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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In Dangerous Position

Found 26 October 1881, between Drogheda and Laytown, east coast of Ireland.

Enclosed in a tin case:

Barque S. Vaughan, October 22, 1881: Whoever takes this up, please send the following message to S. Vaughan, Liverpool – Anchored off Laytown; masts cut away; one anchor and one chain gone; in dangerous position; send tug as soon as possible; am afraid will not hold out much longer. A. Dickson, master. Be kind enough to send this off at once, as I am very anxious if she parts the other cable we will have a hard time; could the lifeboat come off and stand by us together, and take us off in case we drive ashore.

An example of a message in a bottle – or, in this case, tin – being used as a practical call for assistance, this message was found four days after it had been sent. Newspapers reported that a trawler with a lifeboat in tow proceeded to help the S. Vaughan, of Windsor, Nova Scotia. A few days later a telegram was sent to the owners to advise that the vessel had been brought ashore, presumably with A Dickson and his crew, although their status was not recorded.

[Edinburgh Evening News, 28 October 1881 and Belfast News-Letter, 4 November 1881]

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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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The Secret of Her Birth

Found February 1869, Cullenstown, County Wexford, Ireland.

In a bottle, on soiled, torn paper with no date:

The finder of this is to tell Elizabeth Granton, of Ashton Grange, on the borders of London, E.C., that the secret of her birth will be found behind the picture of the Earl of Warwick, in the drawing-room, and receive the blessing of a dying man.

Interest in this message was, according to the Belfast News-Letter, “awakened by the fact that there is a lady in the case, and that it has a romantic air about it.” The abbreviation “E.C.” suggests London’s East Central postcode area, from an era before postcodes had numbers added to them. However, Ashton Grange cannot be found in Victorian London gazetteers.

[Belfast News-Letter, 4 February 1869 and Lincolnshire Chronicle, 19 February 1869]

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