Message in a bottle.

A museum announced the discovery of the world’s oldest message in a bottle on Tuesday, located on the coast of Australia. Unfortunately, those looking for tales of long-lost loves or lives once lived will be rather disappointed. The 132-year-old message instead asks readers to fill out a survey and send it back.

The bottle was discovered on January 21 of this year by Kym Illman and Tonya Allan around 110 miles north of Perth in Western Australia. As it was found around 160 feet from the shore, the Western Australian Museum believes a storm surge pushed it inland. Surprisingly, despite having no cork or covering, the note inside seemed in good condition, so the pair contacted the museum for assistance.

The message, translated from its original German, was as follows:

This bottle was thrown overboard on June 12, 1886 at latitude 32° 49’ South and longitude 105° 25’ from Greenwich East.

From: Bark Ship Paula, Port: Elsfleth, Captain: D [illegible], On her journey from Cardiff to Macassar.

The finder is requested to send the slip in the bottle to the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or the nearest consulate for the return to the same agency after filling in the information on the back.

On the reverse is a form for finders to fill out:

Name of finder and notes on the condition of the bottle when it was found (if there was sand in it or not):

Date of finding? On…. st/nd/rd/th ……………….18……………… Exact time of finding? At…..Hours…..Min.

Exactly where found? Latitude ….° ……’

Signature of the Finder:

The reverse of the note.
The reverse of the note.

The gin type bottle is consistent with an 1886 date, and experts were able to confirm the boat did take that journey. In fact, Paula’s captain recorded the bottle going overboard.

The sender was taking part in an oceanographic survey, an investigation between 1864 to 1933 into ocean currents and efficient shipping routes. Somewhere between eight and 10 percent of bottles made it back to Hamburg. In some ways, it’s surprising this one didn’t make it back, as analysis suggests the bottle washed up around six to 12 months after leaving.

Still, at least the ship’s efforts weren’t in vain.


Photos via WA museum, WA Museum