Inside a Gin Bottle, a Historic 132-Year-Old Message

Bottle and note were tossed off a German ship in 1886, making it oldest message in a bottle ever
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 6, 2018 8:27 AM CST
Updated Mar 10, 2018 6:30 PM CST
On Aussie Beach, the World's Oldest Message in a Bottle
That's some find.   (Getty Images/nito100)

In a Police song come to life in an epic way, a Perth woman just made history with a find on a Western Australian beach. ABC News Australia and the BBC report Tonya Illman was strolling on Wedge Island at the end of January when she spotted what she thought was garbage and decided to pick it up. Instead, it turned out to be what she called a "lovely old bottle," and she yanked it out of the sand to bring home to display on her bookcase. But when her son's girlfriend saw what she thought was a cigarette inside and dumped it out, it turned out to be a damp piece of paper, rolled up and tied with string, which they took home and put in the oven for a few minutes to dry out. When they finally unrolled it, they were shocked to see the message in German. Dated June 12, 1886, the note appeared to have been tossed off a German boat called the Paula.

Illman and her husband, Kym, brought the bottle to the Western Australian Museum. Maritime expert Ross Anderson confirmed the old-time gin bottle had been part of a German Naval Observatory experiment between 1864 and 1933, in which messages in bottles were thrown overboard to study ocean currents. And in the Paula's shipping logs, "Incredibly, there was an entry for June 12, 1886, made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard." That would make this the oldest message in a bottle at 132 years old; the previous oldest one, per Guinness, was 108 years old. Amazingly, the note was preserved despite the bottle having no cork and being partly filled with damp sand. Anderson explains the bottle's thick glass and narrow opening left the paper relatively unscathed. (This woman got a reply to her message in a bottle nearly a quarter-century later.)

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