A trip to the beach is supposed to be relaxing. It’s a chance to take in nature and walk along quietly as the waves lap against the shore.
But a woman and her friend in Perth, Australia, were having a hard time appreciating the remote beach’s natural beauty because of all of the trash lying on the sand. Disappointed to see so much rubbish, Tonya Illman decided to do her bit and collect some to put in the trash.
But in the process she discovered something amazing.
Tonya Illman was picking up trash on the beach with a friend when she picked up a bottle that was sticking out of the sand.
“It just looked like a lovely old bottle, so I picked it up thinking it might look good in my bookcase,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
After she met up with the rest of her family and she gave the bottle to her son’s girlfriend, Bree. It was then that they realized this wasn’t an ordinary piece of rubbish. The more sand Bree removed from the bottle, the more it became obvious she was holding something special.
“My son’s girlfriend was the one who discovered the note when she went to tip the sand out,” Illman said.
The bottle Illman had picked up by total chance turned out to be a message in a bottle. The note was damp and needed to dry out before it was ready to be read.
The note was dated June 12, 1886, making it 132 years old and the oldest ‘message in a bottle’ ever found.
Faded and hardly visible, the note said the bottle had been thrown from the German sailing barque Paula, 950 km from the Western Australia coast. It also included coordinates of where it was thrown.
After doing some research online, the Illman family still wasn’t sure if they’d made an important discovery, or fallen victim to a hoax. They decided to get a professional opinion from Dr. Ross Anderson at the Western Australian Museum.
“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,” Anderson told the BBC.
“The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message,” he said.
Remarkably, a captain’s journal traced back to the ship from which the bottle was thrown mentions it specifically. The bottle is authentic.
The find is surprising, to be sure, but makes more sense when put into context. From 1864 until 1933, the German Naval Observatory attempted to better understand global ocean currents by throwing bottles and tracking their movement.
Only 10 percent of the bottles were found.
“This has been the most remarkable event in my life,” Kym Illman, Tonya’s husband, said on his website.
“To think that this bottle has not been touched for nearly 132 years and is in perfect condition, despite the elements, beggars belief. I’m still shaking.”
The Illmans have agreed to loan the bottle and note to the Western Australian Museum for the next two years where it will be put on display.