A MESSAGE in a bottle seemingly thrown from the deck of the Titanic hours before it sank to the bottom of the ocean has left experts baffled.
The intriguing note is dated April 13, 1912, and bears the name of 12-year-old Mathilde Lefebvre, who was a third-class passenger on the doomed vessel.
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 "unsinkable" ship would strike an iceberg, causing it to go down killing more than 1,500 of those on board.
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 washed up on a Canadian beach.
"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 just be genuine.
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.
"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.
"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."
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.
"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.
"Our team will expand in the near future to include an expert in the forensic examination of documents," said the professor.
The team are also set to undertake further chemical analyses as well as a geomorphological study of the Bay of Fundy, where the letter was found.
When the Titanic sank, Mathilde her siblings and their mother were en-route to New York to reunite with dad Franck and four other siblings.
Franck, a collier from Liévin in Pas-de-Calais, had left France in 1910 and settled in Mystic, Iowa.
"Whether the letter was written by Mathilde or not, whether it is an old or a recent hoax, it is a fascinating piece of history," said Dr Beaudry.
THE UNSINKABLE SHIP – FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT THE TITANIC
The Titanic was the world's largest passenger ship when it entered service – measuring 269 metres – and was the largest man-made moving object on Earth.
It burned around 600 tonnes of coal a day and almost 100 tonnes of ash were ejected into the sea every 24 hours.
There were 20,000 bottles of beer on board, 1,500 bottles of wine and 8,000 cigars – all for the use of first-class passengers.
Up to 246 injuries and two deaths were recorded during the ship’s 26-month construction in Belfast.
First-class passengers were given a book containing 352 songs, with musicians on board required to know all of them in case requests were made.
James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic about the disaster has grossed more than £1.5bn, won 11 Oscars and is one of the highest grossing film of all time.
The last supper served to first-class passengers consisted of 11 courses.
"It is a moving reminder of the fate of Mathilde, of her family, and of the millions of migrants who crossed the Atlantic in the age of steamships.
"And it is obviously an interesting piece of evidence of the fascination that one of the most mythical tragedies of the 20th century still exerts on us."
After the sinking, Franck Lefebvre turned to the Red Cross Relief Committee for aid, according to the Encyclopedia Titanica website.
It was then that the authorities discovered that he had illegally entered the US by providing "false and misleading statements" to immigration officials.
He and his surviving children were therefore deported back to France in August of 1912.
Franck died in 1948 in Haillicourt, Pas-de-Calais, only a few miles from Liévin. He was 77.
His oldest son, also named Franck, predeceased him on the battlefield during the First World War.
Mathilde's note was found in June 2017 by Nacera Bellila and El Hadi Cherfouh, from Dieppe, New Brunswick, and their children, Koceila and Dihia.
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