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Fearful Hurricane

Found 28 April 1880, at junction of rivers Weaver and Mersey, near Runcorn.

In a bottle, written very legibly in pencil:

H.M.S. Atalanta, March 16. Fearful hurricane, dismasted, going down fast, off Lizard. H. Smith, boy.

The Atalanta was a British Navy training frigate, commanded by Captain Francis Stirling. The ship left Bermuda for Portsmouth carrying 281 men and boys on 31 January 1880. It was never heard from again. In April, the Navy sent the Channel Fleet to search for the Atalanta. No trace was found, and it was thought the ship must have sunk in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, where heavy weather had been reported at the time of the disappearance. However, the Lizard, mentioned in this message, is a peninsula — notorious for shipwrecks — in southern Cornwall. If the message was genuine, the Atalanta had sailed for some 3,200 miles from Bermuda, and had sunk with 250 miles of its destination.

On 5 May 1880, a small piece of wood was found at Dalkey near Dublin bearing a short message: “HMS Atalanta going down, with all hands on board, in latitude 48.60. Signed J. Steward.” The given latitude runs around 50 miles south of the Lizard. There were four Smiths on board the Atalanta, although none with the initial H. One RW Smith was named among the list of the missing as “boy writer”. There was no one named J Steward on board, although there was a JJ Cooper listed as “boy steward”.

[Liverpool Mercury, 29 April 1880, London Evening Standard, 26 April 1880 and Portsmouth Evening News, 8 May 1880]