World’s Oldest Message in a Bottle, Dating Back to 1886, Found Washed up on Australian Beach

A family in Australia has found what is believed to be the world's oldest message in a bottle, some 132 years after it was thrown overboard.

Tonya Ilman said she found the handwritten note while walking along a beach on Wedge Island, Perth, on the west coast of Australia.

Noticing a gin bottle wedged in a dune, she picked it up thinking that it “might look nice on display” at her home in Lancelin, Perth.

It was then she noticed inside the bottle was a damp note that had been tied up with a piece of string.

oldest-message-in-a-bottle-bottle-on-beach The bottle was of of thousands thrown from German ships to track ocean currents.

After unravelling the paper safely at home, she found a message dated June 12 1886, said to have been thrown from the German sailing ship Paula.  

Surprisingly, the paper was still almost completely intact, with a lot of the German writing still legible.

The family then set out conducting their own extensive research to make sure the message was genuine. Kym Illman, who understands basic German, was able to translate some of the letter before putting the rest through Google Translate.

The note said the bottle was thrown into the Indian Ocean from Paula while it was travelling from Cardiff, Wales, to Macassar in the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia.

The family then took the message to the Western Australian Museum, where Ross Anderson, assistant curator of maritime archaeology, was tasked with investigating its authenticity.

After further research, Anderson confirmed the message matched the captain's entries in Paula's meteorological journal.

"Extraordinary finds need extraordinary evidence to support them," Anderson told ABC.

"The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message.

"The handwriting is identical in terms of cursive style, slant, font, spacing, stroke emphasis, capitalisation and numbering style.”

oldest-message-in-a-bottle-Ross-McDonald-1024x683 Left to right: Tonya Illman, Ross Anderson from the WA Museum and Kym Illman

As the bottle was found on the beach near Wedge Island on January 21, 2018, the note remained inside the bottle for a total of 131 years after 223 days after it was thrown from Paula. The previous record for oldest message in a bottle was 108 years.

The bottle was thrown into the water before construction began on the Eiffel Tower, during the presidency of Grover Cleveland.

Between 1864 and 1933, bottles were frequently thrown overboard from German ships as part of an experiment to better understand ocean currents. The notes ask the finder of the message to return it to German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or the nearest German Consulate.  Of the thousands of bottles thrown overboard, only 662 have been recovered.

Speaking following confirmation of the message’s age, Tonya said: “This has been the most remarkable event in my life. To think that this bottle has not been touched for nearly 132 years and is in perfect condition, despite the elements, beggars belief. I’m still shaking.”

Kym added: “It certainly consumed me for the first week. It was like solving a giant puzzle and now that it’s been confirmed as legitimate, I can’t wait to share our excitement with others.”

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