The world’s oldest known message in a bottle – thrown off a German ship on June 12, 1886 – has been found by a family on a remote beach in Australia after their car became stuck in the sand.
The message was written in German on paper which was bound and tied with a string and kept in a nineteenth-century Dutch gin bottle. The note stated it was thrown off the sailing barque Paula, about 600 miles off coast of Western Australia.
It was found 132 years later by Tonya Illman, who spotted an object sticking out of the sand while walking with her family near Wedge Island, 100 miles north of Perth.
"It just looked like a lovely old bottle, so I picked it up thinking it might look good in my bookcase," she told ABC News.
Ms Illman turned the bottle over and a damp piece of paper tipped out.
"My son’s girlfriend was the one who discovered the note when she went to tip the sand out," she said.
"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 family took their find to Ross Anderson, a maritime archaeology expert at the Western Australian Museum, who confirmed the gin and paper were authentic. He then contacted colleagues in Germany and the Netherlands who tracked down handwriting samples from the captain’s entries in the ship’s meteorological journal.
“Incredibly, there was an entry for June 12, 1886, made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard,” Dr Anderson told ABC News.
"The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message. The handwriting is identical in terms of cursive style, slant, font, spacing, stroke emphasis, capitalisation and numbering style."
From the 1860s, the German Naval Observatory ran an experiment to examine ocean currents in which it urged captains to toss bottles overboard containing a form which recorded the date, the ship’s coordinates and details about its route.
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Ms Illman has donated the discovery to the Western Australian Museum. The second-oldest bottle to be found was 108 years old.