Brevpakke
Parcels of letters: In the old archives, letters and documents are sorted by number and date. These were wrapped in grey sheet paper and the parcels were held together with twine using a special archival knot. These are the letters to the Enlistment Officer in Bergen from 1809 and 1810. Photo: Marianne Herfindal Johannessen, The Regional State Archives in Bergen

Message in a British bottle from 1809 - found at the Regional State Archives in Bergen

There are lots of small and large treasures in the archives. One of the eager guests in the reading rooms at the regional state archives in Bergen, Halvor Skurtveit of Fjell, found one of these treasures some time back while searching through the history of the coastal defense of Fjell.

Lack of naval defense

During the Napoleonic wars (1807-1814), Denmark-Norway and Britain were on separate sides. At the time, Norway was effected by economic depression, poverty and famine. A lot of it due to Britain`s blockade stopping imports of grain.

After the Second Battle of Copenhagen in 1807, Norway didn't just lack an efficient naval defense, but our largest trade partner - Britain had become an enemy. 

Since Britain was a large naval power there was widespread fear in Norway for attacks and invasion. This led to wide control over which foreign ships came into Norwegian waters at all times, and which resources were available to defend the country.

Extended control led to a lot of correspondence and much of this found its way to the archives of the Enlistment Officer in Bergen. The Enlistment Officer`s district covered the entire coastal area from Stavanger in the south to Sunnmøre in the north and was responsible for seamen, pilots, naval crew and coastal defense. 

Royal Pilot gone fishing for herring

Elias Clausen was employed as the royal pilot on Feøy between Haugesund and Utsira. In February of 1810, he was on Utsira to fish for herring when inclement weather struck from the west on the 8th.

The pilot was told of "A small boy, the son of a poor man by the name of Sven Aamonsen Skarre" had found a bottle that was sealed with a black lid among the larges stones at the beach on Utsira. The bottle was said to contain a letter.

The day after, the boy, Sven Omundsen Skaare (1795-1884) arrived and showed him the letter. The pilot quickly came to the conclusion the letter was most likely written in English. He thought the message in a bottle was thrown from a boat that had shipwrecked and that it was left there so next of kin would know what had happened.

As a pilot of the western coast, he probably knew a lot about how many people had drowned and how people at home worried for those at sea.

Even though Britain and Norway technically were at war, the pilot decided to send the letter with an explanation to the Enlistment Officer in Bergen. What did he do with the letter?

samling av brev
The letters in question. On top is the letter from the bottle from 1809 that was found in February 1810 at Utsira. A British crew had enjoyed a bottle of rare, old sherry. The two sheets below are pilot Elias Clausens' letter to the Enlistment Officer in Bergen. Photo: Tom Myrvold, The Regional State Archives in Bergen

The contents of the bottle

Both the letter from pilot Elias Clausen and the letter from the bottle arrived at the offices of Friderrick Friis in Bergen. We do not know whether or not he knew how to read English, but the letter was filed as number 74/1810 and is found today in a parcel containing other letters from 1810.

The contents of the message was as follows:

August 9th 1809 On board the Union of Newcastle Capt. Bowman of the Teesmouth

This Bottle contained some rare old sherry Which has made many peoples harts most merry

Captain Bowman, A.A. Robson, Master James Wright, Master John Endsor, Westmoorland, Edv. Blakeston, Duncan, Walker, Fairs, Wooltett, Lieut. Farrar.

The crew of the ship "Union" out of Newcastle with captain Bowman in charge had enjoyed themselves with a bottle of rare, old sherry. The contents of the message in a bottle was far from pilot Elias Clausen's assumption that it came from a shipwreck.

Forside losbrev
Pilot's letter: Elias Clausen was the royal pilot on Feøy outside Haugesund. He wrote letters to the Enlistment Officer in Bergen and explained how the letter was found and what he believed the contents to be. The letter in question was sent as an attachment. Photo: Marianne Herfindal Johannessen, The Regional State Archives in Bergen
Bakside losbrev

Source:  - Regional State archives in Bergen, the Enlistment Officer`s archive number 301, correspondance 1810

Written by Marianne Herfindal Johannessen, archivist at the Regional State Archives in Bergen, Norway

This article was published in Bergens Tidende, Saturday the 1st of July 2017.