Historical information

This lead sealing capsule was recovered from the tragic wreck of the sailing ship ‘Loch Ard’. It may have once been on a bottle amongst the ship's cargo, its provisions or the passengers’ personal luggage. It is now part of the John Chance collection.

Bottles in the early 19th century were handmade. They were not necessarily uniform in size or shape, so sealing was not always successful. If the bottles were stored they often became contaminated by rats and mice breaking the cork or wax seals, or by insects attracted to the contents if the seal on the bottle leaked.

Lead sealing capsules were used from 1843 to overcome this problem. The lead was heated until it was malleable, then moulded by hand to fit over the sealed bottle’s mouth and neck. This was more successful if wire was also used under the capsule for added security (similar to modern champagne bottles). The capsule couldn’t be re-fitted so it was discarded after the bottle was opened. Capsule designs from about 1862 used tin-plated lead foil and often had the inscriptions and trademarks of the content makers on them.

Eventually it was found that the lead was toxic. The lead was replaced by tin, aluminium, and later plastic. Today’s home brewers can buy readymade plastic capsules that fit over the bottle then twist to lock it firmly into place and can be re-used.

Digs at archaeological sites often reveal lead sealing capsules. These are collected and catalogued. The information gathered from inscriptions, makers’ marks, logos and descriptions of the bottle contents has provided valuable insights into the history and the dating of other items on the sites.


This lead sealing capsule was made to seal a handmade glass bottle and is historically significant for representing its invention to solve a preservation and integrity issue with bottle seals in the mid-to-late 19th century. Its design has evolved and is still in use today.

This sealing capsule is representative of their historical use of capsules as a tool for dating and interpreting archaeological sites around the world.

The sealing capsule is also significant as it was recovered by John Chance, a diver from the wreck of the Loch Ard in the 1960s-70s. Items that come from several wrecks along Victoria's coast have since been donated to the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village’s museum collection by his family, illustrating this item’s level of historical value.

The sealing capsule is also significant for being connected to the wreck of the Loch Ard (1873-1878), which is historically significant to both Victoria and Australia. The loss of the ship has been described as one of the ‘worst shipwreck tragedies’ and is well known in Victoria for the tragic death of 52 out of the 54 lives on board.

The Loch Ard wreck's historical significance as a large international passenger and cargo clipper ship has been recognised and it is now registered on the Victorian Heritage Database, VHR S417. The wreck site is labelled as ‘one of Victoria’s most spectacular diving sites’ and the area is a popular tourist site. It is part of Victoria’s Underwater Shipwreck Discovery Trail.

Physical description

Bottle sealing capsule, cylindrical with thin, round top separated from thicker body (taped in place and fragile). Made from grey-white lead, uneven in thickness and shape. Remnants of a thick substance are inside the capsule.