Bottled messages aren’t fantastical fiction created for song lyrics and fictional stories; they are real and may date back centuries, in some form or another. They were an interesting means of communication, once upon a time.
From Edgar Allan Poe’s story titled MS. Found in a Bottle in 1833 to Sting’s song Message In a Bottle in 1979, we live in a society that has at least heard of messages in a bottle, even if it’s not something commonplace these days.
Why Did People Use Messages in Bottles for Communication
Dropping a bottle with a message into the water doesn’t sound like a very effective means of communication. There’s no way to know where the message will end up, if anyone will ever find it, or if it will start to leak and sink to the bottom of the ocean.
The trajectory of a bottled message, or drift bottles, as they are called in scientific studies, could depend on a few factors. Things could be placed in the bottle to determine how it floats and the path it may travel on. Some sand in the bottle of the bottle (not enough to completely sink the bottle) would make it so that the bottle would float erect, instead of on the side.
Bottles generally travel by the tides or winds. So message senders are at the fate of nature on where their message will end up and whether or not it will be found. In that case, why would you send a message via a bottle in the sea?
Well, if you’re lost at sea in a time when there weren’t fancy communication systems in boats, you needed some way to tell people where they could find you. The same goes if you’re stranded on an island without a cell phone or any cell service.
Nowadays, most messages in a bottle are done simply for the sake of science and oceanography. Drift bottle studies help to get a closer look at how ocean currents function. However, people have dropped messages in a bottle in the water to share messages of romance and reaching out to the unknown.
Examples of Messages in a Bottle That Have Been Found
Proof that messages in a bottle are a real thing that people have used to send out communication is in the details— it’s within letters people have found in bottles washed up on beaches or floating near shores.
Zoe Averianov tossed a message in a bottle off a ferry while traveling in the North Sea. She was ten years old when she put a message looking for a pen pal via message by water. It would be twenty-three years later that her message would be found.
A couple walking by the dikes of Oosterschelde in the Netherlands found the small plastic bottle that contained the young girl’s message. They sent a response, through the post office, of course.
Message from the War Front
In 1914, Private Thomas Hughes tossed a message in a bottle into the English Channel with a note to his wife and an additional letter asking for the finder to forward the letter to her. He did it just to see if the letter would make it to her.
It was found in 1999, on the Essex coast in England. The WWI veteran died shortly after he sent his watery message, but it finally made its way to his daughter after it was found.
The SS Strathnaver
On letterhead from the British Royal Mail Ship The SS Strathnaver, Herbert Hillbrick tossed a bottled note into the waters somewhere between England and Australia in 1936. He simply wanted a response from the finder.
In 2012, a gentleman found the bottle and note along Ninety Mile Beach in New Zealand. The author of the note died in the 1940s, but the man who found the letter managed to track down Hillbrick’s grandson.
A Message to the Deceased
Losing someone you love is heartbreaking, and for one mother, dropping a letter to her dead son into the water was a way to reach out beyond the world of the living. In 2002, Karen Liebreich found a letter in a tear-shaped bottle on a beach in Kent. It was a letter from a French woman to her deceased son.
Liebreich set out on a mission to find the woman who had dropped that letter in the water only a few months before; she even wrote a book about it that was published in 2006. It wasn’t until the book was translated to French in 2009 that the woman who penned the message would reach out to the book’s author.
Between oceanography studies and random letters tossed to sea, millions of messages in bottles have been released over the years. One man has found 83 of these messages in a bottle alone, and there’s a chance some will never be found. Next time you’re walking along a beach, keep an eye out for bottles.