Monday, 24 February 2014


"A Waratah Joke", West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Vic.), Tuesday 05 October 1909, page 2


"A few days ago at Warrnambool a foolish fellow with little brains and less heart perpetrated "his joke" on the missing steamer "Waratah."

"This is how the "Standard" of that town deals with him."

"A day of two ago a bottle was picked up on the local beach containing a piece of paper on which was written a message purporting to emanate from the captain of the missing Waratah."

"The precious document was brought to the "Standard" office and was obviously such a palpable hoax as to be unworthy of notice."

"However, a report of the incident appears to have spread about the town, with the result that a number of enquiries has been made as to whether any reliance was to placed on the information said to have come to hand."

"It may therefore, be as well to explain that the alleged message was nothing more than a clumsily-concocted ruse, and that it had both ignorance and heartlessness stamped upon its face."

"The perpetrator of the "joke" is welcome to whatever satisfaction he can derive from this criticism, but if he accepts our advice he will at once attend the free night school at Warrnambool, and at the same time endeavour to develop some slight modicum of mental acuteness."

The mystery surrounding the Waratah's disappearance generated hysteria and speculation in the public domain.  This influenced witness accounts at the Board of Trade Inquiry and precipitated hoax bottle messages. Sociopaths seeking public attention contributed to the general misery with their destructive and misleading hoax messages.

Bottle messages have been deployed as far back as 310 BC. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus used a message in a bottle to prove that the Mediterranean Sea was connected with the Atlantic Ocean. Bottle messages are still used today in the study of ocean currents. Columbus cast a message (addressed to the Queen of Castile) sealed in a cask into the ocean during a fierce storm, fearing that he would not survive to relate his discovery. It was never found. During the 16th century the English used bottle messages to pass on enemy positions to those on shore. Queen Elizabeth I designated a 'Uncorker of Ocean Bottles' to reveal the messages.  Anyone else attempting this faced the death penalty. One bottle message thrown overboard in 1784 by a Japanese mariner (lost at sea) was washed ashore and discovered in 1935, near the very village where the mariner was born. In 1914, Private Thomas Hughes cast a ginger beer bottle with a note to his wife, into the English Channel. He was killed in action two days later. The bottle was discovered in the River Thames in 1999, and the message delivered to Private Hughes' 86 year old daughter in New Zealand. February 1916, the crew of the stricken Zeppelin L 19 dropped bottle messages into the North Sea. These were discovered six months later on the coast near Gothenburg, Sweden and passed on to loved ones. Migrants stranded on the coast of Costa Rica (2005) were rescued as a direct result of a bottle message. The oldest recorded bottle message was one cast into the sea off Scotland in 1914, part of an experiment to test currents, and discovered in 2012.  It was discovered east of Shetland.

It's estimated that the longest distance covered by a bottle message was that recovered in Dubrovnik (banks of the Neretva River), Croatia, having journeyed from Nova Scotia, 4000 miles distant - it had probably covered a distance greater than this during its journey. NASA has launched several 'bottle messages', examples of which were written on a gold-anodized aluminium plaque and later, a copper disk. Whether hoax, genuine, or for scientific research purposes, bottle messages are part of the human condition and demonstrate a desire to pass on a message or seek attention, usually of the worst kind. Either way, and in whatever form, they are part of maritime history.

NASA's Pioneer 10 message - has travelled an estimated 13 billion miles

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