Australian photographers Tonya and Kym Illman were out for a beach drive when their tires got buried in the sand. While waiting for help, they decided to take a quiet stroll on the beach. Little did they know they were about to discover something spectacular.
Down the beach, Tonya spotted the sun’s rays reflecting off something, an old bottle. What she didn’t expect was to find a cryptic piece of paper inside and historical revelations to follow.
Tonya And Kym Illman Are Australian Photographers
Tonya and Kym Illman both hailed from the land down under, Australia. And with their trusty cameras, they’ve traveled the world in search of interesting, fantastical stories. Little did the couple know, but one story was about to pop up right on their very own shores.
Born and raised in the Western Australian towns of Lancelin and Perth, Tonya and Kym were about to discover something remarkable and completely unexpected.
While On A Drive, Their Car Wound Up Stuck In The Sand
What started off as a typical drive down the beach, wound up turning into the discovery of a lifetime for Tonya and Kym. Something that wouldn’t have happened if fate wasn’t on their side. As it turned out, while driving in the sand, their car got stuck.
Instead of sitting in the car waiting for help to arrive, Tonya and Kym hopped out onto the sand and decided to take a stroll down the beach.
A Beach Clean-Up Turned Into A Huge Discovery
It was the morning of January 21st, 2018 when the Illman car came to an abrupt halt on the beach. But Tonya and Kym didn’t make their discovery right away. If fact, the first discovery made that morning was the amount of garbage on the beach!
So, the Illman’s took it upon themselves to start cleaning the beach. While Tonya was reaching down to pick up some of the trash, it was then that she noticed the sun’s rays glimmering off of some object.
The Object Was An Old Bottle
When Tonya reached down to retrieve the item out of the sand, she finally realized what it was, an old gin bottle. At first, it looked like nothing more than the usual beach litter one would find lying around.
During an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Tonya even said, “It just looked like a lovely old bottle, so I picked it up thinking it might look good in my bookcase.” Little did she know that the bottle was something else altogether, and the furthest thing from your stereotypical trash.
Tonya’s Son’s Girlfriend Spotted Something In The Bottle
But everything about the bottle changed when Tonya showed it to her son’s girlfriend, Bree. Once the girl saw the old “trash,” she began to think it was something far more important. After inspecting the bottle a bit further, Bree saw what looked like an old cigarette through the clouded glass.
So, she turned the bottle over. The last thing she expected was to have a tightly-rolled piece of paper fall out into the palm of her hand.
Should They Or Shouldn’t They Open The Message?
Of course, after who knows how long the “message in a bottle” had been out at sea, the tiny rolled-up piece of paper was soggy, delicate, and a complete mystery.
The Illman’s and Bree wrestled with the idea of opening the paper, both curious and scared of what the paper might say. During an interview, Bree said, “There was a lot of anticipation among the party as to what the ‘message in a bottle’ might say.”
Curiosity Won Over And They Opted To Dry The Note Out
After some talk, curiosity won everyone over, and the Illman’s decided to read what the message in the bottle said. But first, they had to figure out a way to unroll the note without tearing it apart.
So, very carefully, Tonya and Kym began to dry out the message. After some time, the note was finally dry enough to unravel and read. But the text on the message was far from what the group was expecting.
The Message Was Written in German
Once the paper was dry, the group gathered around to see what was written down. That’s when they noticed a few things. First, when the tiny message was unraveled, it measured eight inches by six inches. Secondly, some of the letter was printed while the rest was in hand-written ink.
And, lastly, the entire note was written in German! Thankfully, Kym had some schooling under his belt, so he was able to translate a few key parts of the message for the rest of the group.
The Message Was Dated June 12, 1886
During an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Kym said, “I could easily make out the day and month, June 12, but the year was harder to decipher. 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.”
It took some time, but finally, the group was able to make out the date written on the message, 1886. But the next part Kym translated was even stranger.
The Message In A Bottle Was For Research Purposes
One of the messages told the finder of the bottle to record the location, date, and time in which the message was found, and then to return it to the German embassy. From that, Kym concluded that the bottle was thrown into the ocean for a very specific purpose, research.
What type of research he had no idea. But there was one way to find out. And, considering how far the group had come already, they were determined to find more answers.
The Message Said To Contact The German Consulate
During an interview, Kym said, “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.”
The group was going to do just that, but not before they searched the message a bit more. And Kym’s next discovery was going to bring them even closer to learning the truth about the mysterious message in a bottle.
There Were Four Mysterious Letters On The Message
Now, they had the month, day, year, and something about returning the note to the German Embassy. But there was one more part of the message that Kym as able to make out. He was able to make out the letters “a-u-l-a.”
He had a sneaking suspicion that the letters were in reference to the ship the bottle was thrown from. And his gut was telling him the name of the ship was Paula, but he needed help in order to be sure.
The Illman’s Contacted A Maritime Archaeology Curator
In order to be sure they were getting the name of the ship correct, the Illman’s reached out to the department of Maritime Archaeology at the Western Australian Museum. There, they met with assistant curator, Dr. Ross Anderson.
Their hope was that Dr. Anderson would be able to fill in some blanks, including the rest of the mysterious message, the name of the ship, and how it randomly showed up on the shores of Western Australia.
Dr. Anderson Was Able To Confirm The Ship’s Name
After taking some time to look over the mysterious message found in the old bottle, Dr. Anderson was able to confirm some of the Illman’s theories surrounding the letter. First, the ship mentioned in the note was most definitely called the Paula, as Kym originally thought.
And after doing some research, Dr. Anderson brought to the Illman’s attention some records from 1883. From there, more of the story regarding Paula began to unravel.
The Paula Was A German Research Vessel
After reading the archives, the Illman’s learned a bit about Paula. First, it was a German sailing ship that was used primarily as a research vessel. Their goal was to study oceanic currents.
In doing so, the crew was ordered to drop thousands of bottles into the sea, much like the one the Illman’s found. However, even after so many years, only one person has reported finding both a bottle and its message.
Tonya Is The First Person To Have Found A Bottle And Note
The Illman’s and Dr. Anderson were amazing about the discovery, especially considering Tonya is the first person in recorded history to have found both the bottle and the message. Dr. Anderson was actually so intrigued that he dove deep into the museum’s archives, coming up with something extraordinary.
During an interview, Dr. Anderson explained his search, saying, “Incredibly, an archival search found Paula’s original meteorological journal.” Interestingly, one passage in the journal really stood out to the curator.
The Journal And Message Had Some Similarities
While reading through the ship’s meteorological journal, a diary dedicated to the various forecasts the crew was seeing during the time, Dr. Anderson stumbled upon something remarkable.
In the journal, he found a passage written by the captain that corresponded directly to the date on the message, June 12th, 1886! During an interview, Dr. Anderson said, “The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message.” And that wasn’t the only similarity found in the journal.
There Were Some Who Were Skeptical
After reading through the journal and looking at the note, Dr. Anderson came to the realization that the handwriting on both pieces was the same. That alone confirmed the notes hundred years old validity.
Of course, there were many people who didn’t believe the note was from 1886. It would have had to survive all of the elements, without a cork in the bottle, for over 100 years, after all! Even Kym was skeptical.
Kym Wasn’t Sure If The Note Was Over 100 Years Old
During an interview, Kym said, “To me it seems unbelievable that this bottle could have stayed in these dunes, without a cap on it, with that scroll intact for that many years.” Of course, as his wife was the one to find the bottle, he wanted to believe in its authenticity.
But he wasn’t the only one who had doubts about the note’s origins. And, if we’re going to be honest, he’s probably not going to be the last.
Were The Illman’s Playing A Prank?
Australian television and radio presenter, Basil Zempilas, expressed his doubt on the bottle and notes actual origins, too. He even thought the Illman’s could be playing an elaborate prank, citing Kym’s marketing background as one reason!
During an interview, the radio and television personality said, “Kym bought [the bottle] in his travels overseas, and he brought it back and said, ‘look what we’ve discovered.” The comment had Kym laughing because the radio host forgot one important detail.
Kym Wasn’t Pulling A Fast One On Professional Curators
While Kym had some reservations where the note actually came from and how old it was, he was no liar. He’s also not some mastermind who could pull one over on professional curators at a museum!
During an interview, Kym said, “I can’t possibly pull the wool over two German national agencies [and] the WA Museum.” And even so, these respected researchers made up their minds about the note, saying the 132-year-old message was definitely authentic!
A German Federal Agency Declared The Message Authentic
And if the curator at the museum wasn’t enough to persuade people of its authenticity, the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany agreed, saying the message was from the year 1886.
No matter what the agency and curators were saying, people were still wondering how a message from 132 years ago was able to stay intact. If it was floating around the ocean for all of those years without a cork, water was bound to destroy it, right?
The Thick And Narrow Neck Of The Bottle Saved The Message
As it turned out, Dr. Anderson had an explanation as to why the paper wasn’t ruined or disintegrated altogether. During an interview with BBC, Dr. Anderson said, “The narrow 7mm bore of the bottle opening and thick glass would have assisted to buffer and preserve the paper from the effects of full exposure to the elements, providing a protective microenvironment favourable to the paper’s long-term preservation.”
And Dr. Anderson and the German federal agency weren’t the only people intrigued by the message in a bottle.
The Message Holds A World Record
At the time of Tonya’s discovery in 2018, the bottle was 132 years old. To their surprise, The Guinness Book of World Records named it the world’s “oldest message in a bottle” for their next publishing year, 2019.
On kymillman.com, Tonya wrote, “This has been the most remarkable event in my life. To think that this bottle has not been touched for nearly 132 years and is in perfect condition, despite the elements. I’m still shaking.”
This Has Been The Most Remarkable Event In Tonya’s Life
Remarkably, Tonya was just walking the beach, doing a good deed, and picking up trash, having no reason to believe there was a part of history lying underneath her feet. We don’t doubt it was the most remarkable event to ever happen in her life!
How many people can say they’ve discovered a 132-year-old message in a bottle that directly relates to a German ship trying to understand the oceanic currents back in 1886? Oh, right, just one!