Are Starving to Death

Found 20 February 1884, near the High Level Bridge on the River Tyne.

In a bottle, written in lead pencil on rough and dirty paper:

11 Mary Terras, Middlsbro, England.
Lord come and save us poor shipwrecked seafaring men. No provision left. Are starving to death. If you don’t pick us up very soon will see dear ones no more. Captain, mate, and all drowned, but me, and Jim Rower and Pat Kelly.
Me last love to my wife Mary Anne and the bairns.
Brig Jane, Clifford, Capt.
Jan 24.
Thom. Little has written this.

[Shields Daily News, 21 February 1884]

Dying of Hunger and Thirst

Found 26 February 1881, east coast of Isle of Wight.

In a sealed medicine bottle, written on the fly-leaf from a Bible:

February 19th.
Smack Polly, of Brighton.
Dying of hunger and thirst. Are on a raft off the Needles. Samuel Solomon, master.
Do help us, for God’s sake; there are eight of us. Nets all carried away by the last storm.

The message in a bottle was picked up by a man named Ront, and passed to a Mr Beale, the Lloyd’s agent at Portsmouth. Nothing more could be learned of the matter. It was assumed that if a raft had been floating of the Needles rocks, on the western extremity of the Isle of Wight, it would have been spotted from the Needles lighthouse, “unless, indeed, it was during one of the heavy fogs.”

[Eastern Morning News, 28 February 1881]

Can Do Nothing For Her

Found December 1876, Greenses, Berwick.

In a tin box, a letter:

Schooner Regina, of Jersey, 21st December:
To whoever may find it.
H.P. Erith, Fair View Place, Gorey, Jersey.
4 p.m. – Blowing a fearful gale, sea terrible, hourly expecting to go on shore. Can do nothing for her. Tried to sail several times. She won’t bear it. Have told crew what to expect from her. God grant wind may veer in time to save us. Soundings in 27 fathoms rock, so now there is no chance. Expect to go ashore between Ferns and Coquet. No chance of saving life with this sea. Should like to see something. Weather thick. Have been lying-to two days. Have done all I can to keep her off, but can’t carry canvas. Praying that the Lord may have mercy on our souls and take us to heaven.
W. McReddy.
Tell my dear sisters I am thinking and praying for them.

Coquet is an island off Amble on the Northumberland coast, around 60 miles south of Berwick.

[Bradford Daily Telegraph, 1 January 1877]

No Sight of Land

Found April 1890, on Blatchington Beach, near Newhaven.

In a bottle, a letter:

Brig Elfrida, Captain Jones, left Glasgow April 12th, 1890.
Saturday, 19th, all sinking, no sight of land.
TOM SMITH, 40, Fellgate, Edinburgh.
Good Bye.

Elfrida was the first crowned Queen of England, as the wife of Anglo-Saxon King Edgar. There is no further record of the brig named after her.

[Braford Daily Telegraph, 26 April 1890]

All the Boys Merry

Found 5 November 1914, Brightstone, Isle of Wight.

In a bottle, on two sides of a piece of paper:

Sunday, September 10th.
From some boys of the Warwicks off for the final at Berlin. Signed T.H. Rafferty, J.H. Scott, S. Rollins, S.W. Owen, T.C.L. Rosser, T. Hubball, and B. Rawlins.
All the boys merry under strenuous conditions. Hope the finder is O.K. Write to wife and baby.
Mrs Rafferty, 8, Hailliley Street, Handsworth.

The 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment sailed from Southampton to Boulogne on board the SS Caledonia on 22 September 1914. Thomas Henry Rafferty, the writer of this message, was a tramway worker from Handsworth, Birmingham. He was married with a daughter. He was killed in action at Ypres on 25 April 1915. His body was never found.

[Birmingham Mail, 21 November 1914]

Sea Messenger

Found 25 November 1870, on the coast near Penzance, Cornwall.

In an airtight metal case with a boat-like bottom and a metal flag mounted on top:

Schooner Yacht Cambria, Nov. 26, 6.30 p.m., 1870, in lat. 49 18 N, long. 7 82 W.
Dear Sir,
We launched a ‘sea messenger’ to the deep with this enclosed. We have just finished taking third reefs in foresail and mainsail, as there is every appearance of a dirty night, but glad to say we have a fair wind—rather a new thing for us to have this passage. We had 15 days’ strong easterly winds, with high seas, from the 3rd to the 18th inst. We passed to-day, at 3.30 p.m., the American ship Enoch Talbot, bound up channel. There is every appearance now of strong westerly winds. We are going ten knots.
Yours truly,
R.S. TANNOCK, Master.

This was one of six messages contained in the “sea messenger”, launched from the Cambria as an experiment to test the new invention. Painted on the front of the metal case were instructions for it to be delivered to the nearest Lloyd’s agency, where an agent would open the case and forward the letters to their respective addresses. The case was duly delivered to Messrs Mathews, the Lloyd’s agents for Penzance, and this letter was forwarded to the address of a newspaper correspondent in Portsmouth.

“This ‘sea messenger’ is the invention of Mr Julius Vanderbergh, of Southsea, as a means of preserving papers, &c., from a ship lost, or in imminent danger of being lost, at sea,” explained the Chelsea News and General Advertiser. “If not seen and picked up by some passing vessel, the messenger will be almost certain eventually to drive on the land, and may thus convey ashore the tale of some helpless ship, whose loss, with all on board, could by no other means be learnt.” The newspaper said that the sea messenger’s capture near Penzance, and the subsequent delivery of its letters, was “evidence of perfect success”.

[Chelsea News and General Advertiser, 3 December 1870]

Three Kisses

Found 8 March 1912, on the foreshore at Thorngumbald, near Hull.

In a screw-stopper bottle, written in copying ink:

Good-bye, wife and children dear. x x x
Thomas Wiltshire.
23 Southcoates-lane, Hull, January 1st, 1912.

This message was found by James Gardner on the banks of the Humber Estuary near his home. The message was damp and the ink had smudged, making the address difficult to read. Mr Gardner’s son made enquiries in Hull but could not trace the address.

[Hull Daily Mail, 12 March 1912]

If Our Remains Be Found

Found 18 September 1889, off Eastbourne, East Sussex.

In a bottle, written in pencil on a sheet of paper:

Firefly, private yacht. February 9, 1889, off Denmark. Dear Friends whom happens to read this, we were a party of four hands all told, when we were run into by a two-master, and I am now writing these lines, which I hope will come into some person’s hands who will send help to us as soon as possible. But if by any chance any of our remains be found please let our friends know at Hastings, Sussex, England, and also the—

This abruptly-curtailed message was picked up by fisherman Phillip Swain floating in the English Channel more than 400 miles south-east of Denmark but less than 15 miles from Hastings, which the Times said was “somewhat remarkable”. A local correspondent confirmed the Firefly was missing, and, said the Times, “there is little doubt she was wrecked and her crew drowned.”

[Times, 19 September 1889]

Consigned to the Thames

Found 11 January 1905, on the Bucks Bank of the River Thames.

In a bottle:

F. James, East-street, Walworth.
Has consigned his body to the River Thames at Bourne End.
January 8th, 1905.
Signed, F. JAMES.

The message was found by Buckinghamshire Police, and a Police Constable Heater took a boat out onto the river, but found no trace of a body. Several fishermen had been on the banks of the river on 8 January, and none had seen anything suspicious. No person had been reported missing from East Street in Walworth, South London. It was considered that the message “might have been put there for a lark”.

However, on 30 April the body of an unknown man was found in the Thames near Cookham, across the river from Bourne End. PC Heater recovered the body. The coroner said there were no signs of violence, and the likely cause of death was drowning. The body had been in the water for several weeks.

Found on the deceased were two wrist straps, several buttons, a piece of pencil, a broken match box, a glazier’s diamond and a workman’s cheque. There was no name on the cheque. PC Heater made enquiries at several local glazing firms, but the man could not be identified. At an inquest held at the Bel and the Dragon Hotel, a jury returned an open verdict of “found drowned”.

[South Bucks Standard, 5 May 1905]