Shipwrecked in Shropshire

Shipwrecks have fascinated me since my teens. Some would argue this was due to a huge crush on Leonardo Di Caprio rather than the mysteries of the Titanic itself, but given my passion for archaeology I like to believe Leo had only had a small part to play! So I am pretty excited that we have some pieces (pictured) from a shipwreck here in Wyle Cop in Shrewsbury…a shipwreck that has been called ‘The Titanic of the East’.

In 1822, China was a mighty, but declining, maritime nation. The economy was suffering due to a nationwide addiction to opium (the blame for this lies with the European merchants who introduced the Chinese to mixing opium with tobacco and smoking it, rather than its traditional medicinal uses in China).

At the port of Amoy, a large junk, the Tek Sing (True Star) was moored. Bound for Jakarta, the ship was loaded with precious cargo: porcelain, silks, spices, and medicines. So much cargo, in fact, that some was even strapped to the outside of the ship’s hull! Alongside the crew of 200, there were around 1600 passengers on board who were searching for a better life working on the sugar plantations of Java. Unlike the crew, they did not have cabins, but slept out on the deck in cramped conditions. 

After nearly a month of sailing, the captain of the Tek Sing decided to take a short cut through the Gaspar Straits – an area that had not, at that point, been thoroughly charted. A momentous decision indeed…

Disaster struck on 6th February 1822; a strong monsoon wind was blowing from the Northwest, and the ship was making rapid progress along the Gaspar Straits. With little more than 300 km left to travel the Tek Sing ran aground on a small reef. The force of the strike was devastating and the tide pulled the ship on her side. The Tek Sing sank to the bottom in around 100 ft of water. If her course had been 100m west she would have sailed past the reef with no problem.

The next morning a ship captained by James Pearl, sailing from Indonesia to Borneo, passed through the Gaspar Strait and encountered debris from the Tek Sing and an enormous number of survivors. They managed to rescue about 190. Another 18 people were saved by a small Chinese junk captained by Jalang Lima.

And so there she lay….until May 1999 when British Marine salvor Mike Hatcher was searching the seas around the Belvidere Reef, hoping to find the wreck of the Tek Sing.

The ship had few metal parts and most of the wood would have rotted away or been covered with coral. As sonar and the metal detectors could not be relied upon, much of the exploration was carried out by divers. After weeks of searching, they discovered the rings used to strengthen the mast of the ship which would have been 90ft high! They then worked shifts to uncover 350,000 pieces of porcelain, some of which were 100 years old at the time they set sail. Human remains were also found, but they were not disturbed as most of Hatcher's crew, being Indonesian and Chinese, believed that bad luck would befall any who disturbed the dead.

Tek Sing’s porcelain cargo had been packed so tightly, that even after nearly 200 years under the silt and coral, many pieces were in almost pristine condition. The hoard was so large that when the items went to auction in Germany, the bidding went on for 24 hours a day over seven days!

If you fancy checking out the pieces from the Tek Sing pop to It’s a nomad life before they disappear off the shop floor and into my living room! I’m quite tempted to keep at least one of these for myself!


Victoria Crook

It’s a nomad life

It’s a nomad life, 14 Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, SY1 1XB





Vicky Vicky

Vicky runs local antiques business It's a nomad life with her partner Sam Handbury-Madin. The shop, which moved from Wyle Cop to Green Lane in 2015, sells Tribal and Asian art and collectables from around the world. Vicky is a Shropshire lass, who moved back to Shrewsbury in 2008 after time spent in Italy, London and St. Andrews (where she studied archaeology and ancient history). She met her husband Sam on her return and they opened It's a nomad life in 2012, combining their love of travel and old things! Vicky also works as a Freelance Fundraising Consultant.

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