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The Geldermalsen wreck

Plate from the wreck of the Geldermalsen, 1751

A decorative ceramic plate.

Photo: George Serras.

Where and how it was made

This plate was probably made in Jingdezhen in southern China in 1751. It is decorated with what is known as 'boatman pattern'. Such Chinese blue and white decorations inspired the 'willow pattern' — a British design popular from the late 1700s. Around this time, Britain's ceramics began to challenge China's domination of the local market.

A man making ceramic bowls.

Left: A worker shows how bowls are cast at the Jingdezhen Ceramics Folk Custom Museum in 2007. Jingdezhen has been a centre of ceramic production in China for more than 1700 years.
Courtesy: China Photos/Getty Images.

Where and how it was traded

List of porcelain carried on the Geldermalsen.

This plate was on board the Geldermalsen, a Dutch East India Trading Company cargo vessel that struck a reef and sank in the Lingga archipelago (Indonesia), on 3 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.

Where and how it was used

This plate was intended for the European market, where it would be used as part of the daily routine of eating and drinking.

Engraving of a woman enjoying tea.

Right: In this 1758 engraving a woman enjoys tea from a range of porcelain plates, cups, jugs and pots. Courtesy: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection USA/The Bridgeman Art Library.

How it came to be recovered

The wreck of the Geldermalsen was discovered by British salvage operator Michael Hatcher in 1986. Hatcher was strongly criticised by heritage advocates because removal of the ship's saleable cargo took precedence over serious archaeological investigation of the site. The wreck was destroyed and the porcelain auctioned in Amsterdam for more than £10 million.

Ceramics at the bottom of the ocean with fish swimming by.

Left: The wreck of the Geldermalsen during salvage operations.
Every attempt has been made to contact the copyright holder for permission to reproduce this photograph. Enquiries should be directed to the National Museum of Australia.

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