Thursday 30 July 2015

The Geldermalsen Wreck Site /"Nanking Cargo".

The Geldermalsen was a Dutch East India Trading Company (Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, VOC) cargo vessel that sank after it struck the Admiral Stellingwerf reef in the Lingga archipelago, off Bintan Island, near Indonesia, in January 1752. The ship was carrying nearly 150,000 ceramic pieces, 687,000 pounds of tea and 147 Chinese gold ingots from Canton (Guangzhou) to the Netherlands. The wreck was discovered by British salvage operator Michael Hatcher in 1986 in international waters, a location confirmed by Dutch abd Indonesian officials. Initially, the precise identity of the ship was not clarified, the raising of the ship's bell which is inscribed 'Amsterdam 1747' and two bronze cannon similarly marked indicated it was a Dutch ship, and the Geldermalsen that sank in this area was built in 1747. Hatcher was strongly criticised because removal of the ship’s saleable cargo took precedence over serious archaeological investigation of the site. The wreck was destroyed during the salvage and over 150,000 pieces of porcelain were auctioned off by Christie’s Amsterdam in 1986, under the sale moniker of "The Nanking Cargo". Among the porcelains were full dinner sets, tea sets with teapots and cups, vases and butter tubs, all made in Jingdezhen, the main porcelain centre of China. The sale achieved prices well beyond pre-sale estimates, totalling more than £10 million. 

The whole affair is discussed here:
George L. Miller (1992) 'The Second Destruction of the Geldermalsen' Historical Archaeology Vol. 26, No. 4, Advances in Underwater Archaeology (1992), pp. 124-131.
This review of C. J. A. Jörg's book on the Chinese porcelain from the Dutch East India Company ship Geldermalsen, which sank in 1752, addresses some broader questions involved in the destruction of shipwreck sites for commercial profit. These questions grew out of the issue of what relationship scholars should have with those who destroy sites and acquire objects from them. The first part of the article is a review of Jörg's book, followed by a commentary on the problems that collecting from looted sites raise.
I think the discussion of these issues has a more general application.

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