The World’s Oldest Message In A Bottle Was Just Found, But What The Heck Is Inside?
A nice stroll on the beach can turn into the discovery of a lifetime. Just ask two West Island, Australia beachgoers, who found the world’s oldest message in a bottle 132 years after it was thrown into the ocean. Its historical contents are fascinating.
One Man’s Trash
While walking along the beach, Tonya Illman spotted the glass bottle unaware of the amazing piece of history rolled up inside. “It just looked like a lovely old bottle so I picked it up thinking it might look good in my bookcase,” Illman said.
“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,” Illman continued. “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.”
A 19th Century German Scientist’s Treasure
Surprisingly, the message had remained in the bottle although the cork was missing. After some help with translation and verification from the Western Australian Museum, the bottle’s contents were identified as part of a German experiment that ran from 1864 to 1933 to chart the ocean currents.
Thousands of bottles were thrown overboard from German ships during this period, each of them containing a slip of paper marked with the date, exact coordinates of the ship where the bottle was released, the name of the ship, its home port and the route it was traveling. The other side of the note featured a questionnaire, asking whoever found the bottle to list the location and time it was found, then to send the note back to the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or the nearest German Consulate. The most amazing discovery, however, is up next.
Tracing Back Time
Tonya Illman and her husband were able to make out a few details from the faint lettering on the message: the date was June 12, 1886, the route was from Cardiff to Makassar and the ship’s name was Paula. After verifying these details, the Western Australian Museum contacted researchers in Germany, discovering an unbelievable piece of history.
“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. The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message,” said Ross Anderson, Assistant Curator Maritime Archaeology at the Western Austrailian Museum. “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,” he continued. This particular bottle is just the 663rd discovered out of the thousands jettisoned from German ships. It is also the oldest ever found, as the previous record-holder was 108 years old. So next time you’re taking a stroll on the beach, be on the lookout for not-so-buried treasure. You may just unlock a little piece of history.
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