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Lifeboats upset

Found 18 September 1920, in the water off Pier 1, Hoboken, New York.

In a bottle, written in pencil on blue note paper:

3 P.M.
Four lifeboats upset, twelve passengers and eight of crew lost. Water, food and whiskey giving out. The bottle in which this message is found contained the last water we had. Two cases of whiskey and canned goods left, which will keep the rest alive about one day. This is our only way of calling for help. We hope this will be picked up and will bring aid.
– Captain H, W. Dodge, per second mate J.B. Bulton, Chicago, Ill. Vessel the Hepigon.

A further message suggested that the Hepigon had been shelled and sunk by a German raider on 14 July 1915, 24 miles southeast of Norfolk, Virginia. 47 people were killed in the attack, and the remaining 21 passengers and 35 crew had escaped into seven lifeboats, in rough seas, rain and fog. However, no record could be found of the Hepigon (or Nepigon), and it was concluded that the message was “probably deposited in the waters of New York bay by someone with a twisted sense of humour”.

[Sun and New York Herald, 19 September 1920]


I Was Shot Last Night

Found 25 April 1897, floating in Snake River at Weiser, Idaho.

In a bottle:

April 10, 1897.
I was shot last night by an unknown party. I am mining on Snake river at Big Bend. I am dying.
Yours, W. C. Cook.

Snake River’s gold deposits attracted many placer miners, most of whom who lived and worked alone along the river. “Ten days ago an attempt to murder one of these miners was made at another point in the river,” reported the Ravalli Republican. “In this instance, the victim was left for dead but survived. The motive was robbery, and if there is anything in this story told by the bottle, it is probably another case in which a lone miner has been attacked for the gold which he has accumulated.”

[Ravalli Republican, 28 April 1897]

Accident to Plane

Found May 1919, three miles south of Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island.

In a bottle:

“May 19, 1919. 1:34 a. m.–Accident to plane and I am drifting in a collapsed boat, latitude 51 degrees 36 minutes north, longitude 15 degrees 30 minutes east.

Harry Hawker was a famous Australian aviator who was known to be attempting, with navigator Kenneth Mackenzie Grieve, to complete the first transatlantic flight in his experimental Sopwith Atlantic plane. The first pilot to cross the Atlantic within 72 hours stood to win a prize put forward by the Daily Mail of £10,000.

Hawker left Newfoundland on 18 May 1919. On the following day, the plane’s engine overheated, and Hawker diverted his course towards the shipping lanes, where he and Grieve were picked up by Danish freighter the Mary.

The Mary did not have a radio, so the world did not know what had happened to Hawker until after he reached Scotland around 26 May. In the meantime, Hawker’s message was considered to be of “very doubtful origin”. Hawker’s plane did carry a lifeboat, but Hawker did not publicly mention sending a message in a bottle.

Hawker was subsequently awarded a £5,000 consolation prize from the Daily Mail, and went on to name his daughter Mary after the ship that rescued him. He died in an aircrash in 1921, aged 32.

[Washington Times, 25 May 1919]

Nine of Us in an Open Boat

Found September 1902, Humbolt Bay, north coast of California.

On a rough scrap of paper, in a bottle:

“4 a. m., January 2.–Wrecked from the steamer Walla Walla off the coast of Cape Mendocino. Nine of us in an open boat. Death stares us in the face.
A. E. WILLIAMS, “A Passenger.”

The Walla Walla had been wrecked nine months earlier 11 miles off Cape Mendocino, near Humbolt Bay, after being rammed by an unidentified boat. 79 drowned, 29 were recorded as missing, and around 120 survived. Passenger lists showed AE Williams was among the missing.

[Hawaiian Star, 17 September 1902]

Kept There by Force

Found 29 July 1901, Bath Beach, Brooklyn, New York.

In a bottle:

July 27, 1901.
Dear sir or madam—If you find this note I wish you would tell the police that I am in a cabin in Bath Beach and kept there by force. I remain yours truly, B. VIOLET CULLEM,
No. 209 East Fourteenth street, N. Y.

The message was found on the beach at the foot of 17th Avenue by a young woman, who handed it to an employee of a nearby hotel. It was then passed to police, who made a search of the area and took a launch out to search yachts. No trace was found. “The message is believed to have been placed in the bottle by a thrilling newspaper reporter who was anxious to get a sensational story,” said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which reported that local residents were “considerably annoyed” following a spate of bogus newspaper stories centred on Bath Beach, and considered the message a “pure fake”.

The address given with the message was a boarding house for theatrical groups, but there was no resident named Violet Cullem. However, as the Daily Eagle reported, “A few days ago, a young woman whose Christian name was Violet had made arrangements to board there, but she did not arrive.”

[Daily Eagle, 29 July 1901]

The Last Voyage of Daniel Collins

In November 1824, 15 months after trapper Hugh Glass endured the grizzly bear attack portrayed in The Revenant, and four years after whaler Owen Chase saw his ship smashed to pieces by the giant beast that inspired Moby Dick, a mariner named Daniel Collins set off on an extraordinary voyage that would become another survival adventure for the ages.

The Last Voyage of Daniel Collins is a feature-length article telling the true story of how a U.S. mariner survived a shipwreck, a pirate attack and an epic journey home.

The article is based on From A Blood-Red Sea: The Last Voyage of Daniel Collins, the new book by Paul Brown, author of Messages from the Sea.

You can read the full article at Medium.

From A Blood-Red Sea

Daniel Collins sailed out of Wiscasset, Maine, for Matanzas, Cuba, in November 1824. It was his first voyage as a merchant seaman, and it would also be his last. His ship, the Betsey, was wrecked in a terrible storm, and Collins and his crewmates were left adrift in a leaking lifeboat, in shark-infested waters, a hundred miles from land.

After a torturous few days with no water or provisions, they reached a remote island, where they were brutally attacked by a savage band of pirates. Collins was horribly injured, but he escaped, alone, through water “colored with blood”. Then, with astonishing courage and determination, Collins began an epic journey across land and sea in a desperate effort to escape from the pirates, to reach civilization, and to find a way home.

From A Blood-Red Sea: The Last Voyage of Daniel Collins is the new book by Paul Brown, author of Messages from the Sea. A non-fiction historical survival adventure, it’s recommended for fans of The Revenant and In the Heart of the Sea. It’s available as an Amazon Kindle eBook, a 99p / 99c “Single Shot” (longer than a magazine article, shorter than a full-length book, 12,000 words = approx. 70 mins reading time).

Get book: Amazon UK Amazon US Worldwide

In Frail Boats

Found 15 May 1899, Portage Bay, Alaska.

In a bottle, on a Northern Pacific Steamship memorandum form used by a Hong Kong shipping agent:

S.S. Pelican.
Latitude 50 north, longitude 175 west.
The ship is sinking. We are leaving her in frail boats. Please report us.
M.T. PATTERSON, Chief Officer.
Port Townsend, Wash., U.S.A.

The Pelican was a Glasgow-built Northern Pacific Steamship Company steamer. It left Port Gamble, Washington, for Taku, Beijing, on 3 October 1897 and was never seen again. The ship was listed by Lloyd’s as missing on 9 February 1898. It was thought to have sunk during a gale.

Then in September 1911, a schooner named Saucy Lass returned from the Bering Sea to its home port of Victoria, British Columbia, with news of the Pelican. Islanders on Akutan, one of the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, had found four skeletons lying on the rocks just above the water line. The skeletons appeared to be wearing Northern Pacific Steamship uniforms. It was speculated that the unfortunate crew of the Pelican had managed to reach shore, “only to perish of exhaustion”.

[San Francisco Call, 31 May 1899]

Leaking Badly

Found 23 July 1883, off Long Island, New York.

In a bottle, picked up by Captain Chase of the steamer General Bartlett:

Schooner Smuggler leaking badly. Seine boats gone. Can’t keep afloat much longer. If this is found send news to Gloucester. Off Cape Elizabeth, July 15.

From Gloucester, Massachusetts, the 1877 schooner Smuggler was regarded as one of the most handsome schooners ever built. Although the Smuggler did become grounded on a ledge in July 1888, it was freed on the following day, and proceeded on its journey apparently undamaged. This message was therefore either an over-panicked dispatch or a hoax.

[New York Times, 24 and 25 July 1883]

Rewarded for Their Kindness

Found 8 November 1895, Cape Charles, Virginia.

In a securely sealed bottle:

Off Cape Fear, July 19, 1895, bark Julia A. Marks, leaking badly, nearly sunk; bound from Baltimore to Cuba; may have to leave here any time. If not heard from, please report this to Collector of Customs at Baltimore, where we cleared from. She hailed from Bath, Me. Please inform my family in Portland. The one finding this will be rewarded for their kindness. Capt. John Marks.

The message was found on the beach by a drug clerk named AH Bowie. Newspapers noted that no vessel named Julia A Marks had recently sailed from Baltimore, and no vessel by that name was mentioned in the Record of American and Foreign Shipping. However, the writer of the message may actually have given the name of the vessel and his own name as captain: “Julia A, Marks”.

[New York Times, 10 November 1895]