Found July 1914.

In a bottle:

Angus–all hands–mutiny–collision with foreign barque.

The handwriting was identified as belonging to the second engineer of disappeared Hull trawler the Angus by his landlady, who produced letters from him as evidence. The landlady thought the note to be genuine, but could not explain the word “mutiny” as the crew were “very friendly”.

[Aberdeen Journal, 11 July 1914]

To the Foaming Deep

Found January 1861, on the beach at South Shields.

In a bottle:

North Sea, Feb. 2, 1860 — Dear Friends, — When you find this the crew of the ill-fated ship Horatia and Captain Jackson, of Norwich, is no more. We left Archangel on the 8th of January, all well; on the 2nd of February we hove to under close-reefed topsails, after scudding before the gale for 10 day; we have not been below for six days. A Norwegian brig hove to for our assistance. Four men got into the jolly boat, but after leaving a sea struck her, and sank her, and the four men were lost. Our crew consisted of eight men, master and mate, second mate, and two boys. When I am writing this, I have just left the pumps. We are not able to keep her up — 8 feet of water in the hold, and the sea making breach clear over her. Our hatches are all stove in, and we are worn out. Our master made an observation to-day. We are in 60 North lat. ; wind, N.E. I write these few lines, and commit them to the foaming deep in hopes they may reach some kind-hearted friend who will be so good as to find out the friends of these poor suffering mortals. I am a native of London, from the orphan school — John Laing, apprentice. We are called aft to prayers, to make our peace with that great God, before we commit our living bodies to that foam and surf. Dear friends, you may think me very cool, but, thank God, death is welcome. We are so benumbed and fatigued that we care not whether we live or die. John Ross, John Thompson, James Lee, Jos. Brig took the boat on the 21st of January.— William Ham, chief mate; Thomas Wilson, second mate; John Laing, and Frederic Maff, apprentices.

Although this detailed message was widely published around the UK, no further information regarding the Horatia (or Horatio, according to some newspapers) was found.

[The Times, 9 January 1861]

Clinging to the Mast

Found 15 March 1897, on beach between Hartlepool and Seaton Carew.

On a piece of strong paper:

Foundered off Holy Isle, the S.S. Elsie. Six lives lost. Four survivors clinging to the mast…

The remainder of the message was torn away, with only a single further word visible: “soon”. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the Northumberland coast, around 80 miles north of the beach where the message was found.

[Hartlepool Mail, 16 March 1897]

A Harbour I Will Never See

Found February 1865, near Silloth, Solway Firth, Cumbria.

In a bottle:

My dear wife — My vessel, the Caledonia brig, of Belfast, is about to go down. I am running her for the Isle of Man; but a harbour I will never see. My men are all reconciled to their Heavenly Father’s will. My dear wife, I am leaving you in sore distress, with a heavy charge, but I know that the Lord will fulfil his promises to you; you have long sought Him. I have my Shipwrecked Mariners’ Fund cards all with me. I now leave you, my dear wife and children, to the Lord. Them that find this letter hoping they will send it to Belfast to the News-Letter Office. — John Nisbett.

A year later, at a meeting of the Shipwrecked Mariner’s Society in Belfast, it was announced that, “a widow named Nisbett, residing in Belfast, whose husband was a subscriber to the society, obtained relief for herself and children to the amount of £13 9s 3d, and will have a small grant annually while the children are unable to provide for themselves.” Mrs Nisbett had provided the Society with her husband’s letter as proof of his death.

[Belfast News-Letter, 27 February 1865 and Londonderry Standard, 17 February 1866]

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]

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]


Found November 1915, Hornsea, East Yorkshire.

On a thin piece of wood, written in indelible pencil:

S.S. Membland torpedoed, engine-room port side. Good-bye, dear.

The steamship Membland was lost while sailing from Hull to Newcastle upon Tyne, with 22 men, two women and a child. It was last seen off the Spurn Lighthouse, at the mouth of the Humber, on 15 February 1915. Wilfrid Wright, a carman, found the message on the shore, and passed it to the coastguard. No enemy ships had been sighted in the area, but several vessels had been damaged by mines, and the coastguard believed the message was genuine.

[Dundee Evening Telegraph, 25 November 1915]

The Body in a Well

Found October 1896, near Shakespeare Cliff, between Dover and Folkestone, Kent.

In a small box, found floating at the foreshore by a lad named McKeen:

I, Charles Pilcher, murdered Margaret Hutchinson on November 23rd, 1870, afterwards putting the body in a well at Norwood, which, I believe, has never been found yet, and of late I can’t sleep. I can always see her waiting for me at her pantry, that was our meeting place. To-night I have made up my mind to end my miserable existence by jumping over-board. My body will be good food for the fishes. I am not fit for anything else. So good-bye to everybody. I have no friends to weep for me. I am forsaken by all.

Inquiries at the police station in Norwood, south east London, some 26 years after the alleged murder, found no recollection of a Margaret Hutchinson being reported missing, nor of a body being discovered in the district. “It was pointed out by the old inspectors,” reported the Canterbury Journal, “that Norwood had entirely changed in character during the last quarter of a century. Thousands of new houses had been erected, new roads made, and wells built over. Most wells had entirely disappeared since that time.”

[Illustrated Police News and Canterbury Journal, 10 October 1896]

Love From Hubert

Found 6 January 1907, on the shore near Ulverston, Cumbria.

In a stout bottle, on a piece of ordinary envelope:

Finder please give this to relatives of Bertha Magnussam, Wavertree, Liverpool, England. Love from Hubert, and good-bye.

Inquiries were being made by the Liverpool police.

[Lancashire Evening Post, 10 January 1907]

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