Too Heavily Laden

Found 12 February 1866
Near Quiberon, Brittany, France

In a bottle:

H.J. Dennis to Jno. Dennis, Esq., at Great Shelford, nr Cambridge. Farewell, father, brothers, sisters, and my little Edith. Ship London, Bay of Biscay, Thursday, 12 o’clock noon. Reason — Ship too heavily laden for its size, and too slight a house over engine room, all washed away from deck. Poop windows stove in — water coming in everywhere. God bless my little orphan. Request to send this, if found, to Great Shelford. Storm, but not too violent for a well-ordered ship.

This was one of six messages contained in three bottles that washed up at the same spot on the French coast. It was found 32 days after the sinking of the SS London, a British steamship that was sailing from Gravesend, England to Melbourne, Australia. The ship left Gravesend on 13 December 1865, carrying at least 239 passengers and crew, and laden with 400 tons of railway iron and coal. As it sailed past Purfleet on the Thames, a seaman on the riverbank was reported to have remarked that this would be its last trip. “She is too low down in the water,” he said. “She’ll never rise to a stiff sea.”

After sheltering from heavy weather at Plymouth, the London crossed the English Channel and headed into the Bay of Biscay. There it was caught in a terrible storm, which led its Captain Martin to order a return to Plymouth. However, huge waves swamped the low-sitting ship, and swept away all but one of its lifeboats. The London sank, stern first, on 11 January 1866, with those on board reported to have sung the hymn Rock of Ages as they went down. Nineteen survivors escaped in the only remaining lifeboat. At least 220 people died, with some reports also including several unregistered stowaways, plus a baby that was born on board. Henry Denis was a widower who left a young daughter, “now entirely an orphan”.

An inquiry found the main cause of the tragedy to be overloading. The loss of the London, and several other vessels, prompted a government commission led by MP Samuel Plimsoll to introduce a mandatory load mark line painted on ships’ hulls to indicate levels of buoyancy and prevent over-loading. The mark is now known as the Plimsoll Line.

You can read more about the London and the Plimsoll Line in the Messages from the Sea book.

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Messages from the Sea book out now

The Messages from the Sea book is now available. The book collects historic messages in bottles found around the world, and presents them with notes and illustrations. It contains 100 messages – some are favourites from the website, but the majority are new for the book. The book also includes an introductory essay on the history of the message in a bottle.

The book is available from Amazon, in paperback, hardback, and as a Kindle eBook. The paperback and hardback editions contain 200 pages and more than 40 illustrations. The eBook contains all of the text plus a handful of selected illustrations. You can get the book by clicking the buttons below:

Messages from the Sea book

From the cover: “Messages from the Sea is a collection of letters and notes found washed ashore on beaches and bobbing in water, in corked bottles and wax-sealed boxes, carved onto wreckage and in the bellies of sharks. They tell of foundering ships, missing ocean liners and shipwrecked sailors, and contain moving farewells, romantic declarations and intriguing confessions. Some solve the mysteries of lost vessels and crews, while others create new mysteries yet to be solved. Dating from a lost era of seafaring, they demonstrate the brave, lonely and fragile nature of life on the ocean waves.”

“Included among these 100 messages are: a clue to the fate of the missing White Star liner Naronic; a murder confession found in a bottle off the White Cliffs of Dover; an update from Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition; a poem about a newborn baby found inside an 11ft shark; an unlikely apology from fleeing fraudster Violet Charlesworth; evidence for the unnecessary loss of the steamship London with 220 souls; the truth behind the mysterious grave robbery of the Earl of Crawford; and a message from the deck of the sinking Titanic.”

The book is available from Amazon stores worldwide, in paperback, hardback, and as a Kindle eBook. You can also get the paperback and hardback editions from your favourite local bookstore, who can order stock via their usual suppliers. If you encounter any difficulty in getting hold of the book, just send us an email.

We hope you enjoy the book, and welcome your feedback. If you can, please leave a review on Amazon, as your opinion really does make a difference to other readers who may be interested in the book.

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God Help Us

Found December 1898
On the beach at Troon, South Ayrshire

In a bottle, a note scribbled in pencil:

Schooner Lizzie foundering off Corsewall Point. God help us.

Corsewall Point is 40 miles south of Troon on the west coast of Scotland. No Scottish vessel named Lizzie was known to be missing, and the message was initially assumed to be a hoax. However, it was subsequently revealed to be the last dispatch from a Northern Irish vessel, from Kircubbin, County Down, across the North Channel.

The Lizzie left Maryport, Cumbria, on 22 November 1898, and was due in Kircubbin on the following day. However, it was caught in a severe gale, and was last seen heading north, apparently to seek shelter from the storm. A week later, a life-boat bearing the Lizzie’s name was washed ashore near Larne, County Antrim, around 25 miles from Corsewall Point. “No doubts are now held that the vessel foundered in the heavy gale, which, it will be remembered, caused a lot of damage to shipping at the time,” reported the Glasgow Herald.

The Lizzie had a crew of four hands, led by Captain McWhirr, who left a widow and eight children, “most of whom are young”.

[Glasgow Herald, 9 December 1898]

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In the Hands of Savages

Found November 1877
On the shore at Luce Bay, Wigtownshire

In a bottle, written in pencil on a piece of paper, the writing very much faded:

On the 29th April, 1876, the ship Herclades was wrecked on the extremity of Patagonia. Crew in the hands of savages. Bring us assistance, my God. Latitude 24, longitude 21. [indistinct] Sighted a vessel.

Wigtownshire is in south west Scotland, more than 7,000 miles from the South American region of Patagonia.

[Edinburgh Evening News, 3 November 1877]

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All Hands Will Perish

Found February 1879
On the sands at Craster, Northumberland

In a bottle:

The Mary Jane, of Dover, bound from Glasgow for New Zealand, was wrecked 300 miles off the coast of England. It is supposed all hands will perish. There is a heavy sea, and crew in small open boats.
T. SNAITH, captain.

The Berwickshire News and General Advertiser said this message stated the Mary Jane “was wrecked 300 miles off the coast of New Zealand”, not England, and therefore concluded it must be a hoax as it could not have drifted such a distance. But this seems to have been based on a transcription error, as in the first publications of the message, in the Sunderland Echo and Shields Gazette a week earlier, the ship “was wrecked 300 miles off the coast of England”, and there was no suspicion of a hoax.

[Sunderland Echo and Shields Gazette, 18 February 1879, Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, 25 February 1879]

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