If Anything Happens

Found 6 January 1914, Uys Point, near Bird Island, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

In a well-corked black bottle, in indelible pencil on a plain sheet of paper:

Waratah, Sept 6. 1909. – Ship in great danger. Rolling badly, Will probably roll right over. Captain going to heave her to. Later. If anything happens, will whoever finds this communicate this with my wife, 4 Redcliffe Street, South Kensington, London? JOHN N. HUGHES.

The Blue Anchor Line passenger steamer Waratah left Durban for Cape Town on 26 July 1909 with 211 passengers and crew aboard. No trace of the ship has ever been found. The message was described as “written very hurriedly”. On 6 September, the date of the message, the Waratah would have been 48 days overdue. There was no John Hughes on the passenger list, nor a Mrs Hughes at Redcliffe Street.

Several other messages apparently sent from the Waratah were found over the next few years, including one in a Castlemaine beer bottle that was returned to the Castlemaine Brewery in Freemantle in November 1910. It read: “May God have Mercy on us. We are now in a terrible Storm. 1st Officer, Waratah.”

The waratah is a flower indigenous to New South Wales. The name was said to be cursed, as five previous ships named Waratah had been lost at sea.

[Manchester Courier, 13 January 1914, and Auckland Star, 28 February 1914]

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