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 to 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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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