Historical Shipwrecks in Singapore Waters: An Intimate Glance at their Ceramic Cargoes

Virtual Event Virtual Event

Dr. Michael Flecker was SEACS' 23rd William Willetts Lecture speaker following the Society's 53rd AGM on 26 March 2022. His topic as the marine archaeologist who oversaw the many years' work on both ships (the Temasek and the Shah Muncher) was "Historical Shipwrecks in Singapore Waters". Remarkably, the first ancient shipwreck ever found in Singapore waters is contemporary with 14th century Temasek, and currently assumes this name. An excavation carried out in stages over four years resulted in the recovery of approximately 4.4 tonnes of ceramic shards and a handful of very significant intact pieces. The Temasek Wreck carried more Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelain than any other documented shipwreck in the world, along with Longquan celadons, shufu-ware and moulded qingbai-ware from Jingdezhen, cruder qingbai-ware from Fujian kilns, and brown-ware probably from Cizao (a town in Quanzhou). From the location of the site, the many parallel finds from Singapore terrestrial sites, and importantly a common dearth of large blue-and-white plates, the ancient port of Singapore, or Temasek, was the most likely destination. The second shipwreck has been identified as the Shah Muncher, an Indian-built, European-design Country Ship voyaging from Canton to Bombay. On 8th January 1796, she was forced upon the rocks of Pedra Branca by the current. Approximately 5 tonnes of Chinese ceramics were recovered, including an astounding variety of intact pieces. The Shah Muncher sank twenty-three years before Raffles re-established the port of Singapore. Nonetheless, her cargo provides insights into the types of goods that would have been purchased by Singapore’s fledgling community along with those that would have been transhipped at the new port. SEACS members can watch a video of this talk on our Membership Premium Video page.

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