- Wedge Island
By MEGAN SPECIA
© 2018 New York Times News Service
A message in a bottle was tossed off the side of a German ship on June 12, 1886, as it sailed through the Indian Ocean, the date and location penned carefully in script on the scroll inside.
The bottle — and the message — had been found.
It is believed to be the oldest known message in a bottle ever recovered.
The woman, Tonya Illman, discovered the tokens while walking on a beach near Wedge Island, in Western Australia. The bottle appeared to have been uncovered by a recent storm and was sticking out of the sand halfway, Illman said.
Once the scroll was opened, she saw German text and faded handwriting. While the text was hard to see, the family eventually made out enough of the writing to realize the significance of the find.
The Illmans took their discovery to the Western Australian Museum. The museum contacted experts in the Netherlands and Germany and confirmed the bottle had been dropped from a German vessel called the Paula.
A search of German archives uncovered the Paula’s original Meteorological Journal, and in a captain’s entry from June 12, 1886, researchers discovered a reference to the bottle, thrown overboard as the ship was sailing from Cardiff, Wales, to Makassar, Indonesia. The date and the coordinates matched.
The bottle had been tossed into the Indian Ocean as part of a decadeslong experiment by the German Naval Observatory to understand ocean currents.
Thousands of bottles were thrown into the ocean from German ships between the 1860s and the 1930s, each with a form bearing the date and location where it had been tossed into the sea, the name of the ship, its home port and the travel route, the Western Australian Museum said.
The back of each note asked whoever found the bottle to write when and where it had been found and to return it to the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or to the nearest German Consulate.
The last time one of these bottles was found, and the note sent back to Germany, was in 1934.
The family is waiting for Guinness World Records to verify the discovery of the message in a bottle as the oldest in the world.