World’s oldest message in a bottle discovered on Australian beach

Couple who found 132-year-old bottle thought it was jetsam that would “look good on a bookshelf”

A couple of beachwalkers were enjoying their time in the dunes near Wedge Island in Western Australia when they stumbled upon an old gin bottle brought there by the waves of the Indian Ocean.

To their surprise, what appeared to be a nice decoration that would “look good on a bookshelf” turned out to be the oldest message in a bottle ever recorded.

Inside the bottle, Tonya Illman found a letter that was later authenticated by the Western Australian Museum as a roll of paper printed in Germany in 12 June 1886.

“It was an absolute fluke. It won’t get better than this,” her husband Kym Illman told the Guardian Australia.

The message in a bottle was been found in the dunes near Wedge Island – Shutterstock Australian
The message in a bottle was been found in the dunes near Wedge Island – Shutterstock

Kym said that his wife initially thought that the 132-year-old bottle was nothing but rubbish. She picked it up for its distinct and raised lettering and wanted to use it to decorate her home.

But those hoping for a romantic story might be a bit disappointed that the message wasn’t a love letter written by a desperate dreamer.

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

The bottle was reportedly part of a series of experiments carried out in the second half of the 19th century by German marine scientists.

Over a period of 69 years the explorers threw thousands of bottles from their ships to track ocean currents. Each of the letters inside had notes about the ship’s coordinates, the date, and the name of the ship, which allowed the museum’s assistant curator of maritime archaeology, Ross Anderson, to identify the message.

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

The journey of the bottle started on a ship named Paula that was crossing the Indian Ocean, 950 km from the coast of Australia.