World’s Oldest Known Message In A Bottle Found

Published March 6, 2018

The bottle was picked up by a couple who thought it would look nice on their bookshelf.

Message In A Bottle

The GuardianThe bottle found by the Illman’s on Wedge Island, Western Australia.

A couple taking a stroll down a beach in Australia got more than they bargained for when they picked up an old bottle and discovered a 132-year-old piece of history.

Tonya and Kym Illman were walking in the sand dunes near Wedge Island back in January when Tonya noticed a glass bottle lying on the ground. At first, the couple assumed it was garbage, but when Tonya noticed the raised lettering on the side, she picked it up. Realizing it was an old gin bottle, the couple decided to take it home, as it would look nice on their bookshelf.

When they took a closer look at the bottle, they found that it was sealed, with a roll of paper inside. On the paper was a handwritten note, written in German, dated June 12, 1886. The couple took the roll and the bottle to the Western Australian Museum, where it was authenticated.

German Note

ABCThe German message and gin bottle.

According to Ross Anderson, the museum’s assistant curator of maritime archaeology, the bottle was actually just one of the thousands that were thrown overboard from a German sailing ship over a 69 year period.

The ship, a German craft known as Paula, and its crew were part of a long-term experiment to track ocean currents. During their passage across the Indian Ocean, the crew would periodically record their current location, the date, and the name of the ship on a scroll of paper. Then, they would stuff it into an old gin bottle, and toss it overboard, in the hopes that whoever picked it up could record where it landed, and in turn track the currents of the ocean.

“I have a basic understanding of German,” Kym Illman said, of reading the scroll. “It said could the finder please plot the coordinates it was found, and the date it was found, and send it back.”

The ship’s maritime records have been documented at the German Naval Observatory, which alongside the Western Australian Museum, confirmed that the Illman’s bottle was one of those thrown overboard. In fact, the Paula’s captain’s log makes mention of the very bottle found.

“Incredibly, there was an entry for June 12, 1886, made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard,” Anderson said.

Over the years, 662 of the thousands of bottles thrown overboard have been found, containing similar messages from the same experiment, though none in recent years. The last bottle to be found was picked up in 1934.

Next, check out the first ever Australian deep sea investigation. Then, check out the world’s oldest tattoos, discovered on a pair of 5,000-year-old mummies.

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That's Interesting.