Remains of the Dundee Whaler

Found 8 March 1909, on the beach near Coldingham, Berwickshire.

In a bottle:

Captain or anyone who receives this message shall receive the remains of the Dundee whaler Snowdrop, collided with iceberg. No hope. 14th November 1908.

The Snowdrop left Dundee on 23 April 1908 to hunt whales in the Davis Strait, between Greenland and Canada in the Arctic Circle. The ship was the smallest whaling vessel in its fleet, with a crew of just ten, including the ship’s owner (and harpooner) OC Forsyth Grant, its captain and expert Arctic navigator James Brown, and a 17-year-old Eskimo named Inear. The ship was last reported safe and well on 8 June 1908. Nothing else was heard until the arrival of this message, which confirmed suspicions that the Snowdrop had been lost in the Arctic.

Then, on 16 September 1909, with the ship missing for over a year, a telegram was received from Indian Harbour, Labrador. The telegram reported the arrival there of a young man named Alexander Ritchie, an able seaman, and a member of the crew of the Snowdrop.

Ritchie explained that the ship had been lost in the Frobisher Strait on 18 September 1908, but the crew had escaped into a boat, which had drifted for several days before reaching Baffin Island. There, the crew had found an Eskimo village, where they spent the winter “on the verge of starvation” but cared for by the friendly natives. In the spring, Ritchie had crossed the hundred-mile part-frozen strait between Baffin and Labrador by foot, dogsled and boat in order to seek help.

The schooner Jeanie sailed to Baffin Island to rescue the crew, and returned to Labrador on 25 September 1909. However, one man was missing. John Morrison had set off with Ritchie to cross the strait, but had suffered severe frostbite and gangrene that required one foot and part of the other to be amputated, with the procedure carried out by Eskimo women. When the Jeanie arrived to rescue them, the crew had not seen Morrison for several months. A three-day search was fruitless, and it was surmised he was “in the interior with natives”.

The crew of the Snowdrop returned to Dundee in October 1909, 18 months after they had left. (The photograph on this page shows the crew arriving home.)

There were several attempts made to find Morrison during subsequent whaling trips to the Arctic. A year later, in October 1910, the Dundee Courier reported the tragic news: “Poor Morrison is Dead!” While in the care of the natives, the gangrene had returned, and a further amputation had been performed, from which he had not recovered. It was thought that Morrison had died in December 1909, two months after his crewmates had returned home.

[Scotsman, 11 March, 17, 20, 27 September, 4, 18 October 1909, Dundee Courier 5 October 1910]

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Kept There by Force

Found 29 July 1901, Bath Beach, Brooklyn, New York.

In a bottle:

July 27, 1901.
Dear sir or madam—If you find this note I wish you would tell the police that I am in a cabin in Bath Beach and kept there by force. I remain yours truly, B. VIOLET CULLEM,
No. 209 East Fourteenth street, N. Y.

The message was found on the beach at the foot of 17th Avenue by a young woman, who handed it to an employee of a nearby hotel. It was then passed to police, who made a search of the area and took a launch out to search yachts. No trace was found. “The message is believed to have been placed in the bottle by a thrilling newspaper reporter who was anxious to get a sensational story,” said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which reported that local residents were “considerably annoyed” following a spate of bogus newspaper stories centred on Bath Beach, and considered the message a “pure fake”.

The address given with the message was a boarding house for theatrical groups, but there was no resident named Violet Cullem. However, as the Daily Eagle reported, “A few days ago, a young woman whose Christian name was Violet had made arrangements to board there, but she did not arrive.”

[Daily Eagle, 29 July 1901]

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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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Murder and Suicide

Found 17 September 1889, floating in Albert Quay, Belfast.

In a bottle, on a slip of paper:

Look out for the body of a man in the Blackstaff who committed murder and suicide, and also for the murdered man. 6 p.m. 10/8/89.

The words “murder and suicide” were written in red ink, and the handwriting was said to be “stiff and cramped”. The Blackstaff is an underground river in Belfast that was culverted and built over in the 1880s. The message was found by a man named Samuel McAfee, who passed it to the harbour police.

“Of course a hoax may be intended by some mischievous person,” said the Lancaster Gazette, “but when taken into account that a body was seen floating in the lough about a fortnight ago, the strange find may possibly bear some significance.”

[Belfast News-Letter, 18 September 1889, Lancaster Gazette, 21 September 1889]

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