What is a “Bark,” you ask?
Ya’ll, this is a Bark!
Also known as a Barque, this style of sailing ship has at least 3 masts, so it’s not tiny. If you can imagine a ship of this size being rammed by another ship and cut in half, you can get a sense of the horrific scene described in the following article, printed in The New York Times on June 2, 1885:
A MESSAGE FROM A WRECKED BARK
Halifax, Nova Scotia. June 1–The following message was picked up on the beach at Digby this morning by Ott Tobin in a white glass bottle, the cork being driven in with a seal around it:
“Norwegian bark Hassestein, May 23: We were run into this morning by an unknown vessel during a dense fog. The vessel was cut near in two amidships and boats smashed. The vessel filled rapidly. God help us. The person who picks this up will make it known as soon as possible. We were bound from Cardiff for Halifax. A.M. Lattinan. Commander.
A sad state of affairs, indeed. Poor old Ott Tobin must have had quite a scare upon reading this bottled note. And it’s a good thing the newspapers printed this so word got out and help could be organized.
Or is it? TWIST!
Here’s the follow-up article printed the very next day, June 3, 1885:
A VERY POINTLESS JOKE
Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 2–The message picked up in the bottle on the beach at Digby yesterday is no doubt a hoax, as no such vessel can be found in the American or Norwegian records. J. H. Mathers, Norwegian Consul here, knows of no vessel named Hossestein, or anything like it, being bound to this port from Cardiff, as stated.
Well, well, well. Looks like the message from the “Wrecked Bark” was a hoax.
Does that seem dark? Twisted? Sure. But surprising? It shouldn’t be…
You might be thinking, why would anyone fake the sinking of a ship? What’s to be gained? To which I would respond with another question: Why do “trolls” say awful, hurtful, or outlandish things in the comments on popular internet articles? The fact is, both behaviors–faking distress messages and trolling on the web–get attention. This faked message was nothing more than a pre-internet troll, preying on the wonder of messages in bottles.
Fake distress calls sent as messages in bottles were easily the most popular kind of message in a bottle for much of the 19th century and well into the 20th century. The picture we have today of messages in bottles–that they should be romantic, or seek penpals, or at least be honest, or whatever–would have been nearly unrecognizable in the 19th century. People pretty much only sent messages in bottles if their ship was actually going down, or if they were pretending to be on a doomed ship in hopes of making the newspaper. Of course, there were bottled notes being sent for scientific reasons, but that’s a whole other ball of wax.
Starting with today’s post, Archives of the Sea posts will explore old-timey messages I’ve found in old newspapers and books and such. Some will be hoaxes; some will be authentic; some will be unsolved mysteries. All will give you something to think about as you cruise through your day.
Stay tuned for more stories of old messages in bottles! I’ll be debunking some popular myths while bringing to light new (old) stories!