15 remarkable drinks-related discoveries

Oldest message in a bottle found in Australia once contained gin

A nineteenth century Dutch gin bottle containing a scrolled note, dated 12 June 1886, was found by an Australian family on a remote beach on Wedge Island last year.

Tonya Illman made the discovery while walking on a beach on Wedge Island in Western Australia on 21 January this year. After noticing the glass bottle half sticking out of the sand, she picked it up, intending to display it in her home.

The bottle, which had no lid or closure, was found to contain a damp scroll, tied with twine and measuring 200mm x 153mm, which the family initially thought was a rolled up cigarette. After removing it from the bottle, the family dried it in the oven so that the were able to unroll and read it without damaging the paper.

After the ink properly dried out, it became clear that the message in the bottle, written in German, had originally been on board a ship by the name of Paula.

The team at the WA Museum found that the bottle was made by Daniel Visser and Zonen in Schiedam and is believed to have originally contained gin, or genever – the original juniper-flavoured spirit from which today’s gin originates.

Dutch archeologist, J. van Doesburg, contacted by the WA Maritime Museum stated: “The starting point of production of this specific type of gin bottle is c 1880 (typical tapered shape of the rim). The oldest ones are quite angular, just as older types. The later ones have a more rounded shoulder. The development from angular to round takes about 20-30 years and is gradual. Your bottle should be placed somewhere in this development”.

This makes the find the “oldest message in a bottle” by over 23 years.

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