A message in a bottle, purportedly written hours before the fateful Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, is being investigated by scientists to know if it’s a hoax or an artifact of the historic tragedy.
A letter dated 13 April, 1912, bearing the name of 12-year-old French schoolgirl Mathilde Lefebvre was found washed up in Canada more than 100 years after the Titanic sank.
“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,” the message read in French,
“If anyone finds her, tell the Lefebvre family in Liévin.”
She was travelling to New York City with her mother Marie to reunite with her father and siblings. The reunion never happened.
Mathilde or her mother were said to be never seen again. According to reports, they died alongside 1,500 others when the vessel hit an iceberg on 14 April.
A team of researchers is investigating the authenticity of the letter at Université du Québec à Rimouski.
“The bottle could be the first Titanic artifact found on the American coast,” historian Maxime Gohier said.
Nicolas Beaudry, a professor at Université du Québec à Rimouski, said: “So far, we have not caught a smoking gun of a forgery.”
The note was found in the sand by a family at the Bay of Fundy in 2017. It has been only made public by the academics with appeals to the public to come forward if they have any information about the Titanic or the traveller.
The academics believe that the letter appears to be consistent with the period but could be a hoax as someone might have written it shortly after the tragedy to grab attention.
“The message could have been written by Mathilde on board the Titanic or it could have been written by someone else on her behalf,” said Mr Beaudry.
“It could be a hoax written shortly after the tragedy or it could be a recent hoax.”
He said the mould and tool marks on the bottle as well as the chemical compositions of the glass are consistent with the techniques used in the early 20th century. The cork stopper and a piece of paper in the “bottle’s bore yielded radiocarbon dates consistent with the date on the letter.”
But they did not date the letter itself as 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,” he added.
However, the handwriting on the letter does not match the way that French schoolchildren learned at the time, further deepening the mystery.
But the letter could be written by someone on her behalf, as the professor said. Forensic examination of documents would be done by investors in the future.
The investigator will also conduct chemical analyses on the contents of the bottle and geomorphological study of the Bay of Fundy, where the letter was found.
The girl named in the letter was found to be that of the daughter of Franck Lefebvre, who was a miner from northern France and left for America to try his luck, according to the professor.
He found a job in a mine in Iowa where he was staying with his four children. He called his wife and his four younger children, including Mathilde, to join them.
The professor said information about the family is not enough to conclude the letter was thrown from the deck of Titanic. Though there was a passenger on the Titanic named Mathilde Lefebvre, reported CBC news.