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Message in a bottle

This is a sneak peek of edition 23 of Traces!

By Dr Peter Hobbins, Australian National Maritime Museum

Can a castaway note find its rightful owner – again?

There it was: a message in a bottle. It had washed ashore on the beach on 27 June 1951 between Aram Cove and Boatswain Point, a sparsely populated section of the South Australian coast, just north of Robe. Walter Fletcher was no stranger to unexpected finds by the seashore. A decade earlier, he had alerted the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) to a highly explosive German sea mine in the same area. Now, the 54-year-old trapper opened the weathered bottle and removed a single sheet of lined paper, wondering what it might reveal. While the pencilled message was brief, it made no sense to Fletcher, since he could neither read nor write.

His friend, John Dening, however, was literate. ‘This Bottle was thrown overboard from Motor Vessel (MV) Mulcra off St Margret Rock light at 7.15 pm 2.11.36, bound for Adelaide,’ Dening read. ‘Will finder please communicate with Mr P.L. Kelsey, 186 Military Road, Semaphore, South Australia.’ So, no treasure to excavate and no shipwreck to report. In fact, the container hadn’t even travelled very far. The Cape Jaffa Lighthouse was just 15 kilometres north-west, on a platform screwed steadfastly into Margaret Brock Reef. But the bottle had been cast adrift nearly 15 years earlier. In making this remarkable find, Fletcher perhaps wondered whether it was too late to reunite the note with its author.

Dening nevertheless wrote to the address in Semaphore, near Port Adelaide. Despite having long since vacated her Military Road home, Kitty Kelsey happened to visit a friend who lived in that very house just two days after Dening’s letter arrived. By this happy coincidence she was able to return the 1936 message to its sender: her eldest son, Percy Lloyd Kelsey.

To find out what happened next, read the latest edition of Traces.

Pictured: Joe Kelsey was inbound to Adelaide aboard this ship, the MV Mulcra, when he cast a message in a bottle overboard in November 1936. Image courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMS0419[442])

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