Message in bottle was a tragic one from desperate man

GLASS ACT ... the message from the ill-fated Horatio washed up in a bottle on Shields sands..
GLASS ACT ... the message from the ill-fated Horatio washed up in a bottle on Shields sands..

GIVEN it was a sunny day when this picture was taken, you may think that what I’m about to tell you casts a shadow over it.

Messages in bottles come freighted with romance.

But there was nothing at all romantic about the one that once washed ashore on or around this, the north foreshore at Shields.

I loved this picture when I received it from Kevin Blair, being a lively one of what’s described as the ‘North Sands.’

There is no date for it, but I’d suggest it’s between the wars when, as the haulage vehicles etc indicate, pleasure boats still regularly went off from the beach.

But then I came across the story of the bottle, with its tragic message, which was picked up from nearby in January 1861.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to find?

The letter, which was dated February the previous year, began: “Dear Friends, when you find this, the crew of the ill-fated ship Horatio, Captain Jackson, of Norwich, is no more.”

It went on to say how the vessel had left Archangel, in north-west Russia, on January 8, 1860.

All was well at first, but then the ship found herself scudding before a gale for 10 days non-stop.

The challenge of keeping a ship under sail in such condition is illustrated by the sentence: “We were not below for six days.”

At one point, a Norwegian brig hove-to to help. Four of the Horatio’s men got into the jolly boat but it was quickly overwhelmed by the sea and all were lost.

It left the ship with a crew of eight, the master and mate, second mate and two boys.

“We are not able to keep her up,” Capt Jackson wrote, describing 8ft of water in the hold and the vessel’s hatches all stove in. “We are worn out.”

He went on: “I write these few lines and commit them to the foaming deep in hopes that they will reach some kind-hearted friend who will be so good as to find out the friends of these poor suffering mortals.

“Death is welcome.”

He concluded the letter by listing the names of all those aboard.

I’ve not been able to find a ship called Horatio lost around that time. Did she go down, was she saved? We’ll probably never know.