Round the walls of a room knownas the, "Graveyard" in the Royal Exchange, the home of the famous shipping corporation of Lloyd's, London, are many hundreds of green-backed volumes telling strange tales of adventures at sea.
The records range back for morethan a century, yet, even in thesescientific days of transatlantic radiotelephones from ship to shore, direction finders and echo-sounding devicesagainst the perils of fog and darkness,Lloyd's are continually adding to thesesearch archives tales as true andstrange as any ever written. In thefar-off days before the first paddlesteamer churned the waters on thelong track from Liverpool to New York.
Many of those skeletons in DavyJones' cupboard are never revealed tonewspaper readers. Some of them arein the shape of genuine bottle messages cast ashore years after a startling sea disaster.
MESSAGE FROM THE TITANIC
A few months ago, a man was walking at evening along the sands of a quiet bay, the Mumbles of Swansea, South Wales, when he picked up a bottle containing a note, a gold scarf pin with a stone missing, and a photo-graph of two men. Said the writer: "This is the last moment the greatship 'Titanic' sank. I am left herewith my brother-in-law, John Williams, wife, and little child Jean, having left the doomed ship on the last boat. The band are still playing, the officers are running here and there, although their tasks are hopeless; menare going mad, while . . (unreadable)."
This tragic last message, so strangely cast up from Davy Jones' graveyard in 1929, seventeen years afterward, throws light on the last moments of the liner "Titanic," which collided with an iceberg in mid-Atlantic on hermaiden trip, on April 15, 1912, whenshe sank with 1,635 passengers out ofa total of 3,510 on board. (Although there were many hoax bottle messages during this era, it is unsettling to read a genuine message of desperation.)
EXPLOSION AT NIGHT,
A strange tale of an explosion heardat sea, off Yarmouth, England, on thenight of Sunday, July 7, 1929, addsanother grim skeleton to Davy Jones'cupboard.
The captain of the Swedish steamer"Anne Berg" was in the chart roomworking out his course to pass alightship, when he was struck motion-less. "I heard a tremendous explosionreverberate across the water," he said;"the helmsman shouted to me and Ijumped up to the wheelhouse. I wasjust in time to see a vessel, about four,miles away across the port bow, dis-appear into the sea. She went downat an angle of about sixty degrees, andI saw only the head and foc'sle of theship. The rest of her had alreadygone down. We steered at full speedto the spot, reaching it in twentyminutes. There was no sign of wreckage - not a piece of wood or oil or anything. I reckoned from what the helmsman told me, that she was a ship like our own, Swedish, and about 3,000 tons. We sent out an SOS and North Foreland wireless station told us a gunboat and a mine sweeper were rushing to the spot. We gave the exact position. About midnight, the British mine sweeper 'Selkirk' came alongside and hailed us, and we told her by Morse lamp that she was in the correct position. We said we had seen nothing, and asked if we might proceed, and the 'Selkirks' commander wirelessed: 'Yes, thank you very much.' "
The gunboat and the mine sweepersearched the sea for hours without result. This tragic incident illustrates that steamers, even after a massive explosion, could disappear without a trace. The explosion was heard and felt. The crew of the Harlow claimed that the Waratah was about this distance astern, when she disappeared. Given the above report, the Waratah could not have exploded, because nothing was heard. It would have taken the Harlow about the same time to go back to the last, sighted position of the Waratah's lights. Perhaps Captain Bruce anticipated finding nothing, as in the case of the Anne Berg. But not going back to investigate was a very poor judgment call, with ramifications which live on through the decades.