18th August 1893

Curious bottles wash up on Jersey’s beaches

Dozens of strange bottles were washing up on beaches around the Channel Islands. Egg-shaped, stoppered with corks pained with red enamel and dipped in paraffin wax, they each contained a small postcard bearing the legend, in French and English, “Priere de casser cette bouteille / Break this bottle”.

Once broken, anyone who found them would come across a small collection of pebbles, which had been fixed to the bottom of the bottle using more wax so as to help the bottle bob up and down while the painted cork was kept out of the water. With just the cork protruding above the surface, they were designed to be affected as little as possible by the wind.

Mystery solved

But what were they for? A letter to the Jersey Times and British Press revealed all. James Hornell, director of the Jersey Biological Station, explained that 24 such bottles had been dropped in the sea from the back of the Great Western steamer, to map the currents and tides around the islands, and investigate the viability of setting up artificial hatching beds for lobsters in the warm waters. Anyone who found one was asked to fill in the back of the postcard detailing where it had been washed up and return it.


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