to have been in the water for a “very long time”.

[New York Times, 24 March 1892]

Cold Ocean

Found 15 July 1896, on the shore near Hoylake, Merseyside.

In a bottle, on a scrap of paper:

Struck iceberg — sinking fast in cold ocean — Naronic — Young.

The White Star Line cargo steamship Naronic left Liverpool for New York on 11 February 1893. On board were 50 crew, 14 cattlemen, ten horsemen, and a cargo of livestock. The ship called at Point Lynas, Anglesey, but was never seen again. In March, the steamer Coventry spotted two of the Naronic’s empty lifeboats in an area with large quantities of ice, close to where the Titanic would later be sunk. Four other messages in bottles relating to the Naronic were found, but none could be proven to be genuine, and the ultimate fate of the vessel remains a mystery.

[Dundee Courier, 16 July 1896]

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