Ancient Shipwreck Pottery

Ancient shipwrecks with cargoes of pottery and porcelain offer us an insight into ancient maritime trade. These cargoes were often packed so tightly that even after centuries submerged under silt and coral, many examples have been recovered in almost pristine condition. These vessels are now highly collectable and affordable Chinese and oriental porcelain for sale.

The Tek Sing Shipwreck

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 (now Xiamen) in Fujian, People's Republic of China. The port of Amoy had been central to the country's trading prowess.the Tek Sing was bound for Batavia, Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia) loaded with precious cargo: porcelain, silks, spices, and medicines. laden with a large cargo of porcelain goods and 1600 Chinese immigrants. There was so much cargo that some was even strapped to the outside of the ship's hull. 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 30m (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.

Antique wreck porcelain can be extremely valuable. Experts found that the porcelain originated from many different places and dates. Some pieces must have been around 100 years old when they were loaded. Many of the items were new to marine archaeologists, and have provided valuable insights into Chinese life. The Tek Sing's cargo had been packed so tightly, that even after nearly 200 years under the silt and coral, many examples were in almost pristine condition. The Tek Sing's recovered cargo was auctioned in Stuttgart, Germany in November 2000.

Binh Thuan Shipwreck

In early 2001, Vietnamese fishermen discovered the wreck of the Binh Thuan 40 miles off the coast of Binh Thuan Province, southern Vietnam. The hull was that of a Chinese junk, 24 m long, 7 m wide, and divided into 25 narrow compartments by transverse bulkheads. Archival evidence points to the junk of the unfortunate merchant, I Sin Ho, who was transporting a cargo of silk and Chinese goods from China to Johore on the Malay Peninsula for the Dutch when his ship sank off the south of Vietnam in 1608. The Dutch traders were restricted from entering Chinese ports so would have used these wares to barter for spices in South-East Asian markets.

Australian maritime archaeologist Dr Michael Flecker led the excavation of the ship in 2002. The non-perishable cargo comprised cast-iron pans and Zhangzhou (Swatow) porcelain: blue-and-white, overglaze enamels, and a combination of the two. This is the first dedicated cargo of Zhangzhou porcelain to ever be found. There were also finer blue-and-white ceramics in a variety of shapes from other kilns. Non-ceramic artefacts were typical of a Chinese junk, and included locks, a scales set, chopsticks, and copper alloy bowls and dishes.

The Vietnamese Government selected all unique ceramics and artefacts, and four fully representative sets to remain in Vietnam for ongoing study and museum display throughout the country. The remainder, all multi-duplicates, were made available for sale. A large part of the proceeds were earmarked for the construction of a museum in Binh Thuan Province to house the wreck finds and other cultural objects. Christie's Australia conducted an auction in Melbourne on the 1st and 2nd of March 2004 in which 900 of the ceramics were sold for a total of A$2 million.

Cau Mau Shipwreck

When Vietnamese fishermen discovered a historical shipwreck about 90 nautical miles south of the Ca Mau Peninsula in southern Vietnam in 1998, they hauled up more than 30,000 artefacts and 2.4 tons of metal objects in their nets. Subsequently, a Vietnamese diving and excavation company, working in close collaboration with the Ca Mau Provincial Museum and other responsible agencies, began to salvage the ship. In 1998 and 1999 more than 130,000 artefacts were recovered from this 450m2 site.

Sometime between 1723 and 1735, a Chinese junk sank off the coast of Vietnam’s farthest point in the South China Sea. Its cargo consisted of chinaware, porcelains, blue and white ware, porcelains decorated in brown, white-glazed porcelains over-glazed with enamels, and various stoneware, all originating from different kilns in southern China. The exact journey of the Ca Mau junk is still not clear, but It is believed the wreck was a Chinese merchant’s junk on its way from Canton (Guangzhou) to Batavia when it caught fire and sank in about 1725. The goods on board had been ordered by the merchant for Dutch traders, who had limited access to China and its ports.

The shipwreck contained numerous types of porcelain, designed for the European market. Included are blue and white dishes, sometimes in sets of five, decorated with the well-known so-called ‘Scheveningen’ landscape (formerly known as the ‘Deshima’ décor), depicting a typical Dutch fishing village. In the background the sails of fishing boats are visible in between the roofs of houses, a church, and a fire beacon (executed in Chinese style). Chinese dishes with European motifs were made to order and are known as ‘Chine de commande’. European motifs were, apparently, very popular. They appear not only on dishes, but also on cups, plates, and other kitchen- or table- ware.

The ship was involved in trading Chinese ceramics and portrays how Vietnam participated in the large inter-Asian trade between East and West. Vietnam was an important hub in the flourishing Asian trade. Similarly, the Dutch would have had access to the larger European markets.

Hoi An Shipwreck

Little is known about the vessel that sank, including her name, so the discovered hoard was named after the nearby town of Faifo, today known as Hoi An.

Fishermen from the area discovered the wreck in the early 90s, snaring finds of blue and white pottery within their fishing nets. Taking them to the nearby town. soon prompted further exploration of the waters. The government, realising the importance of the cargo, soon became involved and ordered underwater excavations, which took place from 1997-1999. Excavation of the area uncovered the trading vessel shipwreck, located in some of Vietnam’s most hazardous seas.

The shipwreck was in fact located in the middle of a typhoon zone known as the Dragon Sea. Inside, more than 150,000 objects were found.

Ceramics from the Hoi An Hoard are considered to be known as the most precious and complete representation of Vietnamese artisanship in glazed ceramics.

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