Finding an old sealed bottle with a letter rolled up inside is quite fascinating. People in the past used to bottle up their thought, feelings, and perhaps a map to their inheritance (unlikely) and throw them into the ocean. The bottle would float for decades before washing up ashore and being found. Presently, many such bottles have been found but this bottle found back in 2018 might be the oldest message in a bottle found to date. The message in the bottle dates back to almost 132 years ago.
The bottle was found buried in the sand of a Western Australian beach, namely Wedge Island. It was found by Beachgoer Tonya Illman, who spotted the old gin bottle back in 2018 almost 50 meters from the shoreline at a high watermark. According to the bottle’s contents, it had spent over a century floating around before it was discovered almost 950 km away from where it was thrown into the ocean off a ship in the Indian Ocean. The message in the bottle contained information on a german experiment that ran from 1864 to 1933.
The experiment itself wasn’t something diabolical like you would like to imagine. It had to do with charting the ocean currents. For the experiment, many bottles were thrown overboard from German ships. Each contained a slip of paper marked with the date, the exact coordinates of the ship when the bottle was jettisoned, the name of the ship, its homeport, and the route it was traveling. The other side of the note had a series of questions for whoever found the bottle. They would have to write down when and where the bottle was found.
The note would then be sent back to the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or the nearest German Consulate. Tonya’s husband, Kym Illman, made out some of the writing before eventually taking the note to the Western Australian Museum. Experts confirmed that the dates were correct and the ship Paula did sail the specified route in 1886. According to Ross Anderson, a maritime archaeology curator at the WA Museum “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”.
Ross further added that “The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message”. All of this was found after the expert at WA Museum contacted researchers in Germany. Ross explained that “A handwriting comparison of the bottle message signed by the captain and Paula‘s Meteorological Journal, shows the handwriting is identical in terms of cursive style, slant, font, spacing, stroke emphasis, capitalization and numbering style. Comparison of the original message slips that had been returned for the year 1886 also confirms the type of message, wording, and print layout is identical to the one discovered at Wedge Island in January”.
The previous oldest message in a bottle was 108 years and 138 days old.