God Help Us

Found December 1898, on the beach at Troon, South Ayrshire

In a bottle, a note scribbled in pencil:

Schooner Lizzie foundering off Corsewall Point. God help us.

Corsewall Point is 40 miles south of Troon on the west coast of Scotland. No Scottish vessel named Lizzie was known to be missing, and the message was initially assumed to be a hoax. However, it was subsequently revealed to be the last dispatch from a Northern Irish vessel, from Kircubbin, County Down, across the North Channel.

The Lizzie left Maryport, Cumbria, on 22 November 1898, and was due in Kircubbin on the following day. However, it was caught in a severe gale, and was last seen heading north, apparently to seek shelter from the storm. A week later, a life-boat bearing the Lizzie’s name was washed ashore near Larne, County Antrim, around 25 miles from Corsewall Point. “No doubts are now held that the vessel foundered in the heavy gale, which, it will be remembered, caused a lot of damage to shipping at the time,” reported the Glasgow Herald.

The Lizzie had a crew of four hands, led by Captain McWhirr, who left a widow and eight children, “most of whom are young”.

[Glasgow Herald, 9 December 1898]

In the Hands of Savages

Found November 1877, on the shore at Luce Bay, Wigtownshire

In a bottle, written in pencil on a piece of paper, the writing very much faded:

On the 29th April, 1876, the ship Herclades was wrecked on the extremity of Patagonia. Crew in the hands of savages. Bring us assistance, my God. Latitude 24, longitude 21. [indistinct] Sighted a vessel.

Wigtownshire is in south west Scotland, more than 7,000 miles from the South American region of Patagonia.

[Edinburgh Evening News, 3 November 1877]

Six Inches Per Hour

Found 17 June 1879, Tayport Harbour, Fife.

In a bottle:

In latitude 58.20 N.; in longitude 1.20 E. Three days without water; ship making 6 inches per hour; cargo shifted; intends to leave the ship the first opportunity. Mary Ann, Portsoy. John Cumming, mate. — 25/5/79.

The given coordinates suggest the Mary Ann was around 150 miles east of its home port of Portsoy.

[Dundee Evening Telegraph, 18 June 1879]

Shipwrecked On Sandbank

Found February 1878, in a burn near the Firth of Forth, Scotland.

In a bottle:

Annaberga, of Plymouth. December 11th, 1877. Andrew Raine, Joseph Malley and Jules Kahm, survivors. Shipwrecked on sandbank. May God have mercy on our souls.

Even the location at which this message was found is a mystery. According to the Sheffield Independent, the message was picked up “in the Parkburn Forth”. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph said it was washed up “at Parkburn, Forth”. Other newspapers stated the location was “near Dunfermline”. Parkburn does not appear on maps, but it was most likely a burn or small river near to the Firth of Forth. Confusingly, some newspapers said the name of the vessel was Annaborga not Annaberga, the home port was Liverpool not Plymouth, and the survivors’ names were Andrew Paine, Joseph Dally and Jules Kupin. Unsurprisingly, no further record of the vessel or its crew could be found.

[Sheffield Independent and Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 4 February 1878]

Cannot Get Away

Found 8 February 1877, Birsay, Orkney.

In a bottle secured to a lifebuoy:

St. Kilda, January 22, 1877. The Pete Mubrovacki [sic], of Austria, 886 tons, was lost near this island on the 17th inst. The captain and eight of the crew are in St. Kilda, and have no means of getting off. Provisions are scarce. Written by J, Sands, who came to the island in the summer, and cannot get away. The finder of this will much oblige by forwarding this letter to the Austrian Consul in Glasgow.

The Austrian barque Peti Dubrovacki left Glasgow for New York on 11 January 1877. It capsized in bad weather six days later, around eight miles west of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides. Seven crewmembers died, and nine survived to reach the remote archipelago. The survivors were taken in by St Kilda’s residents, of whom there were around 75, and offered a share of their dwindling rations, mostly consisting of grain seeds.

On 30 January, fearing starvation, John Sands placed a message in a bottle, tied it to a lifebuoy from the Peti Dubrovacki, rigged up a small sail, and placed his “St Kilda mailboat” into the sea. Nine days later, it washed up at Orkney, more than 200 miles away. On 22 February, the navy gunboat Jackal arrived at St Kilda, the bad weather subsiding for just long enough to allow the rescue of the Austrian seamen and the delivery of biscuits and oatmeal for the residents.

John Sands was a Scottish journalist and artist. He returned to the mainland “barefoot and penniless” on board the Jackal, and later published a book about his experiences on the island, Life on St Kilda or Out of this World.

[Buckingham Advertiser, 17 February 1877, and John Sands, Life on St Kilda or Out of this World]

A Cargo of Cotton

Found 26 August 1866, Slains Castle, Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire.

In a bottle:

Ship City of New York. Sailed 6th December with a cargo of cotton, bound for Granton. Went out of her course 13th Jan. Boats all lost. Ship going down. God have mercy on our souls. — GEORGE ADAMS, carpenter.

Picked up by a gardener at the 16th century Slains Castle, more than a hundred miles north of the City of New York’s stated destination of Granton, Edinburgh. An Inman passenger liner also named City of New York was reported safe.

[Shields Daily Gazette, 1 September 1866]

Laden With Paraffin

Found July 1867, in the Sound of Sleat, west coast of Scotland.

In a bottle, on a slip of paper torn from a pocket diary.

March, Thursday, 21. Sprung a leak in the Minch–ship Diana, of Hull, laden with paraffin; no hope; ship going down. Master, John Tod.

The Minch is a strait between the west coast of Scotland and the Western Isles, north of the Sound of Sleat. In April 1867, it was reported that several casks of paraffin had drifted ashore around the Sound of Sleat.

[Inverness Courier, 27 June 1867]

Forgive Me for What I Have Done

Found 1 June 1889, off the Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides.

In a small glass bottle:

19th May, 1856–To Mrs Clunas, Burns Lane, Lerwick, Shetland.–Whaler Yoular. About my last hour. Forgive me for what I have done. May we all meet in Heaven. John Clunas, Grimt.

Discovered while hauling in nets by the crew of the fishing boat Isabella Reid, the message was passed to the superintendent of customs.

Strangely, another message from a J Clunas with a reference to Lerwick, Shetland was found in 1897.

[Aberdeen Evening Express, 3 June 1889]

100 Horses

Found 27 August 1889, East of Lossiemouth, Moray.

In a small tin box, a slip of paper:

Steamship Lady Anne, foundered at sea, N.N.E. 20 men, 100 horses, 41 passengers. To my mother at 56 Back Street, Findhorn, Mrs Smith.

The message was handed to a Mr Brander, an agent for Lloyd’s.

[Aberdeen Evening Express, 28 August 1889]

Lifting of the Body

Found February 1883, on the beach at Trondra, Shetland Islands.

In a bottle, on a torn piece of paper:

This bottle was thrown into the water at Stirling, in the river Forth, on the 15th July 1882, by one of the men who were concerned in the lifting of the body of the Earl of Crawford. The body is now, I think, rotted into clay. We lifted it with the intention of selling it, but it was published so soon that we buried it to get it out of the way.

Further text appeared to have been torn off before the message was placed into the bottle. Alexander William Crawford Lindsay was the 25th Earl of Crawford. He died in Florence, Italy, in 1880 and his body was returned to be buried in a private chapel at his family home at Dunecht House, near Aberdeen. In December 1881, it was discovered that the body had been stolen – apparently some months beforehand. It was eventually found in July 1882, buried in a shallow grave, by a rat-catcher named Charles Soutar. Although Soutar denied any involvement, and was not considered capable of having carried out the crime alone, he was charged with grave-robbing and sentenced to five years in prison.

[Dundee Evening Telegraph, 12 February 1883]