Well it was a long hard search, but we did it! We found “Donkeyman” James Robertson who sent a message in a bottle 46 years ago!
The story about James Robertson’s message broke in early January when Bernd Igwerks found the half-century old bottled note washed ashore on the small German island of Norderney.
I knew right away that there had to be special story behind this bottle–and a special person. Turns out I was right!
So, are you ready to meet James? Actually, he goes by Jimmy. Drumroll please!
Here he is, rock ‘n rolling at the Beatles Cafe!
And guess what? Guess what! Somewhere along the way, he fell in loooooove… <3 <3 <3
Jimmy told me the story behind his bottle.
“The main boilers in large ships were called donkey boilers,” Jimmy told me. “For instance, the old Queen Mary where I served had a massive boiler. It did all the work–hence the name: it did the donkey work.”Folks like Jimmy who worked with the donkey boilers were called “Donkeyman”. So there you go! Not a nickname, but a position title.
Spending that much time at sea, a guy’s gotta find ways to pass the time.
“To pass time on board ship, I read and wrote letters home,” Jimmy said. “I made model boats, if the weather allowed. Some men did rope work, some made fishing flies,” and some–at least Jimmy himself–made messages in bottles.
“I popped a bottle now and then into the sea,” Jimmy explained. “I was curious to see how far it would travel. This bottle did not seem to have got far,” Jimmy said, adding, “However, it may have circumnavigated the globe–who knows?” And believe it or not, folks, he could be right. There have been a couple proven cases where a message in a bottle floated all the way around the world. Based on the math, Jimmy’s bottle certainly had time to do that. But, sadly, we’ll never know!
Since Jimmy sent messages in bottles “now and then,” I wondered if he remembered sending this particular bottle.
“I remember it well,” he told me. The vessel I was on was called M.V. Gosport. I can’t remember the cargo we carried–either coal or grain. We were heading south after sailing from Leith. The weather was calm and I threw the bottle overboard somewhere in the north sea.”
He didn’t hear back from the Gosport bottle, and the years just slid on by.
He did, however, hear back from a different bottle.
“I once had a reply from a woman in Amsterdam,” Jimmy told me. “I went to her home while I was docked there but unfortunately she wasn’t in and I never pursued it any further.”
I was amazed that Jimmy had already connected with another person who found his bottle! But something else was nagging at me. See, I felt certain that the address on the note said “42 Sleigh Drive”. Others said it was “72 Sleigh Drive”. But there are two 7s in the note–just compare them. See how different they look? That’s why I thought the address was a 4 instead of a 7. So I asked Jimmy about this.
“I lived in 72 Sleigh Drive from 1968-1970,” he said simply. Well, I was dead wrong after all!
In the course of investigating this message in a bottle with the help of my readers and fans of my Facebook page, many of you inquired about the bottle, noting that it was a Dunbar bottle, and Dunbar bottles were made in Edinburgh. In fact, I was even contacted by Rona Dunbar Parry, descendent of James Dunbar, whose company made this very bottle. She made a tribute site for her great-great-grandfather’s company, complete with pictures of bottles they made. You can compare them to Jimmy’s bottle by clicking here.
As Jimmy explained, “I used to carry a few bottles of juice as the ship’s water wasn’t very pleasant. That’s the reason my message was in a Dunbar’s juice bottle.”
These days, Jimmy seems to retain his curiosity about the world.
“Today,” Jimmy said, “I’m retired, aged 75 years old,” meaning he sent this bottle when he was around 29 or 30.
He hasn’t yet gotten to speak with Bernd Igwerks, the German man who found his message in a bottle on the small island of Norderney after nearly five decades, but he wants to.
Something tells me this story isn’t over!