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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]