The Life-and-Death History of the Message in a Bottle

One Thursday morning in late June 1899, an 11-year-old boy named William Andrews was playing on the beach at Ilfracombe in Devon, England. There he spotted a small tin floating in the water. The quarter-pound tin was marked “coffee and chicory”, and was tied up with a piece of cork for buoyancy. Inside the tin was a note, written in pencil on a page torn from a pocket diary. The note was signed by able seaman R Neel and addressed to Mrs Abigail Neel in Cardiff, Wales. It read as follows:

“To my wife and children. The Stella is going down as I pen my last words. If I do not survive, go to my brother. Goodbye, my loved ones, goodbye.”

This was just one of hundreds of messages in bottles, boxes and tins washed up from the sea onto British and other shores in 1899, and one of thousands found during the busy Victorian and Edwardian steam and sail seafaring eras. These messages from the sea told tales of foundering ships, missing ocean liners and shipwrecked sailors, and contained moving farewells, romantic declarations and intriguing confessions. Some solved mysteries of lost vessels and crews, while others created new mysteries yet to be solved. Read More…

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