Australia family finds world's oldest message in a bottle

By Sam Howard
A family in Perth, Australia, discovered the world's oldest message in a bottle, seen here. Photo courtesy
A family in Perth, Australia, discovered the world's oldest message in a bottle, seen here. Photo courtesy

March 6 (UPI) -- A Perth family made an unintentional discovery early this year on a Western Australia beach: the world's oldest message in a bottle.

The gin bottle, found on a beach a bit north of Wedge Island, bore a 132-year-old message dated June 12, 1886. Tonya Illman saw the bottle and thought it would make for a neat decoration on her bookcase, she said in a Western Australian Museum release.


The note inside, however, disclosed the bottle's intended purpose. German seafarers asked discoverers to record their coordinates and the finding date before returning the bottle and note to Hamburg's German National Observatory or the closest German consulate,

The note was part of a 69-year German experiment that included thousands of bottles and messages discarded into oceans to chart currents and find quick shipping channels. More than 650 notes have been found and returned, but the message discovered in Australia was the first found since 1934.

Researchers think the Illman bottle likely washed up onto the Australian shore within a year of being tossed into the ocean. Then it probably became buried under damp sand until storm surge or other weather event cleared the layer away.


The Western Australian Museum confirmed the message's legitimacy, making it the oldest message in a bottle ever found -- breaking the previous record of 108 years. The Illman family has since loaned the note and bottle to the museum.

Ross Anderson, the museum's assistant curator of maritime archaeology, determined the bottle was thrown from a ship named Paula about 590 miles from Australia's coast in the Indian Ocean.

The ship was on a journey from Cardiff, Wales, to Makassar, Indonesia, which was known as the Dutch East Indies at the time.

The critical piece of proof: Anderson said he found concrete evidence of the day the bottle was thrown overboard.

"Incredibly, an archival search in Germany found Paula's original Meteorological Journal and there was an entry for 12 June 1886 made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard," Anderson said. "The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message."

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