The world’s oldest message-in-a-bottle has been found in Australia and there are two fascinating elements to the story. One is that the world’s oldest message in a bottle has been found in Australia. The other is the work that was required to determine that the world’s oldest message in a bottle has been found in Australia.
Tonya Illman, of Perth, picked up the bottle on a beach in January after the family car got stuck and she decided to go for a walk, the BBC reports today.
A family member noticed what appeared to be a cigarette inside. Normally, a person would toss the bottle back or dump out the trash. But not Tonya and her clan.
“Tonya tried to untie the string around the paper, but it was rather fragile, so we took it home and put it in the oven for five minutes to dry up the moisture.
“Then we unrolled it and saw printed writing. We could see the hand written ink at that point, but saw a printed message that asked the reader to contact the German consulate when they found the note.”
Later, they also noticed faint handwriting on the note, with a date of 12 June 1886 and the name of the ship, Paula.
When they saw the date they thought it was “too far-fetched” to be real, Mr Illman said – but they researched the bottle online and took it to experts at the Western Australian Museum.
Experts. There’s the other fascinating part of the story, told by Kym Illman, Tonya’ husband, who details the process on his website.
Kym understands German.
“I could easily make out the day and month, June 12th but the year was harder to decipher.” claimed Kym. “We had to wait a week before we had confirmation it was 1886.” This meant the note was out of human hands for 131 years and 223 days. The coordinates (32.49 and 105.25) were also easy to see. “Sud” (south) was visible next to 32.49 but it was difficult to make out the text after 105.25. If it was “Ost” (east) then the bottle was tossed overboard around 900kms west of Mandurah in WA. This would have meant a journey of some 950 kilometres from boat to Wedge Island beach. If it was West, the bottle would have been tossed overboard somewhere west of South America.
The rest of the handwriting was harder to decipher. Kym could make out the letters “aula” and guessed the ship might be Paula. The Assistant Curator, Maritime Archeology at the WA Museum, Ross Anderson was contacted 2 days after the find and a day after that he sent through some good news, saying he had located a boat of that name listed in the Lloyds Register 1883 (there were no registers for 1884 -1886), but it’s home port was listed as Marseille, France. This was confusing as the Heimath (home port) field on the note had a town/city that clearly started with an E.
The ship would have been suitable for an Indian Ocean voyage and could well have been sold after 1883 to new owners and moved to a new home port. It was listed as a 320-ton gross sailing barque, iron frames with timber planking, felt and yellow metal sheathing, built in Lormont, Bordeaux, France, in 1859, owners L. Daver, Master Serett.
German maritime historian Christine Porr (who also works at the WA Museum) then advised the Illmans that she’d heard from Germany that her contact had found mentions of the Paula, along with the captain’s name (O Diekmann), in an 1887 Journal of German Marine Meteorology.
This clearly proved that a) the boat had the notes on board with one already being returned to Deutsche Seewarte in Hamburg, and b) the boat was in Macassar 11 days after the note found by Tonya was tossed overboard.
Once they figured out what ship the writer was on, the couple found the ship’s meteorological log, which was still held by the German weather service.
There was an entry from Captain O. Diekmann, who wrote that he tossed the bottle and note on June 12, 1886 at the exact co-ordinates on the note.
The handwriting in the journal was the same as the handwriting on the note.
Archive: The power of a note in a bottle (NewsCut)