Oldest-Known Message in a Bottle Washes Up in Australia


A Perth family has found the world’s oldest known message in a bottle, more than 130 years after it was thrown into the sea. (ABC News)

Use today’s MapMaker Interactive map to help students navigate the journey of the bottle.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of today’s key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including a link to today’s MapMaker Interactive map.

Discussion Ideas

  • A bottle with a rolled-up message was dropped overboard in 1886. So, what did the message say?
    • Diese Flasche wurde űber Bord geworfen
      am 12 ten Juni 18 86
      In 32° 49’ Breite Sűd
      Und 105° 25’ Länge Greenwich Ost
      Vom : Bark Schiffe: Paula Heimath: Elsfleth Kapitän: D [illegible]
      auf der Reise von: Cardiff nach: Macassar
      Der Finder wird ersucht den darin befindlichen Zettel, nachdem die auf umstehender
      Seite gewűnschten Angaben vervollständigt sind, an die
      Deutsche Seewarte in Hamburg
      zu senden oder auch an das nächste Konsulat zur Beförderung an jene Behörde


  • OK, smart aleck. So, what did the message say?
    • The message was remarkably succinct, and in German: It gave the date (12 June 1886), precise coordinates of where the bottle was thrown overboard (-32.49, 105.25), the name of the ship (Paula), the ship’s journey (Cardiff, Wales, to Makassar, Indonesia), and a request to report discovery of the bottle to the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg.



  • Very few bottles from the Paula or other participating ships were recovered. What might be some reasons for this?
    • Some bottles probably washed up on unexplored coastlines, such as those in Antarctica. (Start looking!)
    • Some bottles probably broke, took on water, and sank to the bottom of the sea.
    • Some of the glass bottles may have survived as seaglass, but the inexpensive, delicate paper the notes were printed on may have disintegrated on exposure to seawater, churning currents, abrasive beach sand, or more than 100 years of direct sunlight.


  • Take a look at today’s MapMaker Interactive map. The Paula bottle did not travel too far. Why do you think it took more than 100 years to travel fewer than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles)?
    • Ocean currents do not follow straight paths. They move in large, vaguely circular gyres. Learn more about ocean currents here.
    • It actually didn’t take the bottle more than a year to wash up on Wedge Island. It’s been buried under the sand for the rest of the time. The tightly rolled note was protected by the dark, sturdy glass and layers of sand.


  • Can I track ocean currents with a message in a bottle?



ABC News: Oldest-known message in a bottle found on WA beach 132 years after being tossed overboard

Nat Geo: Message in a Bottle map

NOAA: The Global Drifter Program

Nat Geo: Mapping Ocean Currents

Nat Geo: The Geography of Ocean Currents

(extra credit!) Western Australian Museum: ‘Diese Flasche wurde űber Bord geworfen’: a message in a bottle from the German barque Paula (1886) discovered at Wedge Island, Western Australia

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