Elizabeth Stokes told the Stride inquest that she had received an anonymous letter from Shepton Mallet, saying that her first husband, Edward Watts, a Bath wine merchant, was still alive.
She also told the Morning Advertiser [10th October] that her second husband, Joseph Sneller, "was engaged on a vessel in the Royal Navy, which was stranded on St. Paul's Island, and there he died. His half pay was then stopped, and I was left destitute."
Mrs Mary Malcolm told the Press Association that Elizabeth Watts, her "sister", lived with a man [not Stride] who "kept a coffee shop at Poplar. He was subsequently "wrecked off the Island of St. Paul. He was one of the few who were saved, and eventually he succeeded in reaching New Zealand. It was possible that he had since returned to England. She did not disclose those matters to the coroner, one reason being that the man was very respectably connected at Poplar, where he had relatives living who are shipbuilders and shipowners."
In "JtR:The Facts" Paul Begg identified St Paul as the island in the Cabot Strait, Nova Scotia, the stretch of water being known as the Graveyard of the Gulf. But I can find no record of a Royal Navy ship being wrecked in the Cabot Strait.
However, there are two other islands named St Paul. One is off the coast of Alaska, but need not concern us. The other in the Indian Ocean, south of the Equator.
In 1871 HMS Megaera was assigned to transport Royal Navy recruits to Australia to replace crew members on HMS Blanche and HMS Rosario. It departed from England on 22nd February 1871.
She suffered damage in a storm and put in at Queenstown, Ireland, for repairs. The ship's officers complained that the vessel was overloaded with baggage and riding too low in the water; there was an article in The Times, questions were asked in the House of Commons and eventually an inspection resulted in 127 tons of cargo being removed.
On 28th May 1871 HMS Megaera departed Simonstown, South Africa. Aboard her were 42 officers, 180 sailors, and 67 recruits en route to Australia. On 9th June 1871, sailors discovered 17 inches of water present in the hold, the ship's hull having sprung a leak. Use of the pumps lowered the level to 13 inches and the leak was found. Unfortunately it was a serious one, and the Captain, Arthur Thomas Thrupp, altered course on 15th June 1871 for the nearest land, which was the uninhabited St. Paul Island.
Two days later they anchored at St. Paul in 14 fathoms of water and a diver was sent to inspect the damage. However, the anchor cable broke and they were obliged to take the diver back on board before he could carry out any work. After snapping a second anchor cable, HMS Megaera's divers were finally able to make an inspection. After hearing reports from the divers and the opinions of the ship's engineers regarding the extensive corrosion of the iron plates of the ship's hull, Captain Thrupp announced that HMS Megaera would sail no further and that they were shipwrecked on the island of St. Paul. The sailors and marines burst into applause.
Captain Thrupp beached the ship and it was not completely abandoned for 11 days, when he declared the dangerous wreckage to be off-limits. Two-thirds of the cargo had by then been unloaded.
On 16th July 1871 Captain Visier of the Dutch vessel Aurora spotted the flagpole which the Megaera's crew had erected and Lt. Lewis Jones sailed with her to Surabaya, Java, which they reached on 2nd August 1871. He despatched telegrams to the British Consul in Batavia (Jakarta) and to the Royal Navy Commodore in Hong Kong, who ordered HMS Rinaldo to sail to the rescue.
On 7th August 1871 a second Dutch ship took five men from St. Paul, and on 17th August the captain of the English clipper Mountain Laurel wanted to be paid to rescue the crew of HMS Megaera, claiming that he would have to jettison his cargo to accommodate so many people. Captain Thrupp declined this offer and on 26th August 1871 Lt. Jones arrived on the Oberon with supplies. On 29th August 1871 the ships Malacca and HMS Rinaldo arrived and took off the remaining survivors of the shipwreck.
Captain Thrupp and his crew subsequently faced a court martial in November 1871 at Plymouth and a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the loss of the ship. Thrupp was subsequently honourably acquitted when the court decided that the beaching of the ship was perfectly justifiable.
HMS Megaera is the only combination of Royal Navy Ship, island of St. Paul and feasible date which satisfies Elizabeth Stokes' story.
Mary Malcolm was partly right. The crew survived and were first shipped to Singapore.
So maybe the anonymous letter from Shepton Mallet said that Joseph Sneller was still alive.
One other interesting Stride/Malcolm/Watts/Sneller/Stokes connection—
John Stride was a ship's carpenter from Sheerness, Kent.
In January 1871, one month before it sailed for Australia, Joseph Sneller's ship HMS Megaera was in dock at Sheerness, Kent.