Porcelain salvaged from shipwrecks
China, 17th–18th c.
Porcelain salvaged from shipwrecks has important documentary value. A shipwreck is a kind of time bubble and we can be sure that all the porcelain in the cargo was loaded at the same time and that all the different types were produced at roughly the same time, too.
Almost all Chinese export porcelain was shipped overseas in Chinese junks, East-Indiamen, Arabic vessels, etc. Usually, the porcelain cargo dates the wreck, but sometimes the wreck dates the cargo if the ship's name and the date it sank are known. Research by maritime archaeologists is needed for more details and the historical context. This is why clandestine salvage operations without a proper archaeological survey are regarded as vandalism because important and unique information is lost forever.
The Binh Thuan Shipwreck
On 1 & 2 March 2004, a small Cargo of Ming Dynasty porcelain was auctioned by Christie's in Melbourne, Australia. The wreck was first discovered in early 2001 by local fishermen off the coast of Bin Thuan Province in Vietnam. The Vietnamese authorities soon got wind of the discovery and excavated the site in October 2002. Of the 34,000 pieces recovered, half were retained for the museums in Vietnam, and the remaining 17,000 pieces were auctioned in Melbourne, where bidding was very strong. Archaeological research confirmed that the Junk was infact Chinese, and was carrying a cargo of Wanli (1573-1620) "Swatow" porcelain from Zhangzhou in Southern China, together with a large quantity of iron pans. It is believed that the Junk may have sunk after hitting a nearby reef. VOC (Dutch East India Company) records state that a Junk belonging to Chinese merchant I Sin Ho had been lost in this area in 1608, on route to Johore on the Malay Peninsular. Although no conclusive evidence has been found, all the indications point to The Bin Thuan Shipwreck being the vessel of the unfortunate I Sin Ho. The Bin Thuan Shipwreck is the first dedicated shipment of Zhangzhou porcelain to be found. Made by hand in Fujian Province, The porcelain is often characterised by kiln grit adhering to the base, and the free and spontaneous decoration which means that each piece is literally unique.
(courtesy: Rodger Bradbury Antiques)
The Hatcher Junk
The Hatcher Cargo was recovered from the wreck of a Chinese junk in the South China seas port of Batavia (today Jakarta) by Captain Michael Hatcher in 1983, and was later sold in the Netherlands. They were a small part of what, at the time, was the largest cargo of Chinese porcelain ever recovered in good condition from the sea. Captain Michael Hatcher and his crew brought up about 25,000 pieces of unbroken porcelain from the Hatcher junk Those sold through four sales at Christies Amsterdam. The very wide diversity and quality of many of the pieces created great interest, and the date was established by the existence in the find of two pieces with the Chinese cyclical date for 1643.
Captain Hatcher returned to the site in 1985 and salvaged over 2,000 more pieces, most of which were sold through a London dealer, Heirloom and Howard. The great majority of the 25,000 pieces were Jingdezhen blue and white, but there were also interesting groups of celadon, blanc-de-chine, coloured wares and provincial blue and white
The ship was almost certainly sailing from China to the Dutch base at Batavia from where cargoes were purchased and transhipped to Dutch East Indiamen for their journey to Europe.
(sources; The Hatcher Porcelain Cargoes. The Complete Record, (C. Sheaf & R. Kilburn, Phaidon Christie's, Oxford, 1988 & The Choice of the Private Trader. The Private Market in Chinese Export Porcelain illustrated from the Hodroff Collection, (D.S. Howard, Zwemmer, London, 1994))
The Vung Tau Cargo
The Vung Tau Wreck was discovered by fishermen off the islands of Con Dao in the south of Vietnam.
Sverker Hallstrom obtained the license to excavate the wreck after the Vietnam Salvage Corporation
(Visal) had carried out preliminary excavation. The starboard side of the hull, from the keel to the
waterline, remained in good condition. It was found to be the hull of a lorcha, a ship of combined
Eastern and Western influence, and the first ever found. The wreck has been dated to ca. 1690.
From an analysis of the cargo it seems that the ship was bound from China to Batavia where the
bulk of the ceramics would have been transhipped to a Dutch East India Company, (Verenigde
Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) vessel for the onward voyage to Holland.
The porcelain was destined for a port where it would have been transhipped onto a VOC vessel for the
onward voyage to Holland. The other goods were to supply the Chinese community at the same port.
That port was Batavia.
Christie's auctioned the porcelain cargo in Amsterdam April 1992.
Ca Mau Cargo
The wreck was discovered by fisherman working off the Ca Mau peninsular when their nets snagged on it. When they realised the porcelain was saleable they began dredging up as much as possible. Once the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture and Information realised what was happening they moved in quickly to secure the wreck site.
The excavation was lead by the Curator of The National Museum of Vietnamese culture. As you can see by the underside of the piece, not only does it have the Sotheby’s auction sticker but the reference numbers of the Vietnamese conservators. In all, 130,000 pieces were recovered and 76,000 of the finer condition pieces were selected to be sold by Sotheby’s
The ship was a Chinese ocean going junk, almost certainly en route from Canton (now Kuangzhou) to the Dutch trading port of Batavia (now Jakarta). Disaster struck off the Ca Mau peninsular, there was a fire on board so severe that some of the porcelain was fused together. There were a few wine cups recovered bearing the mark of the Emperor Yangzheng who reigned from 1723 to 1735. By this time tea and coffee was the rage throughout Europe and the principal traders were the Dutch East India Company, (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) of Amsterdam. With the demand for tea came demand for porcelain by which to drink it and so most of what they imported in these year was tea wares.
Sotheby's auctioned the porcelain cargo in Amsterdam January 2007.
(courtesy: Rodger Bradbury Antiques)
The Nanking Cargo
The Dutch East India Company, (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) ship "De Geldermalsen" was one of six ships commissioned in 1746 by the Zeeland Chamber, the second most powerful of the six chambers of the VOC. The ships were merchant vessels which the VOC used for long-distance trade to the West Indies, and the Far East round the Cape to Batavia,Canton and South Chinese waters.
On January 3, 1752, while on its way back to The Netherlands with cargoes of Chinese goods loaded
in Canton, it hit a coral reef and sank in the South China Sea.
Captain Michael Hatcher and his team discovered the wreck and in 1985 its porcelain cargo was sold
by Christie's Amsterdam as "The Nanking Cargo" two hundred and thirty five years later.
The Diana Cargo
''The Diana'' was owned by Palmer and Co. a powerful Calcutta ship owner and was liscenced
by the English East India Company to sail from Calcutta or Madras to Canton, carrying cotton
and of course, opium, which was extremely lucrative. The ship would then return to India from
China, laden with silks, tea, preserved fruits and thousands of pieces of beautiful blue and white
Unfortunately The Diana was on one of these voyages when, on the 14th of March 1817, she hit
some rocks off the Straits of Malacca and sank. The wreck was identified and recovered in 1994
by Dorian Ball of Malaysian Historical Salvors.
Christie's auctioned the porcelain cargo in Amsterdam in March 1995.
The Tek Sing Cargo
The Tek Sing (Chinese, "True Star") was a large three-masted Chinese ocean-going junk which sank on February 6, 1822 in an area of the South China Sea known as the Belvidere Shoals. The vessel was 50 meters in length, 10 meters wide and weighed about a thousand tons. Its tallest mast was estimated to be 90 feet in height. The ship was manned by a crew of 200 and had approx. 1600 passengers. The great loss of life associated with the sinking has led to the Tek Sing being referred to in modern times as the " Titanic of the East".
Sailing from the port of Amoy, the Tek Sing was bound for Batavia, Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia)laden with a large cargo of porcelain goods and 1600 Chinese immigrants. After a month of sailing, the Tek Sing's captain, Io Tauko, decided to attempt a shortcut through the Gaspar Strait between the Bangka-Belitung Islands, and ran aground on a reef. The junk sank in about 100 feet of water. The next morning, February 7, an English East Indiaman captained by James Pearl sailing from Indonesia to Borneo passed through the Gaspar Strait. The ship encountered debris from the sunk Chinese vessel and an enormous number of survivors. The English ship managed to rescue about 190 of the survivors. Another 18 persons were saved by a wangkang, a small Chinese junk captained by Jalang Lima. This Chinese vessel may have been sailing in tandem with the Tek Sing, but had avoided the reefs.
On May 12, 1999, British marine salvor Michael Hatcher discovered the wreck of the Tek Sing in an area of the South China Sea north of Java, east of Sumatra and south of Singapore. His crew raised about 350,000 pieces of the ship's cargo in what is described as the largest sunken cache of Chinese porcelain ever recovered. Human remains were also found, but they were not disturbed as most of Hatcher's crew, being Indonesian and Chinese, believed that bad luck would befall any who disturbed the dead.
The Tek Sing's recovered cargo was auctioned in Stuttgart, Germany in November 2000.
Unidentified shipwreck wares
In this category objects are added that have been submerged in seawater for a long time and were most likely part of (an unidentified) shipwreck's cargo.