Accessibility links

Breaking News

Oldest Message in a Bottle Found on Australia Beach

Left to right: Tonya Illman, Ross Anderson from the WA Museum and Kym Illman

An Australian family has found the world's oldest known message in a bottle, almost 132 years after it was thrown into the ocean.

Tonya Illman and her husband, Kym Illman, were walking in the dunes on Wedge Island in January when they spotted the dark square gin bottle and picked it up.

“It just looked like a lovely old bottle, so I picked it up thinking it might look good in my bookcase,” Tonya Illman told Australia’s ABC.

The bottle had no closure and was partially filled with damp sand. Shortly after, Illman's son's girlfriend tipped out the contents and found a tightly rolled note covered in a piece of string.

Australian, German and Dutch researchers worked together to verify the note's authenticity, according to a report from the Western Australia Museum.

Details from the note matched maritime records of the German sailing ship Paula, as well as the handwriting in the captain’s journal, according to Ross Anderson, the museum’s assistant curator of maritime archaeology.

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

Between 1864 and 1933, German ships conducted an experiment in which they threw thousands of bottles into the sea to track ocean currents. Each message was marked with the ship’s coordinates, the date and the name of the ship. Some 662 of those messages were recovered — and no bottles until now.

The message in the Illman’s bottle was written on 19th-century paper before being slipped into a mid- to late-19th-century Dutch gin bottle. Sailors on the ship had flung the bottle from the deck as they crossed the Indian Ocean, 950 kilometers from the Australian coast.

It's believed to be the oldest-known message in a bottle, in terms of the amount of time that has passed between when it was written and when it was found. Before this discovery, Guinness World Records said that the oldest was 108 years old, found in Germany in 2015.