Message in a bottle | State Library of New South Wales

Message in a bottle

On the final and most dangerous leg of Ross and Keith Smith’s record-breaking flight, 180 miles off the coast of Port Darwin on 10 December 1919, they sighted the HMAS Sydney, a tiny speck in the Timor Sea below them. The ship was positioned to guide their course onto Port Darwin in case of need. However the men were perfectly on course - "proof of wonderfully accurate navigation on the part of the aviators" according to Captain H. Hayley, HMAS Sydney.

 Ross Smith                Keith Smith

Ross and Keith Smith, ca. 1919-1921, by the Regent Studios.
Sepia-toned photographs PXB 352.

The brothers, who had no radio on board, decided to drop a 'message in a bottle' to the captain of the ship below, letting him know all was going well. Using string and a hastily made parachute they dropped the bottle which landed in the sea near the ship. The pencil message read:

"The Air, 10/12/19, Vickers Vimy, The Commander, H.M.A.S., Very glad to see you. Many thanks for looking after us. Going strong. Keith Smith, Ross Smith, Sgt. J. Bennett, Sgt. W. H. Shiers"


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 > View full record and images of the bottle Catalogue link

In fact it wasn’t a bottle the brothers dropped, but an Escoffier pickle jar. Presumably they had eaten the pickles en route to London, and it proved the perfect vessel to convey their message to the HMAS Sydney.

Most of their epic flight had been over land. The final leg was the first time they had done such a long haul over sea. They were glad to see the ship below because they realised that if there was a problem, they at least had a chance of survival.

Ross and Keith Smith’s original message and bottle were donated to the Library by Captain H. Cayley, Commander of HMAS Sydney, in 1922.