Hope they weren’t expecting a quick reply.
An Australian woman happened upon what experts believe is the oldest message in a bottle ever found, dating back to 1886.
Tonya Illman of Perth said she walking along the beach on Wedge Island in January when she spied the old glass bottle and picked it up. She thought the bottle ― which apparently once contained gin ― “might look nice on display” in her home, NPR reported, quoting from a website owned by her husband, Kym Illman.
Illman said when she got back to her car, she handed the bottle to her son’s girlfriend, Bree Del Borrello. She noticed the bottle had no lid or cap, but there was something that looked like a cigarette inside.
It turned out to be a neatly rolled, damp note wrapped in string. After the paper dried, they discovered the note was written in German, according to the account on the website.
Using basic German language skills and Google Translate, Kym Illman figured out the person who dispatched the bottle wanted to know where and when it was found.
“I could easily make out the day and month, June 12, but the year was harder to decipher,” he said on the website. “We had to wait a week before we had confirmation it was 1886.”
The Western Australian Museum in Perth helped the Illmans determine the bottle had been thrown overboard from the German sailing ship Paula as it crossed the Indian Ocean, nearly 600 miles from the Australian coast, according to The Guardian.
Ross Anderson, the museum’s assistant curator of maritime archaeology, also determined the bottle was part of an experiment by German ships ― conducted from 1864 to 1933 ― that attempted to track ocean currents by tossing thousands of bottles into the sea. Each one contained a note giving the name of the ship, its coordinates when a bottle was tossed into the sea and the date.
The notes asked that those who found them contact either the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or the nearest German Consulate with information on where the bottles washed ashore.
The handwriting on the note found by Tonya Illman matched that in the captain’s log for the Paula. And an entry in the log for June 12, 1886, mentioned a bottle having been thrown overboard.
The previous record for oldest-known message in a bottle was for one discovered in April 2015 at Amrum Island, Germany, 108 years and 133 days after it was tossed into the North Sea by the British Marine Biological Society.
Despite the scientific evidence that the bottle and note found in Australia are legitimate, The Brisbane Times interviewed a few people who suspect the whole matter is just an elaborate publicity stunt by Kym Illman. Owner of Messages On Hold, an audio advertising company, he’s known for aggressively marketing his projects.
Illman denied making up the story, though he acknowledged to a radio host the coincidence of his wife’s discovery and his company’s name was remarkable but fortuitous, according to the newspaper.