Messages in Bottles: Genuine or Fake?

After Titanic sank, there were many reports of messages in bottles being found with notes from survivors. Are any of them genuine?

According to newspaper reports of the time, a bottle was found on the shore near Skogarnes, in the Faxafjord, on the west coast of Iceland, on the 4th of October 1912, that contained the note: “I am one of them that were wrecked on the Titanic. Harry Wilson.” However, there is no record of a Harry Wilson on the Titanic passenger or crew lists, suggesting it was most likely a fake.

In September 1912, newspapers reported that a message was found in a bottle that was washed ashore in Donegal Bay, an inlet on the northwest coast of Ireland, that was supposedly written by a Stoker called John Grimes, on board Titanic, bidding farewell to his “dear wife” at 26, Stanley Road, Liverpool. Not only was there no John Grimes on Titanic’s crew list, White Star Line also stated that there was no 26 Stanley Road address in Liverpool. 

In the Summer of 1913, a postman (coachman), walking his dog, found a small bottle on shingle beach at Dunkette, near to Cork Harbour, Ireland. Inside was pencilled message that read. “From Titanic. Good Bye all. Burke of Glanmire, Cork.” The message was dated the 10th of April (could be 12th or 13th), the date that Titanic left Queenstown (Cobh).

Jeremiah Burke

Above: Jeremiah Burke (image: Cobh Heritage Centre)

Jeremiah Burke, aged 19, from Ratcooney, Glamire, in County Cork, boarded Titanic at Queenstown as a Third-Class passenger, bound for America, to meet up with two of his sisters who had already emigrated to the U.S. His cousin Nora Hegarty was with him, who had been planning to join an order of nuns in America. Jeremiah was the youngest of seven children, and had worked on the family farm before setting out on his journey. His sisters had settled in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and Major Archibald Butt had sent money home for him to join them. Before he left, Jeremiah’s mother, Kate, gave him a small  bottle of holy water for the trip. Both Jeremiah and Nora perished in the sinking.

The postman took the bottle, containing the message, to the local police station who later passed it to the Burke family. Upon looking at the note, Kate immediately recognised her son’s handwriting. She could also identify the holy water bottle she had gifted him just before he set off on his trip. It is believed, that sometime between when he boarded the Titanic, and when it sunk, Jeremiah scribbled a quick note on some paper, placed it in the bottle, tied it up with his own shoelaces, and threw it overboard. It could be, that as the bottle washed just a mile from his home village of Glanmire, that he, in fact, threw the bottle overboard while still in the Irish Sea, intending it to be a simple farewell to Ireland, with no knowledge of the disaster to come.

Major Archibald Butt

Above: Major Archibald W. Butt (Image: Archibald W Butt Papers, ac. 1976-0429M, Georgia Archives)

 In July 1912, two men out sailing off the coast of Rhode Island New York, found a bottle at Block Island, in which was a message: “April 16. Mid ocean. Help. on a raft Titanic sinking. no water or food. Major Butt“.

Major Archibald Butt was a well-known U.S. Army officer, and a military aide to US president William Taft. He boarded Titanic in Southampton, and was returning home after six weeks in Europe. There are various speculative accounts describing Butt’s bravery in organising the lifeboats as the ship went down. What is certain, from witnesses, is that he was playing cards in the first-class smoking room when the collision occurred (many accounts have him continuing to play until minutes before the ship went down); and he was last seen standing on the sinking deck with John Jacob Astor. Butt did not survive the sinking; his body was never recovered.

At first, the message was regarded as a “ghastly joke”, but the fact that it was written on a wireless blank bearing the Titanic imprint, brought the two sailors to believe it was authentic.

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