Sceptics question WA message in a bottle

The world's oldest known message in a bottle has been found on a beach near WA.
The world's oldest known message in a bottle has been found on a beach near WA.

A Perth businessman is rejecting suggestions his discovery of a 132-year-old message in a bottle on a West Australian beach is an elaborate hoax.

Kym Illman is fending off the scepticism after claiming his wife Tonya found a remarkably well-preserved note, dated 1886 and written by the captain of the German sailing barque "Paula", within an almost pristine, unsealed Dutch gin bottle that was partly buried in sand about 50 metres inland near Wedge Island.

The pair brought the items to the Western Australian Museum, which concluded they had made a historic and record-breaking find.

But the fact there's a remarkable connection between the name of Mr Illman's company and the find - not to mention his well-known penchant for securing free promotion through "ambush marketing" - has sceptics asking if this is just another publicity stunt.

He admits the coincidence is both remarkable and fortuitous.

"It couldn't have fallen into better hands," he told AAP.

Mr Illman scoffed at the suggestion he could have mocked up a fake so convincing it fooled the experts, but accepts most people would expect such old objects to be in worse condition.

"If I've shonky-ed this up, I'm even better than I think I am," he said.

"To get access to the name of the boat, where it was on a certain day - because it's not online anywhere - you'd have to go into the annals in Germany, get the information, find a bottle of that vintage and put it up there, wrap a note so that the indent of the rope is visible.

That would be the greatest fluke in the world if I managed to pull off a scam like that. If I've done it, I am a genius."

Museum assistant curator of maritime archaeology Ross Anderson said he was surprised the bottle and message were in such good condition.

But there were other rare examples of objects kept intact by a perfect micro-environment.

He said it must have come ashore within six to 12 months of being jettisoned and spent the years buried in sand, with the tight rolling of the paper aiding its preservation.

"We've done as much as we can to corroborate the find," Dr Anderson told AAP.

The museum says it is one of thousands of bottles that were thrown overboard during a 69-year-long research project by the German Naval Observatory, which sought information about global ocean currents by asking finders to report where and when a bottle had been recovered.

Offshoots of the observatory verified the authenticity of the message found by the Illmans, which matched other records written by Paula's captain that were stored in German archives.

It is now believed to be the world's oldest message in a bottle ever discovered and is being assessed for a Guinness World Record.

Australian Associated Press