Message in a bottle washes up after 76 years

A message in a bottle discovered floating on a beach 76 years after it was thrown into the ocean has led to more discoveries.

The family of Australian man Herbert Ernest Hillbrick were in disbelief but "very excited" when a New Zealand family came across the bottle on Ninety Mile Beach in November.

Houhora man Geoff Flood made the find and was shocked to discover how old the bottle and enclosed note were.

On special stamped stationery marked "P&O", complete with a picture of a ship - the SS Strathnaver - the hand-written note, dated March 17, 1936, read: "At sea. Would the finder of this bottle kindly forward this note, where found, date, to undermentioned address."

It was signed H.E. Hillbrick, 72 Richmond Street, Leederville (in Perth), Western Australia.

The Strathnaver ocean liner, operated by P&O, was launched in 1931. It was the sister ship of the RMS Strathaird and the pair were known as the "White Sisters". They both served the Australian mail route and travelled on the Sydney run in the mid-1930s.

Bob Mason - a great-grandson of Mr Hillbrick - said the family were thrilled about the discovery.

"My mother and uncle are very excited," he told the Herald. "Mum remembers the day her grandparents left on the Strathnaver, even though she was only 5 years of age - she is now in her 80s."

The family still treasures a black and white photograph of Mr Hillbrick and his wife, Ethel, taken on board the Strathnaver. Mr Mason also has a pocket knife, one of two his great-grandfather purchased on board the ship. He never met his great-grandfather, who died in 1941.

Mr Hillbrick's old home in Richmond St has been renovated over the years but still stands, although it is no longer in the family's keeping.

"I do remember my great-grandmother, Ethel Hillbrick, as she lived until around the end of the 1970s, close to almost 90 years of age."

Mr Mason said the discovery had led to a reignited interest in the family tree, which has since led to more fascinating discoveries.

"One of the more surprising things I have found is ... there is a connection to New Zealand ... and that is Herbert's mother is a New Zealander.

"Her name was Jessie Sarah Neame, born 1852, in Nelson. She died in 1927 in Perth, Western Australia, and Herbert was one of 11 children - he was number six."

Meanwhile, the note is still getting a lot of public attention, although Mr Flood has been keeping it safe inside acid-free paper.

Mr Flood said they were still trying to figure out what will happen to the note.

"It's still very exciting for us all and something that we will all remember for a long time," he said.

- by Vaimoana Tapaleao of the NZ Herald

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