Blog

Message in a bottle

By: Vanessa Finney, Category: Science, Date: 29 May 2013

Hidden inside a copper jug, a message from the past.
 

Copper jug and message.

 © Australian Museum

In Archives this week we have been doing some office rearranging and moving some of our display objects around. This particular object rattled.

Inside was the proverbial message in a bottle. A neatly typed script in a test tube with a stopper. Written in 1979 by Patricia McDonald from our Education Department, it's the history of the jug --and this is no ordinary more-than-116-year-old copper jug.

In use before 1897, this is one of the jugs used to measure preserving spirit for specimens held on shelves in serried racks of jars inside our early  'Spirit House' (named for the alcohol and not the ghosts).

Received under bond from Customs, every gallon of the ethyl alcohol used as preserving spirit for specimens had to be accounted for.

According to Jim Baldie (Chief Artificer from the 1950s), the dents in the bottom of the jug were made by Bertie Jackson (his predecessor) to make sure that each gallon of alcohol was a little short. As officer-in-charge of issuing the spirits, this is how he compensated for wastage and kept his records straight.