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The 94-year-old message in a bottle from Brit who sailed world seeking adventure - and £300m treasure hoard

Mirror logo Mirror 10/08/2018 Steve Myall
Adventurers set off on a schooner © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Adventurers set off on a schooner

Student Grant Peters was taking a last look around Post Office Bay on Floreana Island in the Galapagos when he spotted a partially-buried bottle in a sand dune.

Inside was a rolled up scroll of paper – a real-life message in a bottle.

It read: “Hugh Craggs, Yacht St George RTYC, Will any finder please enclose message bearing date, name of finder, of ship, destination, do a rebury and send a postcard to Hugh Craggs 50 Ruskin Ave Manor Park London E12.”

It was dated Aug 1, 1924.

Grant, 26, from Toronto, was keen to find out more about Hugh so, after the discovery in May, he asked for help on discussion website Reddit

What emerged was an amazing tale of fantastic voyages, cannibals and pirate treasure, and how a teenager who set sail from London almost a century ago seeking adventure sure found it.

© Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited

In 1922, 18-year-old Hugh and his three brothers lived in East London with his mother Imogen, after the death of his father John, an inspector with Scotland Yard who was also a published poet.

Hugh, an assistant in the hosiery business, longed to escape his dreary life.

He tried to join Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, but was not chosen. Then on a train one day he saw an advert for a steward on an expedition to be led by Dr Cyril Lockhart Cottle, and funded by Sir Jeremiah Colman of the famous mustard family. They were to set sail on a schooner called Malaya.

Leaving the train at the next station he wired Dr Cottle and arranged to meet him, bubbling with so much enthusiasm he won over the adventurer, beating 2,000 other applicants.

In a newspaper interview just before they embarked, Hugh said: “I’ve been longing to go on a trip of adventure for years. It’s come at last.

a small boat in a body of water © Credits: Pathe

“We are to be away for about three years. I expect to find all the things I’ve read about. Wild beasts, we’re looking for wild animals, savages, fights with natives, we’re ready for anything.”

There is even a British Pathe News reel entitled ‘Dr Cottles’s Expedition To Cannibal Islands’ showing the 90-tonne Malaya before the voyage moored in a London dock. The prime purpose was to look for new species of porpoises and dolphins. Sadly they would do this “by harpooning them”.

Dr Cottle said: “We shall probably go to Vigo then to the Canaries, to the West Indies, on to Colon through the Panama Canal; from there to scattered South Sea islands. We may call at Samoa, North New Guinea, Singapore and North Sumatra. Parts of North Sumatra are totally uncivilised, peopled by man-eating natives.”

Within days of leaving Britain, the Malaya ran into “mountainous seas for 12 hours” before seeking shelter in the Canaries. A newspaper reported the only casualty was its chimpanzee mascot which “came to an untimely end, having strangled itself”.

a man looking at the camera © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited

In the Daily Mirror of June 15, 1922, the chief officer Dr Sinclair of Glasgow had explained before embarkation: “It is a docile, clever and intelligent animal which sits at table and passes the salt or pepper as required.”

The trip to the Galapagos, off the coast of Ecuador, where he left that message was to last more than three years.

It seems travelling became a bit of a drug for young Hugh who did not return to Britain. Instead he disembarked in Colon, Panama, in February 1926.

He then moved to Cristobal, Panama, in 1929 where he became a banker and married an American called Gay, with whom he went on to have a daughter. But his adventurous spirit endured and Hugh had a dream of finding the incredible Lima Treasure. 

This is revealed in the 1935 book Rough and Tumble by Bob Roberts.

a close up of a green field © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited

In it another adventure-seeking sailor recounts: “In Cristobal we ran up against a young man named Hugh Craggs..[who]appeared vastly interested in our doings.

“Craggs started talking of Cocos Island [around 350 miles off Costa Rica]. When serving in the Malaya he had spent 47 days there. The place fascinated him.

“Stories of treasure said to have been buried there he had investigated and disproved so far as was humanly possible.”

The greatest of this was the £300million Lima Treasure, an incredible hoard of gold and jewels stolen by an English ship’s captain and said to be buried in a cave on Cocos. Over the years Hugh, along with the likes of film star Errol Flynn and speed king Malcolm Campbell - became obsessed with finding it.

However, if Hugh returned to Cocos he did not find the treasure. It seems from online records he and his wife moved to New York in 1932, then around Florida, the West Indies and on to Central and South America. However there was much more to Hugh than just wanderlust and treasure hunting.

In Pictures: Amazing treasures found in attics and lofts (Provided by Lovemoney)


On the Malaya he had helped to collect samples of rare orchids.

A 1970 book called the World Wildlife: The Last Stand by Philip Crowe, catches up with Hugh.

He writes: “Near El Salto is the finca of Hugh Craggs, the leading orchid grower of Guatemala. “He gave us lunch and showed us his greenhouses, holding some 8,000 to 9,000 orchids.” Along with orchids he was also a very successful coffee grower. In 1983 Hugh’s beloved wife Gay died. Eight years later after moving to Arizona, he died too.

One of his grandsons recounted more tales: “During the war he organized an effort to raise funds in Colon to purchase a Spitfire for England. He also was the first to kayak through the Panama Canal.”

As for the Malaya, it returned to London three and half years later.

It seemed after leaving London it put in at Falmouth where Dr Cottle married a 17-year-old girl he took on the trip.

The Mirror proudly reported on their “bridal voyage of three years”.

All this from a message in a bottle.

Grant is stunned by what his appeal for help uncovered. He says: “Hugh had an amazing life. It’s been a privilege to find out about it, what an adventure.”

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