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]

Get the Messages from the Sea book

Three Kisses

Found 8 March 1912, on the foreshore at Thorngumbald, near Hull.

In a screw-stopper bottle, written in copying ink:

Good-bye, wife and children dear. x x x
Thomas Wiltshire.
23 Southcoates-lane, Hull, January 1st, 1912.

This message was found by James Gardner on the banks of the Humber Estuary near his home. The message was damp and the ink had smudged, making the address difficult to read. Mr Gardner’s son made enquiries in Hull but could not trace the address.

[Hull Daily Mail, 12 March 1912]

Get the Messages from the Sea book

Aleppo in Sinking Condition

Found June 1870, on the shore of the Maharees, near Castlegregory, County Kerry, Ireland.

On a waiter’s card in a bottle:

Cunard steamer Aleppo in a sinking condition; boats left her at 9.10pm; gale of wind.
N. Mathieson.

[On the back]

Much haste.

This message was quoted in a letter published in the Cork Examiner on 14 June 1870. The letter was signed by teacher Timothy Flaherty, who claimed to be in possession of the waiter’s card. It seemed the SS Aleppo, which carried 639 passengers, had been lost.

However, on the following day, the Examiner published the following correction:

“We received yesterday a letter signed by Timothy Flaherty, National Teacher, which purported to announce the finding of a bottle off the Kerry coast, containing a brief note setting forth the sinking of the Cunard steamer Aleppo. The communication, which bore the Tralee postmark, had sufficient vraisemblance, and in the absence of definite information respecting the whereabouts or position of the vessel, it was inserted. At an hour too late for correction we were informed of the safe arrival of the Aleppo. Whether there is such a correspondent as Timothy Flaherty, whether the original missive is in his possession, whether the ‘message from the sea’ was written by some lively passenger on board the steamer, or whether the whole thing was the composition of some unfeeling scoundrel, measures are being taken to ascertain.”

Five days later, the newspaper printed a second letter from Timothy Flaherty asserting that, while the message from the sea had “turned out to be a canard”, his first letter had been genuine:

“The card which conveyed the intelligence was put into my hands on the 12th by a fisherman named Maurice Spillane, having been picked up by him the previous day on the coast. As similar revelations from the deep have been washed ashore in other localities, and as the matter was one which involved a good deal of public interest, I concluded that the better course was to give it publicity with the view of eliciting, if correct, a confirmation thereof; or if false, an authoritative contradiction. At the request of Constable Gorman, I have placed the original docket in his hands. The bottle which contained it bore the letter P on the outside of the bottom.”

[Cork Examiner 14, 15 & 20 June 1870]

Get the Messages from the Sea book

Remains of the Dundee Whaler

Found 8 March 1909, on the beach near Coldingham, Berwickshire.

In a bottle:

Captain or anyone who receives this message shall receive the remains of the Dundee whaler Snowdrop, collided with iceberg. No hope. 14th November 1908.

The Snowdrop left Dundee on 23 April 1908 to hunt whales in the Davis Strait, between Greenland and Canada in the Arctic Circle. The ship was the smallest whaling vessel in its fleet, with a crew of just ten, including the ship’s owner (and harpooner) OC Forsyth Grant, its captain and expert Arctic navigator James Brown, and a 17-year-old Eskimo named Inear. The ship was last reported safe and well on 8 June 1908. Nothing else was heard until the arrival of this message, which confirmed suspicions that the Snowdrop had been lost in the Arctic.

Then, on 16 September 1909, with the ship missing for over a year, a telegram was received from Indian Harbour, Labrador. The telegram reported the arrival there of a young man named Alexander Ritchie, an able seaman, and a member of the crew of the Snowdrop.

Ritchie explained that the ship had been lost in the Frobisher Strait on 18 September 1908, but the crew had escaped into a boat, which had drifted for several days before reaching Baffin Island. There, the crew had found an Eskimo village, where they spent the winter “on the verge of starvation” but cared for by the friendly natives. In the spring, Ritchie had crossed the hundred-mile part-frozen strait between Baffin and Labrador by foot, dogsled and boat in order to seek help.

The schooner Jeanie sailed to Baffin Island to rescue the crew, and returned to Labrador on 25 September 1909. However, one man was missing. John Morrison had set off with Ritchie to cross the strait, but had suffered severe frostbite and gangrene that required one foot and part of the other to be amputated, with the procedure carried out by Eskimo women. When the Jeanie arrived to rescue them, the crew had not seen Morrison for several months. A three-day search was fruitless, and it was surmised he was “in the interior with natives”.

The crew of the Snowdrop returned to Dundee in October 1909, 18 months after they had left. (The photograph on this page shows the crew arriving home.)

There were several attempts made to find Morrison during subsequent whaling trips to the Arctic. A year later, in October 1910, the Dundee Courier reported the tragic news: “Poor Morrison is Dead!” While in the care of the natives, the gangrene had returned, and a further amputation had been performed, from which he had not recovered. It was thought that Morrison had died in December 1909, two months after his crewmates had returned home.

[Scotsman, 11 March, 17, 20, 27 September, 4, 18 October 1909, Dundee Courier 5 October 1910]

Get the Messages from the Sea book

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]

Get the Messages from the Sea book