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British in Iberia

British history and stories in Spain and Portugal.

Messages in bottles.
11 May 2010 @ 17:17

The coastline of the Straits of Gibraltar, 8th July, 1868.  The Englishman, Mr. Garlick, grandson of one of the English who remained in Spain following the war of liberation against France, is the owner of one of the most unusual marine collections along this rough stretch of coastline.  He has dedicated over half of his life to his obsession with collecting all the warnings, requests for help and the final wishes that the sea regularly throws up, creating one of the most unique collections in the world.
Every one of the thoughts which are written down in these documents is a story which sheds a gloomy light on us mysterious humans, our virtues and our miseries.  Some messages show the final desperate cry of a man who is slipping away into the waves and others paint an image of a poor shipwrecked man who sees the hook of death taking its hold.

Three years ago Garlick found a tin can with a note inside signed by someone named Browning, claiming that his ship had been wrecked on purpose as it was insured for the amount of two million pesetas, the new Spanish currency.  The captain, pilots and two sailors had escaped in rowing boats, but the remainder of the crew, including the writer of the message, drowned.  Two days after the disaster, the tin receptacle was picked up by a boat heading for Gibraltar y sold to Garlick without being opened.   Garlick opened it, read the contents and made the information known to the insurers, first making sure that they would give him back the tin container and also a small amount of money as a gesture for his honorable and prompt actions.  The delivery of the message was so opportune that the insurance company managed not to lose the two million pesetas and the captain and the owners of the wrecked boat received a prison sentence.

As you can see, Mr. Garlick’s collection was not simply the satisfying of an innocent and childlike desire to hoard objects of interest, but he also strove to meet the final wishes of the unfortunate shipwreck victims.

One of his bottles tells a tale worthy of telling, written by James Gibson, captain of a coal ship which sailed the Libson-Gibraltar route – a sailor who had saved an enormous amount of money and who had decided to retire from merchant sailing and was making the final journey of his career.  During this final crossing his ship collided with another and several hours later was completely destroyed.  In haste, Gibson wrote his Will and before the ship finally sank, he found a bottle, put his message inside and threw it into the sea.  The bottle was found by a tuna fisherman in Barbate who, informed of Mr. Garlick’s interest in the coastline, hurried to take it to his house in Punta del Camarinal in Zahara de los Atunes.  Thanks to this message, Garlick discovered that the unfortunate captain had a son who he tracked down with the satisfaction of knowing that he was meeting the final wishes of the boy’s father.

In order to obtain the largest of these types of objects in Spain, Garlick cooperates with over 300 fishermen and sealovers along the coast of Spain and Portugal, so that they advise him of their finds, and bring him the messages tossed up by the sea.
In January, 1869, Garlick received an unusual bottle which had been found along the coast of La Coruña and in the mouth of the bottle was a small vial containing a small amount of phosphorous, designed so that when the sea shook up the bottle, it set alight.  The glass bottle contained the following message: “ My darling wife, in the hope that it reaches you, I am writing you these few lines.  Our boat has sunk after colliding with another.  I am letting you know that David Hill has the share of capital which is owed to me from the sale of the mine.  David will give you this money.  Pray for me”.

Garlick sent the note to its destination and several months later he was informed that this final wish had been met.

Garlick’s unusual hobby means that he is always close to the coast and always watching it closely, especially in the rough and stormy days.   He once found a can tied to a piece of cork used in fishermen’s nets, and the note which was found inside the can said, “If God doesn’t help us, no-one will.  Tell Rachael MacLeod that I love her.”

It took Garlick one year to find the young Rachael referred to in the note, but in the end he didn’t want to deliver the note to her.  As Rachael MacLeod had recovered from the loss of the shipwrecked sailor and was about to marry another sailor, Garlick felt it was not the right thing to do to bring up such a tragic event.

Mr. Garlick has paid up to two thousand pesetas in Spain for some of the objects found by the sailors, although the majority of them are handed over purely to ensure that those final written requests reach their required destination.

Written by Jesús Castro

Translated by Rachael Harrison

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