A message in a bottle thrown into the sea 108 years ago by British scientists has been discovered washed up on a beach in Germany.
It is believed to be the oldest message-in-a-bottle ever found.
Marianne Winkler, a retired post office worker, found the message from the past while on holiday with her husband on the North Sea island of Amrum.
Mrs Winkler found the bottle in April, but was shy of publicity and the full story has only now emerged.
“It’s always a joy when some one finds a message-in-a-bottle on the beach,” she told the Amrum News, a local website.
George Parker Bidder who released the bottle into the North Sea between 1904 and 1906 as part of his research Photo: MBA archive
“Where does it come from, who wrote it, and how long has it been travelling on the winds, waves and currents?”
But when Mrs Winkler stumbled on her message-in-a-bottle, she had no idea quite how old it would turn out to be.
Written on a piece of paper inside were the words “Break the bottle”.
“My husband, Horst, carefully tried to get the message out of the bottle, but there was no chance, so we had to do as it said,” Mrs Winkler said.
Inside they found a postcard with no date but a message promising a reward of a shilling to anyone who returned it.
The message, in English, German and Dutch, asked anyone who discovered the bottle to fill in some information on where and how they found it.
The return address was the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth.
“We did as it asked, and the story took its course,” said Mrs Winkler.
The couple sent the postcard to Plymouth in an envelope to avoid it getting damaged in the post.
“It was quite a stir when we opened that envelope, as you can imagine,” Guy Baker, communications director at the Marine Biological Association, said.
One of George Parker Bidder’s bottles used to elucidate ocean currents Photo: MBA archive
It turned out the bottle was one of 1,020 released into the North Sea between 1904 and 1906 by George Parker Bidder, a former president of the association.
Bidder released the bottles as part of a project to find out about deep sea currents.
The bottles were specially designed to float just above the sea bed, so they would be carried by the currents deep below the surface.
“It was a time when they were inventing ways to investigate what currents and fish did,” Mr Baker said.
“The association still does similar research today, but we have access to technology they didn’t have, such as electronic tags.
“Many of the bottles were found by fishermen trawling with deep sea nets. Others washed up on the shore, and some were never recovered.”
With the data from the bottles that were found, Bidder was able to prove for the first time that the deep sea current flowed from east to west in the North Sea.
He also discovered that plaice generally swim against the deep current – valuable commercial information for the fishing trade.
“Most of the bottles were found within a relatively short time,” Mr Baker said. “We’re talking months rather than decades.
The oldest message in a bottle in the world, found by the Winkler family Photo: Winkler family handout
The association had long given up hope of any more being traced.
“It’s not as if they come in and dribs and drabs,” Mr Baker said. “I don’t know when one was last sent in, but I don’t think it was for very many years.”
It is thought the postcard Mrs Winkler discovered may be the oldest message-in-a-bottle ever found.
“We’re still waiting for confirmation from the Guinness Book of Records,” Mr Baker said.
The current record-holder spent 99 years and 43 days at sea. It was released in 1914 as part of a similar scientific experiment and found in 2013 in a fishing trawler’s net.
The Winklers with the shilling and letter found in a bottle Photo: Winkler family handout
The discovery of an older message-in-a-bottle was claimed in Germany last year, but has not been recognised yet.
That message was released by a German hiker in 1913, and had been missing for 101 years.
But Dibber’s message-in-a-bottle would beat both of them.
“We think this bottle was one of the last batch he sent out, in 1906, so that would make it 108 years old,” said Mr Baker.
It is impossible to tell whether the bottle has been at sea for all that time, or was washed up long ago and buried in sand, or even lay simply unnoticed, he said.
But the association made sure of one thing: Mrs Winkler got the shilling reward promised in the note.
“We found an old shilling, I think we got it on eBay,” said Mr Baker. “We sent it to her with a letter saying ‘Thank you’.”