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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