Inside a Cod

Found 13 February 1897, Buckie, Moray Firth.

In a lemonade bottle, inside the stomach of a large cod:

Schooner Lucio foundered eighty-six miles off Dunnet Head. God help us. — J. Clunas, Ghent, Lerwick.

A catch of 5,000 cod was being gutted at James Gerry’s Buckie fish-curing yard when this “remarkable discovery” was made. As reported by the Sheffield Independent: “On one large cod being opened a lemonade bottle, tightly corked, and bearing the name of Messrs. J. Hassack and Co., Elgin, was found in its stomach.” Inside the bottle was a leaf of paper that had apparently been hastily torn from a pocket book, bearing a message from J. Clunas. Dunnet Head is on the north coast of Scotland, near to John O’Groats and around 75 miles north of Buckie. The references to Ghent and Lerwick suggest the vessel could have been sailing from Belgium to the Shetland Islands.

[Sheffield Independent, 15 February 1897]

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]

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]

I Know I Cannot Escape

Found July 1861, western coast of Uist, Outer Hebrides.

In a bottle, the leaf of a pocket book, three inches by two inches, covered on both sides in pencil marks:

On board the Pacific, from L’pool to N. York. Ship going down. Great confusion on board. Icebergs around on every side. I know I cannot escape. I write the cause of our loss that friends may not live in suspense. The finder of this will please get it published.
Wm. Graham.

The Collins Line steamer Pacific left Liverpool for New York on 23 January 1856, and was lost with all 141 crew and 45 passengers. The ship could accommodate 280 passengers, but was carrying a relatively low number during this winter crossing. It was thought to have sunk off Newfoundland. This note, found more than five years later, is the only record of its fate.

William Graham was a British sea captain travelling on the Pacific as a passenger. “The writer was evidently some person accustomed to the perils of the sea,” commented the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, “for it is difficult to understand how any person whose nerves had not been hardened by the presence of frequent and appalling dangers could have written with such manifest coolness in the immediate presence of death.”

[Bedfordshire Times and Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 30 July 1861]

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