"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I have a particular fondness for obscure, unimportant, but intriguing little mysteries.  One such example appeared in the “London Morning Chronicle,” April 21, 1809:

Nevis, Feb. 7, 1809.

“Dear Sir,

"I beg leave to mention the following circumstances, and leave to your better judgment the propriety of making the same public.-- 

"About a fortnight since, the Overseer on the Camp Estate discovered a chest, floating in the wash of the sea, and with the assistance of several negroes he had it brought on shore. On opening it, it was found to contain a female corpse wrapped in several folds of seer cloth, and a quantity of tea was spread between each fold. The box or coffin was also filled up with tea, to the quantity, it was supposed, of two hundred weight. The body was in a tolerable state of preservation, and had the appearance of having been that of a person about 30 years of age, rather corpulent, with a remarkable handsome hand, a good set of teeth, and long dark hair--the mouth had been filled with tea, and some moisture having occasioned the tea to swell, left the teeth exposed; on touching them one fell in. The box was better than six feet long, and made remarkably strong, having 16 iron clamps, the whole of it covered with cloth, which had Burgundy pitch rubbed over it, and was perfectly water tight. It must have been in the sea a very long time, as it had a number of barnacles upon it.

“The wood was supposed to be what is called in the East Indies, Teak wood--Around the middle of the box was a tarred rope, which had the appearance of having suspended it, or been a lashing to it. 

"Should the publishing of this account be the cause of making it known to the relatives of the deceased, it may prove grateful to their feelings, to know that the body was decently interred, in this island, and every attention paid it. 

"I remain, dear Sir, yours, very truly, JN. COLHOUN MILLS.

To the very Rev. the Dean of St, Asaph.”

Although we’ll never know who this woman was, it’s easy to reconstruct what probably happened.  In the past, tea leaves were sometimes used to preserve the dead, although as tea was very expensive back then, it was not commonly used.  Our mystery corpse was likely a wealthy woman who died far from her native land.  Relatives arranged for her to be embalmed and shipped back home for burial.  Sometime during the voyage, the boat encountered some disaster at sea which sank it, killing everyone on board.  The coffin--the only survivor of the wreck, you might say--drifted for who knows how long before winding up on the shores of Nevis.

1 comment:

  1. Hopefully, relatives would have been notified of the woman's death prior to the despatch of her remains. They probably would have believed her body lost in the ship-wreck.


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