Drowned in Atlantic

Found August 1914, Larne Lough, County Antrim.

In a stoppered bottle, written in pencil on a small square of blue paper:

24th March, 1913. Drowned in Atlantic. — H. Scott, J. Caldwell, both of Dundee, Scotland.

The short note was sent to the postmaster, who forwarded it to Dundee police.

[Dundee Courier, 17 August 1914]

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Found November 1915, Hornsea, East Yorkshire.

On a thin piece of wood, written in indelible pencil:

S.S. Membland torpedoed, engine-room port side. Good-bye, dear.

The steamship Membland was lost while sailing from Hull to Newcastle upon Tyne, with 22 men, two women and a child. It was last seen off the Spurn Lighthouse, at the mouth of the Humber, on 15 February 1915. Wilfrid Wright, a carman, found the message on the shore, and passed it to the coastguard. No enemy ships had been sighted in the area, but several vessels had been damaged by mines, and the coastguard believed the message was genuine.

[Dundee Evening Telegraph, 25 November 1915]

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Look After My Boy

Found 8 May 1871, Shediac, New Brunswick, Canada.

Picked up on the shore in a bottle:

March 21, 1870. – City of Boston. – Ship sinking; over half full now. Good-by all. Look after my boy. Be gone in two hours. THOMPSON.

The City of Boston was a Glasgow-built passenger steamship of the Inman Line. It sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia for Liverpool on 28 January 1870 with 107 passengers and 84 crew. It never reached its destination and was never heard from again. A violent storm may have been responsible, although the ship’s loss was also linked with the Scottish-born criminal Alexander Keith Jr, “the Dynamite Fiend”, who conspired to blow up passenger ships with time bombs in order to collect insurance money.

There were two Thompsons on board the City of Boston — a cabin passenger named John from Halifax, and a steerage passenger named William from New York.

[Boston Advertiser, 9 May 1871]

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I Know I Cannot Escape

Found July 1861, western coast of Uist, Outer Hebrides.

In a bottle, the leaf of a pocket book, three inches by two inches, covered on both sides in pencil marks:

On board the Pacific, from L’pool to N. York. Ship going down. Great confusion on board. Icebergs around on every side. I know I cannot escape. I write the cause of our loss that friends may not live in suspense. The finder of this will please get it published.
Wm. Graham.

The Collins Line steamer Pacific left Liverpool for New York on 23 January 1856, and was lost with all 141 crew and 45 passengers. The ship could accommodate 280 passengers, but was carrying a relatively low number during this winter crossing. It was thought to have sunk off Newfoundland. This note, found more than five years later, is the only record of its fate.

William Graham was a British sea captain travelling on the Pacific as a passenger. “The writer was evidently some person accustomed to the perils of the sea,” commented the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, “for it is difficult to understand how any person whose nerves had not been hardened by the presence of frequent and appalling dangers could have written with such manifest coolness in the immediate presence of death.”

[Bedfordshire Times and Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 30 July 1861]

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The Body in a Well

Found October 1896, near Shakespeare Cliff, between Dover and Folkestone, Kent.

In a small box, found floating at the foreshore by a lad named McKeen:

I, Charles Pilcher, murdered Margaret Hutchinson on November 23rd, 1870, afterwards putting the body in a well at Norwood, which, I believe, has never been found yet, and of late I can’t sleep. I can always see her waiting for me at her pantry, that was our meeting place. To-night I have made up my mind to end my miserable existence by jumping over-board. My body will be good food for the fishes. I am not fit for anything else. So good-bye to everybody. I have no friends to weep for me. I am forsaken by all.

Inquiries at the police station in Norwood, south east London, some 26 years after the alleged murder, found no recollection of a Margaret Hutchinson being reported missing, nor of a body being discovered in the district. “It was pointed out by the old inspectors,” reported the Canterbury Journal, “that Norwood had entirely changed in character during the last quarter of a century. Thousands of new houses had been erected, new roads made, and wells built over. Most wells had entirely disappeared since that time.”

[Illustrated Police News and Canterbury Journal, 10 October 1896]

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