The Strange Tale of Three 1915 Messages in Bottles & Stowaway Maud Butler
On New Year’s Day, 1916, three messages in bottles washed ashore right beside each other near Portland Bay, Victoria, Australia. Three! And one man (Maurice J. Leddin) found this pile of treasure. All were written by Australian soldiers from New South Wales, en route to WWI. All were written on Christmas Day, 1915. A couple of them told a curious story about a young woman on board their ship–a stowaway. This young woman was Maud Butler, a country girl who tried to sneak into the Great War. Maud Butler became famous for her attempt to fight for Australia in WWI. But before any of that fame arrived, soldiers wrote about her in these soon-to-be-found messages in bottles.
As details emerged, Butler’s amazing story inspired many at the time (though she really did get in deep trouble for stowing away). Maud Butler fascinated me the moment I learned her story – and I only learned it thanks to the messages in bottles in this post. There’s much more to Maud Butler’s story than I can fit here, as you can read on the Australian War Memorial’s page about her. But I just want to share a bit here to show how messages in bottles have a truly unique ability to provide windows into history, and into other peoples’ lives.
Message in a Bottle Tells of “Girl On Board Dressed As A Soldier”
The Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate printed a story on January 22nd, 1916, about the three messages in bottles found together on New Year’s Day of that year by a Maurice J. Leddin. The soldiers had dropped them overboard on Christmas Day of 1915.
The whole thing is crazy! Can you imagine finding three messages in bottles washed up beside each other? Madness! And this particular message in a bottle mentions Maud Butler, though not by name. She was trying to get to Gallipoli to fight alongside her brother.
These messages in bottles about Maud Butler join the ranks of several other famous and fascinating messages in bottles concerning Australia. There’s the incredible story of Thomas Hughes’ message in a bottle, found ages after he sent it–also en route to WWI–and returned to his elderly granddaughter. Then there’s the second oldest message in a bottle ever found, which, at almost 132 years of age, was discovered in Australia’s coastal sand dunes. There’s even an incredible tale of a message in a bottle making its way to Australia’s second prime minister, Alfred Deakin. When it comes to messages in bottles, Australia doesn’t mess around!
These messages also join the exclusive club of extremely interesting messages in bottles sent on Christmas Day, alongside the likes of Frank Hayostek’s WWII message in a bottle, which he sent on Christmas Day of 1945. Continue reading