The Night of the Big Wind was a hurricane which swept without warning across Ireland beginning in the afternoon of 6 January 1839, causing severe damage to property and several hundred deaths. There were many ships caught up in the storm among them was the Madras destined for Limerick.
On board the Madras was a T.A. Watson who in a fit of desperation tossed a letter in a bottle overboard, this bottle washed up a few days later on the coast of Kerry and quickly became news around the world. This was not the end of the story.
Freeman’s Journal 11 February 1839
Apprehended Loss of the Ship Madras
The disastrous effects of the tremendous hurricane of the 6th ult. are still every day developing themselves, and its devastations appear to have been dreadful. A sealed bottle, containing a note, of which the following is a copy, has been cast ashore on Fermoyle Strand, Brandon Bay), on the 31st ult., which note was forwarded to the secretary at Lloyd’s on the 2d instant. The bottle was found by Mr. Dyer, chief officer of coast guards on the Brandon station:-
“Ship Madras, 13th January, 1839,
“Ship Madras, approaching the Shannon – full of water, and in great distress. Beseech God to send us in safety.
(signed) “T.A. Watson”
A copy of the melancholy communication above stated has been received at the Limerick Chamber of Commerce from Francis Eager, Esq., agent for Lloyd’s who urges the possibility of relieving the Madras, or, at all events, of saving the crew by sending a vessel from this port; we should suppose, however, that the vessel must have long since gone down, with, in all likelihood, every soul on board, seeing that she was “full of water” on the 13th ultimo, and nothing having been heard of her since.- Limerick Standard.
A vast quantity of timber, deals, and lathwood have come ashore all along from the Sounds of the Blaskets to Brandon Bay and mouth of the Shannon – Ibid.
A few days later the following report was issued to the public, which shows the the vessel was safely tucked away on the east coast of Scattery Island:
Dublin Monitor 16 February 1839
Reported Loss of the Ship Madras and All Hands
A paragraph copied from the Limerick Standard has appeared in most of the London papers, stated that the ship Madras had been seen approaching the Shannon in such a situation as left little doubt of her having gone down, with every person on board. This statement is entirely unfounded. The Madras, it seems, put into Scattery Roads water-logged several weeks ago, and has remained there ever since.
Though the second report did not travel as far as the first, which continued to be reported for many months. It was reported in the Southern Australian in 3 July 1839.