Scientists probe message in bottle ‘thrown overboard’ a day before Titanic sank

A message in a bottle, seemingly thrown from the deck of the Titanic mere hours before its fateful sinking, has left scientists baffled.

The note is dated April 13, 1912, and bears the name of 12-year-old Mathilde Lefebvre, a third-class passenger.

It reads: "I am throwing this bottle into the sea in the middle of the Atlantic. We are due to arrive in New York in a few days.

"If anyone finds her, tell the Lefebvre family in Liévin."

Shortly before midnight the next day, the ship would strike an iceberg, causing it to sink in the early hours of the following morning.

Mathilde, three of her siblings, and their mother, Marie, were never seen again, but 105 years later a note apparently signed by Mathilde was found on a Canadian beach.

Her note was found in June 2017 by Nacera Bellila and El Hadi Cherfouh, from Dieppe, New Brunswick, and their children, Koceila and Dihia.

"The bottle could be the first Titanic artifact found on the American coast," said historian Maxime Gohier.

Now scientists are probing the mysterious document, in a bid to prove whether it’s the real thing, or an elaborate hoax.

Nicolas Beaudry of the Université du Québec à Rimouski said it could indeed be real.

He said: "Consider a number possibilities, all equally interesting and all 'genuine' in their own way.

"The message could have been written by Mathilde on board the Titanic or it could have been written by someone else on her behalf.

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"It could be a hoax written shortly after the tragedy or it could be a recent hoax."

Dr Beaudry and his colleagues began by probing the artifact using non-intrusive methods.

He said: "The mould and tool marks on the bottle and the chemical composition of the glass are consistent with the technologies used in making this kind of bottle in the early 20th century.

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"The cork stopper and a piece of paper stuffed in the bottle's bore yielded radiocarbon dates consistent with the date on the letter – we didn't date the letter itself, since the method is destructive.

"So we haven't caught a prankster red-handed yet, but this still doesn’t exclude a recent hoax.

"Old paper is easy to find – by ripping a blank page from an old book, for instance – while old bottles and even corks are not rare."

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The scientists then analysed whether the bottle would have drifted to its eventual resting place, a beach in Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park, New Brunswick.

Dr Beaudry said: "A computer simulation showed that the overwhelming majority of drifters launched in the North Atlantic on April 13, 1912, would have followed the Gulf Stream to European shores.

"But a few individuals could have followed a different path to North American shores.

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"Thus while it is not completely impossible, it remains very unlikely and further research will seek to quantify the probability."

The handwriting in the letter only deepens the mystery.

It’s inconsistent with what French schoolchildren learned at the time, but then the note could have been written for Mathilde by someone else.

The team are now set to undertake further chemical analyses, as well as a geomorphological study of the Bay of Fundy, where the letter was found.

"Our team will expand in the near future to include an expert in the forensic examination of documents," the professor added.

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