National Archives of Australia

The Australian National Archives have a mystery on their hands: how did a letter written in Paris in 1870 and delivered across France by hot air balloon end up in Brisbane, 10,000 miles away?

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For a few months in 1870, Paris was under siege, surrounded by the German army during the Franco-Prussian War. The only way those in the city could get word to loved ones in other parts of France was hot air balloon, sent at night. Hundreds of thousands of letters were delivered this way, according to AFP.

One of them has been discovered by the National Archives. It was penned in French on December 6, 1870 by a man named Charles Mesnier (or Mesmier) to his mother, care of Monsieur Grussin (or Grossin) at 8 Place de la Ville, Pont-Audemer, in Normandy.

In it, Charles M. assures his mother that he is in good health, even with the siege occurring, and, even though some supplies are low, "we can easily get by as things are and no one in our household is complaining." He asks if she and the rest of his family are well.

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"He's saying to his family not to worry about him and he's really at the point of saying the city is pushing back against the Prussians," National Archives assistant director-general Louise Doyle told AFP. "It's a intriguing human element to an important piece of history."

Doyle's chief concern now? Learning what happened to Charles and his family and just how the letter ended up in the Australian archives. Its record goes back to 2001 when it was transferred to the archives from a museum in country, and researchers know when it was delivered, but the in-between remains a mystery.

"It would be fascinating to know more," Doyle said. "If people see this it would be interesting to have more context in relation to this record."

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For now, Doyle is hitting the books, telling the BBC, "We were delving into our collections to see what material connects to France."

Try and read the full letter below.

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: david.matthews@fusion.net