Voice1: One Sunday back in November 2012, New Zealander Geoff Flood was taking a leisurely walk on his local stretch of Ninety Mile Beach on the North Island, when he saw a bottle bobbing up and down in the sea at the water's edge. This wasn't a plastic bottle that a polluter had just tossed into the water. It was a glass bottle with a cork in the neck. And there seemed to be something inside.
Voice 2: Intrigued, Geoff bent down and picked the bottle up. The cork was still intact, and there was no seawater at all inside the bottle. But there was a piece of flimsy paper. And it was obvious now that this was an old bottle, but it wasn’t cracked or damaged. Geoff decided to take his find home to investigate further.
Voice 1: He could see that the piece of paper inside the bottle was thin, and after carefully removing the cork, Geoff thought long and hard about how to get the note out without damaging or destroying it. He knew that if he just tried to pull it or shake it out, the paper would disintegrate. Geoff considered smashing the bottle to get at the contents, but the whole thing looked a bit too special to take drastic action like that.
Voice 2: Eventually, Geoff cut a couple of pieces of wire, and used them to gently coax the delicate piece of paper out through the neck of the bottle. He was astounded at what he found. It was a note dated March 17th 1936. The note was handwritten on headed notepaper bearing the mark of the shipping company P & O and the name of a ship, the SS Strathnaver.
Voice 1: The note read "At sea. Would the finder of this bottle kindly forward this note, where found, date, to the undermentioned address. H. E. Hillbrick, 72, Richmond Street, Leederville, Western Australia".
Voice 2: Geoff was in no doubt what to do next. He did some research on the SS Stathnaver and discovered that this was an ocean liner that had carried immigrants from England to Australia in the 1930s. The Strathnaver had been launched in 1931, and she was sometimes used to carry passengers between ports in Australia and New Zealand. Now Geoff felt he was getting close to solving the mystery of the message in the bottle.
Voice 1: It took Geoff a couple of months to track down the writer of the note, who turned out to be a man called Herbert Ernest Hillbrick. Mr Hillbrick had died in 1941, but Geoff managed to get in touch with his great-grandson, Bob Mason. Bob’s mother, now in her eighties, remembers her grandparents sailing on the Strathnaver, even though she was only five years old at the time. Bob never met his great-grandfather, but he knew his great-grandmother who lived until she was almost ninety.
Voice 2: Why Mr Hillbrick put the message into the bottle and threw it into the sea, we’ll never know. Now that the mystery is partly solved, Geoff has decided to donate his find to a maritime museum. How far has the bottle travelled in 36 years? What adventures has it had? No one will ever be certain, but it’s fascinating to imagine.