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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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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If Our Remains Be Found

Found 18 September 1889, off Eastbourne, East Sussex.

In a bottle, written in pencil on a sheet of paper:

Firefly, private yacht. February 9, 1889, off Denmark. Dear Friends whom happens to read this, we were a party of four hands all told, when we were run into by a two-master, and I am now writing these lines, which I hope will come into some person’s hands who will send help to us as soon as possible. But if by any chance any of our remains be found please let our friends know at Hastings, Sussex, England, and also the—

This abruptly-curtailed message was picked up by fisherman Phillip Swain floating in the English Channel more than 400 miles south-east of Denmark but less than 15 miles from Hastings, which the Times said was “somewhat remarkable”. A local correspondent confirmed the Firefly was missing, and, said the Times, “there is little doubt she was wrecked and her crew drowned.”

[Times, 19 September 1889]

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Consigned to the Thames

Found 11 January 1905, on the Bucks Bank of the River Thames.

In a bottle:

F. James, East-street, Walworth.
Has consigned his body to the River Thames at Bourne End.
January 8th, 1905.
Signed, F. JAMES.

The message was found by Buckinghamshire Police, and a Police Constable Heater took a boat out onto the river, but found no trace of a body. Several fishermen had been on the banks of the river on 8 January, and none had seen anything suspicious. No person had been reported missing from East Street in Walworth, South London. It was considered that the message “might have been put there for a lark”.

However, on 30 April the body of an unknown man was found in the Thames near Cookham, across the river from Bourne End. PC Heater recovered the body. The coroner said there were no signs of violence, and the likely cause of death was drowning. The body had been in the water for several weeks.

Found on the deceased were two wrist straps, several buttons, a piece of pencil, a broken match box, a glazier’s diamond and a workman’s cheque. There was no name on the cheque. PC Heater made enquiries at several local glazing firms, but the man could not be identified. At an inquest held at the Bel and the Dragon Hotel, a jury returned an open verdict of “found drowned”.

[South Bucks Standard, 5 May 1905]

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Lifeboat No. 2

Found August 1886, off Howth, near Dublin

In a soda water bottle, written on scraps of an envelope:

July 21st, 1886, Britannia, Liverpool, Captain Dawson, sinking fast, heavy sea from Rio [de] Janeiro, passenger lost, pray for us, lifeboat No. 2.
Left June 28, frightful weather, sinking.

The background to this message is unclear. There was a Cunard ocean liner named Britannia, but this had been sunk in 1880 after being sold by Cunard to the German Navy. A White Star liner named Britannic [sic] was involved in a major collision during fog in 1887, and 12 passengers were lost, although the ship survived. And the Pacific Steam Navigation Company’s Britannia grounded in Rio de Janiero in 1895. None of these vessels would seem to be Dawson’s Britannia.

[Cardiff Times, 7 August 1886]

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