Oldest ever message in a bottle has been discovered washed up on a beach

Much like pirates or knights in shining armor, messages in bottles sound like the sort of thing that have only ever existed in fairytales. However, despite being a legit thing, they're also pretty rare, and notable instances of bottled notes being used as an effective form of communication are few and far between.

So, when one Australian family found a bottle washed up on a beach, they initially thought it was just a piece of trash. However, since the bottle looked quite nice, they decided to take it home with them - only to find that it had a rolled up note inside.

Amazingly, the artifact turned out to be not just any message in a bottle, but the oldest one ever discovered.

message in a bottle Credit: Kim Illman

The Illman family stumbled across the object by chance on January 21st, and had only been walking along the beach because their car had gotten bogged down in the sand. While on their stroll, Tonya Illman and her friend saw a load of trash strewn about.

"Tonya saw a whole lot of rubbish on the ground, and thought she'd help pick up some rubbish," said Tonya's husband, Kym. While sifting through it, she discovered the bottle and kept it aside so that she could display it on her bookshelf at home.

When Tonya passed it to her son's girlfriend for her to take a look, the younger woman noticed what she thought was a rolled-up cigarette inside. So, as anyone would do, she tipped it out onto the sand. Once out of the bottle, however, it became apparent that it wasn't a cigarette at all, but a note tied together with a piece of string.

"Tonya tried to untie the string around the paper, but it was rather fragile, so we took it home and put it in the oven for five minutes to dry up the moisture," Kym said. "Then we unrolled it and saw printed writing. We could not see the handwritten ink at that point, but saw a printed message that asked the reader to contact the German consulate when they found the note."

oldest message in a bottle Credit: Kim Illman

Later on, the handwriting became slightly clearer, and the couple were able to make out the date: June 12th, 1886. It also included the name Paula - the title of the ship. At first, the Illmans believed that the bottle must be a fake, as surely nothing could have remained intact in the ocean for that long.

However, once they did some research, they found that the name of the ship matched, and the bottle appeared to be genuinely dated from the same era. So they took it to experts at the Western Australia Museum.

Dr. Ross Anderon, who curates maritime items at the museum, confirmed that the artifact was indeed the real deal.

"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," he said. "The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message."

What's more, the handwriting in the journal matched the message in the bottle, so the Illmans could identify exactly who penned the note as well as where it came from.

couple find message in a bottle Credit: Kim Illman

The bottle was thrown overboard in the south-eastern Indian ocean more than 130 years ago, and was most likely washed up on the Australian coast less than a year later. Since then, it has probably remained buried in the sand, and it's a miracle the message survived so long since it didn't have any proper closure.

Writing online, Tonya described the find as "the most remarkable event in [her] life" - and it's not one she's likely to forget anytime soon.