A 132-year-old message in a bottle has been found on a beach by a woman who picked it up because she thought it’d look good as an ornament.
Tonya Illman discovered the gin bottle near Wedge Island, Western Australia, in January and said it has been ‘the most remarkable event’ to have happened in her life.
From the moment it was discovered up until now, it’s been quite a journey.
Watch the couple’s discovery video here:
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It all started when Tonya and her friend Grace Ricciardo noticed the bottle in the sand.
I picked it up thinking it might look nice on display in my home and when I got back to the car, I handed it to my son’s girlfriend, Bree, to mind while I helped my husband get my son’s car out of the soft sand.
There was no lid on the bottle and peering inside, Bree caught a glimpse of what she thought was a cigarette, but tipping it, she found it was in fact a ‘neatly rolled, damp note, tied with a piece of string, and covered in sand’.
There was a lot of anticipation among the party as to what the message in a bottle might say but it was too wet to open without damaging the note, so we took it back to Lancelin and placed in a warm oven for a few minutes to dry it out.
Inside, she found a roll of paper printed in German and dated to June 12, 1886, which was authenticated by the Western Australian Museum.
Tonya’s husband, Kym said:
The first thing that caught my eye was the year field, 18__. It seemed totally unlikely to us that the note and bottle could have lasted that long and then be so easy to find.
Using his basic German, Kym was able to figure out bottle was ‘thrown overboard’ and it asked that the finder sent details of where and when it was found – the rest was all done through Google Translate, according to Kym’s website.
I could easily make out the day and month, June 12 but the year was harder to decipher.
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.
Ross Anderson, the Assistant Curator of Maritime Archeology at the WA Museum, was contacted two days after the find.
Just a day later, he had located a boat of that name listed in the Lloyds Register 1883 (there were no registers for 1884 -1886), but its 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.
According to Kym’s website, he says:
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.
The story of Tonya’s discovery of the message in a bottle is now on its own voyage around the world, going viral, as opposed to by sea.
Kym told UNILAD:
The reaction to the announcement today has been completely overwhelming. It’s clear that the world loves long lost messages in bottles.