Monday, 10 August 2015


The Mercury (Hobart) Wednesday 2 April, 1913

Captain E. Hillman, master of theisland mail steamer Malaita, hasbrought to Sydney a bottle and a pencilnote marked "We are lost; there is nohope. G. W. E., S.S. Waratah."
The bottle (says the "Evening News'")was picked up by some natives onthe .south-east end of the Island ofTanna, in the New Hebrides, and Captain Hillman, after making various inquiries, is inclined to the belief that the bottle message is not a hoax. It is now close on four years since the Waratah disappeared with all hands between Durban and Capetown.
A couple of years later a buoy belonging to the liner was picked up on the Manakau beach, New Zealand. This discovery created considerable interest among mariners and others interested in ocean currents.
The finding of the bottle on the Islandof Tanna set Captain Hillman thinking,and he got his charts out of the rack forthe purpose of tracing its progress afterbeing thrown overboard. He is quitesatisfied that the bottle could have comefrom the ill-fated steamer. The trackfrom the South African coast is clearlydefined. The current sets that way - aswas proved by tho buoy which drifted to New Zealand. The bottle missed the land there, and was carried a distance of between 1,400 and 1,500 miles from where it as found on the Island of Tanna. It was carried in north-north-westerly direction.
"It is interesting to notice, too,"says Captain Hillman, "that the steamer Pilbarra, when she broke down a fewyears back, drifted in the same directiontowards the Island of Erromanga,which is only about forty miles fromwhere the bottle was found on Tanna.This proves the direction of the current,and that place on Erromango at wherethe Pilbarra brought up is now shown onthe latest charts as Pilbarra Point.
"Then, again,'' continued the captain,"A raft was thrown overboard from thePilbarra at the time she was drifting,and it was carried by the same current1,650 miles further N.N.W., until itlanded in the Fly River, Papua, notfar from the spot where the famousmissionary, Dr. Chalmers, was murder-ed. All this shows how that bottlecould be brought up from New Zealand,and the buoy found at Manakau is evidence enough that those things driftedacross the Southern Ocean."
The bottle was one of Marchant's, ofMelbourne, with a screw top, and whenthe natives came across it barnacles covered all that portion where, the name of the firm and other letters had been blown onto the bottle. Mr. Carruthers, the local trader, was informed, but the natives knocked the barnacles offand cleaned it out. The screw-top wasa novelty to them, and they used thebottle for drinking purposes and for carrying water. The traces of the barnacles, however, remain, and the top ofthe indiarubber screw shows signs ofwear and tear. Mr. Carruthers, securedthe bottle, and gave it to Captain Hillman.
The paper note is rather well preserved, and this is explained by the way the bottle was screwed down. It was quite watertight. The bottle could not have been on the beach very long, and, according to Captain Hillman, must have been carried ashore about the end ofthe south-east (prevailing) weather.
The bottle and the note were taken toMessrs. Gilchrist, Watt, and Sanderson, Sydney, agents for the. Waratah,and a scrutiny of the names or initialswas made. '"G.W.E." was not found,but "G.E." and letters transposed whichwould make "G.W.E." were in evidence.
It would seem that there is no reasonfor supposing that the Tanna bottle is not genuine.
The drift from Durban to Aucklandby the great circle track would be about6,000 miles, and from there on toTanna about another 1,000 miles.'

And yet another vague bottle message. It is one thing to state that 'we are lost', but no attempt was made to estimate the position of the vessel, or at the very least, the last known position.
If one peruses newspaper clippings from the era, it is extraordinary how popular it was to throw hoax bottle messages into the sea.
Although it is very possible the Marchant's product could have found its way on board the Waratah at Melbourne, I still believe this and other bottle messages  were cruel and unjustified hoaxes. 

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