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]

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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]

Lifeboat No. 2

Found August 1886, off Howth, near Dublin

In a soda water bottle, written on scraps of an envelope:

July 21st, 1886, Britannia, Liverpool, Captain Dawson, sinking fast, heavy sea from Rio [de] Janeiro, passenger lost, pray for us, lifeboat No. 2.
Left June 28, frightful weather, sinking.

The background to this message is unclear. There was a Cunard ocean liner named Britannia, but this had been sunk in 1880 after being sold by Cunard to the German Navy. A White Star liner named Britannic [sic] was involved in a major collision during fog in 1887, and 12 passengers were lost, although the ship survived. And the Pacific Steam Navigation Company’s Britannia grounded in Rio de Janiero in 1895. None of these vessels would seem to be Dawson’s Britannia.

[Cardiff Times, 7 August 1886]

Down to Plimsoll’s Mark

Found 12 January 1877, on the shore at Occumster, Caithness

In a bottle:

My Dear Wife and Son.
We are laid-to in the North Sea, about one hundred miles westward of the Holman, with our main hatch stove in and gangways gone. The sea is fearful; it is washing in and out of the main hatchway, and washing the linseed out of the hold. It happened at four a.m. this morning. My dear, we have the boat swung out all ready for lowering, but we dare not for the sea. There is no water in the after hold, and the engine is going ahead to pump the water out, but I am afraid it is to no purpose. I don’t think we shall live the night out. Pray to God to forgive us our sins, for we have many. My dear wife and son, it is a painful thing to write to you both and say that I expect every moment to be my last. The ship was too deep—down to Plimsoll’s mark. Ships ought not to be allowed to load so deep. Good day, and God bless you all; and I hope He will protect you. Tell John to be a good boy, and keep honest and sober.
Your affectionate husband JOHN COOK, Chief Mate S.S. Wells, of Hull, 130 Day Street, Hull.
P.S. Kind love to all.

The Wells left the Baltic Sea port of Memel (now Klaipeda) for its home port of Hull on 17 December 1876. When it did not arrive, “the gravest fears” were entertained for the ship and its crew of 22 men. This message confirmed those fears.

After it was published in newspapers, the ship’s owners sought to assure the public that the Wells had not been overloaded, and had in fact been carrying less cargo than usual since the addition of its Plimsoll Line. The message, they said, could not have drifted to its finding place, and must therefore be a hoax.

However, wrapped around the cork of the message’s bottle was found a small piece of newspaper torn from the Newcastle Journal in Newcastle upon Tyne, from the edition dated 29 November 1876 – the date the Wells had sailed out of the Tyne. This was regarded as “rather curious confirmation” that the message was genuine, and that the Wells was indeed lost.

[Shields Gazette 4 January 1877, Middlesbrough Gazette 24 February 1877]

You can read more about the Wells and the Plimsoll Line in the Messages from the Sea book.

All Hands Will Perish

Found February 1879, on the sands at Craster, Northumberland

In a bottle:

The Mary Jane, of Dover, bound from Glasgow for New Zealand, was wrecked 300 miles off the coast of England. It is supposed all hands will perish. There is a heavy sea, and crew in small open boats.
T. SNAITH, captain.

The Berwickshire News and General Advertiser said this message stated the Mary Jane “was wrecked 300 miles off the coast of New Zealand”, not England, and therefore concluded it must be a hoax as it could not have drifted such a distance. But this seems to have been based on a transcription error, as in the first publications of the message, in the Sunderland Echo and Shields Gazette a week earlier, the ship “was wrecked 300 miles off the coast of England”, and there was no suspicion of a hoax.

[Sunderland Echo and Shields Gazette, 18 February 1879, Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, 25 February 1879]