Shipwrecks often conjure up visions of long-lost artifacts, intrigue, and the mystery surrounding their fate. While thousands of shipwrecks have occurred globally since the beginning of recorded history, perhaps none has more allure than the Tek Sing Shipwreck Story.
Measuring in at 164 feet long, 32 feet wide, and weighing over 1,000 tons, this 19th-century Chinese junk was the largest ship of its kind, yet not even its leviathan frame could save it from the depths of the ocean.
The Tek Sing Sank
Despite its massive size, the Tek Sing sank en route to the Dutch East Indies from Fujian, China, with nearly 1,800 souls aboard and a load of fine Chinese porcelain. Some 200 survivors were eventually rescued by passing merchant ships, but the priceless load of artifacts and over 1,500 Chinese emigrants were lost.
Because of its gargantuan stature and untimely demise, the Tek Sing is often regarded as the “Titanic of the East.”
While the Tek Sing’s final voyage is somewhat shrouded in mystery, historians know that the ship’s captain, lo Tauko, decided to cut through the Gaspar Strait, which connects the Java Sea to the South China Sea.
The reasoning behind this decision is one of debate; many believe it was to save time while others posit that the ship was running low on food and water. Regardless of why the Tek Sing took this route, the Gaspar Strait was uncharted territory and full of reefs, leading to its collision near the Belvidere Reef.
Discovery of the Tek Sing Shipwreck
For over 170 years, the final resting place of the Tek Sing was unknown until veteran British marine salvor, Michael Hatcher, discovered the wreck in 1999. But this was no simple task.
Dozens of Chinese and Indonesian merchant ships had wrecked in the area over the past two centuries, but with far less potential for hidden treasure.
After weeks of combing the ocean depths, Hatcher’s crew finally came upon the legendary vessel with many of its artifacts still intact. Over the course of several days, a crew of 50 divers recovered over 250,000 pieces of porcelain, making the Tek Sing the greatest archeological discovery of its kind in the world.
The Shipwreck Artifacts
Because the Tek Sing was so tightly packed with porcelain to accommodate the passengers and crew on board, many pieces remained in pristine condition.
Once examined by experts, the porcelain was found to be as old as 170 years, while other pieces dated back nearly 300 years. Unlike examples found on land, these untouched artifacts shed new light on porcelain art from the time, instantly becoming highly coveted pieces by collectors.
Over 250,000 bowls, plates, jars, vases, and eating utensils with blue and white glazing and a variety of designs were eventually brought to auction in Stuttgart, Germany, in November 2000. This seven-day around-the-clock auction saw nearly every piece sold, but many of the prizes of the Tek Sing are still found at auction or even on Ebay.
With radio, modern equipment, and other safety protocols in place, it’s unlikely that a shipwreck like the Tek Sing will happen again. But the ocean depths hold the final resting places of many doomed ships waiting to be found. Only time will tell if explorers will ever find a prize so great as the shipwreck of the Tek Sing.
London Coin Galleries of Newport Beach is not only an Orange County coin dealer. At our gallery, you can find a wide range of unique shipwreck finds and artifacts.