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]

Advertisements

All the Boys Merry

Found 5 November 1914, Brightstone, Isle of Wight.

In a bottle, on two sides of a piece of paper:

Sunday, September 10th.
From some boys of the Warwicks off for the final at Berlin. Signed T.H. Rafferty, J.H. Scott, S. Rollins, S.W. Owen, T.C.L. Rosser, T. Hubball, and B. Rawlins.
All the boys merry under strenuous conditions. Hope the finder is O.K. Write to wife and baby.
Mrs Rafferty, 8, Hailliley Street, Handsworth.

The 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment sailed from Southampton to Boulogne on board the SS Caledonia on 22 September 1914. Thomas Henry Rafferty, the writer of this message, was a tramway worker from Handsworth, Birmingham. He was married with a daughter. He was killed in action at Ypres on 25 April 1915. His body was never found.

[Birmingham Mail, 21 November 1914]

The Walrus is Sinking

Found 27 June 1911, on the beach west of Pointgarry, North Berwick.

In a bottle, legibly written on a piece of paper:

Will the finder of this message communicate with 25 Kirkgate, Leith? The Walrus is sinking, Good-bye.
J. Flint.

According to the Scotsman newspaper, enquiries made in Leith “failed to throw any light on the message”.

[Scotsman, 28, 29 June 1911]

Down Under (or Drowned)

Found August 1917 on southern shore of the Isle of Man.

A document, much damaged by seawater, in a bottle:

“Will finder kindly communicate with friends of N. Mooney and J. Finegan (of Tring). They are down under (or drowned) between Pembrey and Fishguard.
R.P.”

The two names were “much-blurred” and difficult to decipher. “R.P.” was perhaps “R.I.P.” The message was passed to police.

[Lincolnshire Echo, 231 August 1917]

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.
HAWKER”

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]

Sea Messenger

Found 25 November 1870, on the coast near Penzance, Cornwall.

In an airtight metal case with a boat-like bottom and a metal flag mounted on top:

Schooner Yacht Cambria, Nov. 26, 6.30 p.m., 1870, in lat. 49 18 N, long. 7 82 W.
Dear Sir,
We launched a ‘sea messenger’ to the deep with this enclosed. We have just finished taking third reefs in foresail and mainsail, as there is every appearance of a dirty night, but glad to say we have a fair wind—rather a new thing for us to have this passage. We had 15 days’ strong easterly winds, with high seas, from the 3rd to the 18th inst. We passed to-day, at 3.30 p.m., the American ship Enoch Talbot, bound up channel. There is every appearance now of strong westerly winds. We are going ten knots.
Yours truly,
R.S. TANNOCK, Master.

This was one of six messages contained in the “sea messenger”, launched from the Cambria as an experiment to test the new invention. Painted on the front of the metal case were instructions for it to be delivered to the nearest Lloyd’s agency, where an agent would open the case and forward the letters to their respective addresses. The case was duly delivered to Messrs Mathews, the Lloyd’s agents for Penzance, and this letter was forwarded to the address of a newspaper correspondent in Portsmouth.

“This ‘sea messenger’ is the invention of Mr Julius Vanderbergh, of Southsea, as a means of preserving papers, &c., from a ship lost, or in imminent danger of being lost, at sea,” explained the Chelsea News and General Advertiser. “If not seen and picked up by some passing vessel, the messenger will be almost certain eventually to drive on the land, and may thus convey ashore the tale of some helpless ship, whose loss, with all on board, could by no other means be learnt.” The newspaper said that the sea messenger’s capture near Penzance, and the subsequent delivery of its letters, was “evidence of perfect success”.

[Chelsea News and General Advertiser, 3 December 1870]