Lonely Planet Writer

Family discovers the world's oldest message in a bottle on a beach in Australia

While exploring sand dunes in Western Australia, a Perth family has found the world’s oldest message in a bottle on a remote beach. According to the experts, it was thrown into the sea 132 years ago.

An Australian family has found the world’s oldest message in a bottle. Image by PhotoStock-Israel/Getty Images

Tonya Illman spotted the antique gin bottle among the dunes thinking it might look good on a bookshelf, while her husband attended to their car which was stuck in the sand. She told the BBC they could see some paper in the bottle rolled up like a cigarette, but it wasn’t until they went home and dried the bottle out that they found a the handwritten message from the German ship Paula, dated 12 June 1886. The previously Guinness World Record for the oldest found message in a bottle was 108 years. 

The bottle was found on a beach in Perth. Image by Jennifer A Smith/Getty Images

The Illmans told the BBC that when they saw the date they thought it was too far-fetched to be real. But they took it to experts at the Western Australian Museum who investigated and confirmed its origins. “Incredibly, an archival search in Germany found Paula’s original Meteorological Journal and there was an entry for 12 June 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,” Dr Ross Anderson, Assistant Curator Maritime Archaeology at the WA Museum, said. The handwriting on the journal, and the message in the bottle, also matched, he added.

The bottle was jettisoned in the south-eastern Indian Ocean while the ship was travelling from Cardiff to Indonesia. It probably washed up on the Australian coast within 12 months, where it was buried under the shifting sand dunes.