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Crew On Half Whack

Found 10 March 1900, Parrot Bay, West Indies.

In a corked bottle:

Ship Samoena, of Greenock, latitude 21 ½ degrees north, longitude 37 degrees west, May 19th, 1899, from Portland, Oregon, to Queenstown, for orders; 130 days out, and no provisions aboard. Crew on half ‘whack’, living on cargo of wheat and do not expect to ever reach port. If this is picked up, please send word to E.S. Fardon, 11, Agnew-street, Lytham, Lancashire, England.

The message was delivered to the Lytham address on 19 April 1900 with a postscript: “Found by Robert Higgs, overseer of Parrot Bay, on the beach at S.C., on the 10th of March, 1900.” S.C. suggests South Carolina, or perhaps the Seychelles, although newspapers said the message was “cast ashore at Parrot Bay, West Indies”. “Whack” was a sailor’s food ration, so “half whack” meant half rations.

Further curiosity arises from the fact that the coordinates given in the seaman’s message place this Scottish ship bound from the west coast of America to New Zealand in the middle of the Atlantic. Could the ship have been sailing from Portland, Maine, or have been returning from Queenstown to Greenock?

What is known is that the Samoena had left Portland on Christmas Eve 1898, encountering a heavy storm, then drifting for several months. When provisions ran out, the crew ground up the ship’s cargo of wheat with a coffee mill to provide sustenance. In a moment of despair, in May 1899, able seaman Edward Stanley Fardon wrote this note and dropped it into the sea.

Almost a year later, when the message arrived in Lytham, it was received by one Edward Stanley Fardon. Several weeks after being given up as lost, the Samoena had arrived home safely with all hands. Fardon, who it was reported was no longer a seaman, was said to be “one amongst the few men who have been privileged to read, after many days, his ‘last message’.”

[Lancashire Evening Post, 8 May 1900]