Oldest Message in a Bottle is 135 Years Old
In November of 2022, something truly incredible happened in Edinburgh, Scotland. Eilidh Stimpson, a Scottish doctor, was having some fairly straightforward renovations done at her house, when plumber Peter Allan flew down the stairs to deliver some mind-boggling news: A hole he had cut through the floor in an upstairs room revealed a very old bottle with a clearly visible letter inside. They didn’t know it yet, but they had just stumbled on the oldest message in a bottle ever found.
Perhaps because I have Scottish ancestors, I am delighted by this latest, very old bottled letter from Scotland. In 2012, Andrew Leaper found a 98 year old message in a bottle from Scotland. At the time, it was the oldest message in a bottle ever found. A little later, a 101 year old message was found from a different point of origin. In the following years, a succession of progressively older bottled notes were found, breaking the record over and over. This culminated in 2018 with the finding of a 132 year old German message in a bottle in Australia. Many thought this record could not be broken. Now, not only has it been broken, but the crown has returned to Scotland! After 10 years of turbulence, the oldest message in a bottle ever found is, once again, Scottish, through and through!
Homeowner Reacts to Finding Bottled Letter Under Floor
As reported by the BBC, Peter Allan recounted the discovery:
“The room is 10ft by 15ft and I have cut exactly around the bottle without knowing it was there. I can’t quite believe it,” he said. Mr. Allan went on, “I was moving a radiator and cut a random hole to find pipework and there it was… I took it to [Dr. Stimpson] downstairs and said ‘Look what I’ve found under your floor’.”
Dr. Stimpson, for her part, was delighted and flabbergasted, according to the BBC.
“She decided to wait until her children aged eight and 10 got home from school before they attempted to retrieve the note from the bottle,” the BBC reported.
“When I picked them up I told them I had something really exciting to tell them and they said ‘Is it that we are having hot dogs for tea?'” she said.
“They had a few more guesses and then I told them a message in a bottle had been found in our house and they were really excited and thought it was maybe treasure.”
Debate Over Oldest Message in a Bottle Sure to Follow
Some believe this is merely a “time capsule,” not a true “message in a bottle” because it never went to sea.
When I look at this message in a bottle, I see a message… I see a bottle… and I see the message inside of the bottle. For me, that settles it.
But if you need convincing, listen up:
Messages in bottles have been sent on dry land since at least the Civil War, when they would occasionally be used to protect sensitive communications during threatening weather, or volatile conditions. Were they just time capsules, because they were on dry land? Of course not – the very idea is ridiculous.
Just recently, in 2022, a dry land message in a bottle garnered worldwide media attention, sent by a girl in a Kent migrant camp. It described conditions inside the camp and asked the outside world for help. Was that not a message in a bottle, either?
What about Scotland’s own Robert Sinclair, whose life was literally saved by a message in a bottle he sent on dry land? Suffering an asthma attack in a farmhouse, he dropped a message in a bottle SOS out the window. Soon after, it was picked up by a neighbor’s dog who took it to their owner, Brian. Brian took the note to police who then found Robert Sinclair and took him to the hospital. According to the dogma (ha!) that a true message in a bottle must come from the sea, Robert Sinclair’s SOS was nothing more than a time capsule. Surely, we can all agree this is an absurd notion.
The argument here, at its core, is over denotation vs. connotation. Messages in bottles carry seafaring connotations, sure. But nothing in the bare bones definition of a message in a bottle demands that it spend time at sea.
This debate over whether Dr. Stimpson’s find is a “true” message in a bottle is a waste of time.
Of course it is a message in a bottle, and it is the oldest ever found. Period.
What Does the 1887 Note Say?
This 135 year old note from 1887 consists of the kind of handwriting you just don’t see much of anymore. Big, loopy script; really beautiful handwriting. Dated October 6th, 1887, this message is actually just over 135 years old.
According to group efforts to decipher the full text of this message, it reads:
James Ritchie and John Grieve laid this floor but they did not drink the whisky. October 6th 1887. Who ever finds this bottle may think our dust is blowing along the road.
Compared to the second oldest message in a bottle ever found (the previous record was 132 years), which was just a scientific form seeking data, this one is downright poetic. I love that the world’s oldest message in a bottle captures the romance and whimsy of this longstanding hobby.
As Dr. Stimpson told the BBC, “To think it lay there all that time and could have been there forever is just amazing. It’s not from just the 70s or something like that, it’s so much older, it’s very cool.”
I have to agree with the good Doctor Stimpson on this… Finding the world’s oldest message in a bottle under your very floor would indeed be “very cool”. It would sure save me a lot of walking!
Other Very Old Messages in Bottles
Here are some of the other incredibly old bottled messages that have been found to date.
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