The ‘True Star’

The port of Amoy, in China, had always been central to the country’s trading prowess. It was here that a large ancient Chinese sailing ship, known as a junk was moored. This ship was called the ‘Tek Sing’, translating as ‘True Star’. She was bound for Jakarta in Indonesia and she was loaded with precious cargo and Chinese passengers. On board there was porcelain, silks, spices, and medicines. 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. This was notoriously difficult sailing and the ‘Tek Sing’ 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. Nearly 200 survivors were rescued.

Tek Sing's Salvage

On May 12 1999 a 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 porcelain from a wreck can be worth more than its weight in gold, so the treasure hunters were keen to have the haul examined by experts. They were surprised to find 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 provided valuable insights into Chinese life.

Tek Sing’s porcelain cargo had been packed so tightly, that even after nearly 200 years under the silt and coral, many examples were in almost pristine condition.