On June 12, 1886, a German sailor tossed a message in a bottle overboard in the middle of the Indian Ocean. After nearly 132 years, the bottle has finally been found on an Australian beach, making it a record-breaker for the longest time a message in a bottle has remained unread.
The bottle (pictured below) was discovered by Tonya Illman and her family while taking a walk along the beach in West Australia, around 180 kilometers (111 miles) north of Perth.
“My friend Grace Ricciardo and I were walking across the dunes when I saw something sticking out of the sand so I went to take a closer look,” Tonya explained in a statement.
“It just looked like a lovely old bottle so I picked it up thinking it might look good in my bookcase. My son’s girlfriend was the one who discovered the note when she went to tip the sand out. The note was damp, rolled tightly and wrapped with string. We took it home and dried it out, and when we opened it we saw it was a printed form, in German, with very faint German handwriting on it.”
The bottle contained a rolled-up note written in German, dated June 12, 1886, stating the coordinates of where it was dropped into the sea, around 950 kilometers (590 miles) from the coast in the Indian Ocean. It also noted that the sailor was onboard a German ship called Paula as part of an oceanographic exploration to better understand ocean currents and find faster shipping routes.
Importantly, there's some extremely sturdy evidence to back up the authenticity of the discovery, which you can find in the Western Australian Museum’s report. First up, the bottle appears to be an authentic late-19th-century Dutch gin bottle. More concretely, there's even written evidence from the 1880s that speaks of the bottle's journey.
“Extraordinary finds need extraordinary evidence to support them,” said Dr Ross Anderson, Assistant Curator of Maritime Archaeology at the WA Museum.
“Incredibly, an archival search in Germany found Paula’s original Meteorological Journal and there was an entry for June 12, 1886, made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard. The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message,” he added.
Researchers at the Western Australian Museum believe that the bottle probably hit the Australian beach within a year of being tossed overboard. There, it lay buried in damp sand until a storm surge unearthed it some 130 years later. The family has now loaned their find to the Western Australian Museum to display for the next two years.
Before this discovery, the oldest known message in a bottle was 108 years old, a capsule that was lost in the North Sea for 108 years before being found in Germany.