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Friday, July 19, 2024
Est. 1870

Message in a Bottle

Found on a secluded beach in Western Australia on 21st January 2018, the world’s oldest message in a bottle offers a fascinating glimpse into the past.

Discovered lying half-buried in the sand by Tonya Illman, the intact bottle protected a tightly rolled parchment inscribed with the name of a ship, Paula.

Dated June 12, 1886, we now know that the note was cast overboard from the Paula as part of an experiment arranged by the German Naval Observatory. Experts at the Western Australian Museum authenticated the bottle and note, identifying the bottle as a mid to late 19th-century gin bottle.

In a remarkable twist, an archival search in Germany unveiled Paula’s original Meteorological Journal. An entry perfectly matched the date and coordinates on the bottle’s message, with the handwriting on both documents aligning seamlessly. The bottle had been jettisoned in the south-eastern Indian Ocean during Paula’s voyage from Cardiff, Wales, to Indonesia. It seems likely that the bottle reached the Australian coast within a year, lying undiscovered under the sand until Illman’s fortuitous find.

This extraordinary discovery shattered the previous Guinness World Record for the oldest message in a bottle by nearly 24 years. Kym and Tonya Illman have thoughtfully loaned their historic find to the Western Australian Museum, allowing visitors to marvel at this remarkable link to the past.

The square shape of this gin bottle, a solution to the storage and transportation challenges posed by traditionally round and bulky bottles, is a testament to the ingenuity of the era. Compact and stable, square bottles could be packed more efficiently and securely, reducing the risk of breakage during sea voyages.

This find offers a fascinating insight into the maritime history of the 19th century, and the square section gin bottle will be familiar to supporters of Smeaton's.


The barque Paula by artist Édouard Adam


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