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​World's Oldest Message In A Bottle Found Washed Up On Beach In Australia

Jess Hardiman

| Last updated 

​World's Oldest Message In A Bottle Found Washed Up On Beach In Australia

Normally when you go for a stroll along a beach your haul includes some driftwood, shells, a friendly-looking hermit crab - or, if you're not quite so lucky, a couple of milk cartons and a used condom.

But Tonya Illman managed to find herself quite the treat when she was walking along the sand dunes just north of Wedge Island - which is 180km north of Perth - with husband Kym.

Credit: 9News
Credit: 9News

Tonya spotted the bottle poking out of the sand, but initially had no idea that it would have so much history behind it, 9News reports.

"It just looked like a lovely old bottle, so I picked it up thinking it might look good in my bookcase," she said.

But the plot thickened when her family discovered a damp, rolled-up piece of paper tied with a string, mysteriously wedged inside the bottle

The Illman family's message in a bottle is the oldest-known in the world
The Illman family's message in a bottle is the oldest-known in the world

"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."

In the message, which was dated 12 June 1886, it said that the message had been thrown overboard from a German sailing ship, 'Paula', 950km from the west Australian coast.


The intrigued Illman family started conducting some of their own research, which was when they realised that maybe their beach junk was either the stuff of an elaborate hoax - or a seriously amazing historical discovery.

They took the bottle to the Western Australian Museum, where Ross Anderson - assistant curator of maritime archaeology - determined that it was a mid-to-late 19th-century Dutch gin bottle, and that the note inside had been scribbled on cheaply-made, 19th-century paper.

Credit: 9News
Credit: 9News

Anderson also contacted colleagues in the Netherlands and Germany to verify the bottle's authenticity, comparing the handwriting samples from the form with the captain's entries in Paula's meteorically journal.

"Extraordinary finds need extraordinary evidence to support them," Anderson said.

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

"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."

Having been discovered 132 years after it was tossed into the sea, the Illmans' find is the oldest-known message in a bottle in the world. The family has now loaned it to the WA museum, where it will be on display for the next two years.

Featured Image Credit: 9News

Topics: World News, Australia News, News, History, Australia

Jess Hardiman
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