Royal Captain (East Indiaman)

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Career (Kingdom of Great Britain)
Name: Royal Captain
Owner: Sir Richard Hotham
Operator: East India Company
Builder: Randall, Rotherhithe
Launched: 1772
Fate: Wrecked on 17 December 1773
General characteristics
Class & type: East Indiaman
Tons burthen: 864 bm
Length: 143 ft (44 m)
Beam: 36 ft (11 m)
Sail plan: Full rigged ship

The Royal Captain was a British East Indiaman launched in 1772 and lost in 1773 in the South China Sea. In 1999, an expedition discovered the wreck and salvaged some of her cargo.

Randall built the three-decker, which her managing owner, Sir Richard Hotham, chartered to the East India Company. The ship measured 43.6 metres from bow to rudder, 11 metres across the beam and had a burthen of 864 tons (bm).

The voyage[edit]

The Royal Captain's first and only voyage took her to China via St Helena. Captain Edward Berrow (or Barrow) sailed from Portsmouth on 30 January 1773, reached St Helena on 11 April, and arrived at Whampoa on 23 August. She crossed the Second Bar on 28 November on her way home.[1]


On 17 December 1773, the Royal Captain struck an uncharted reef in the South China Sea at 2:30 in the morning. The place where she struck is now known as Royal Captain Shoal and is some 46 miles (76 kilometers) from Palawan.

When she struck, in addition to her captain, Royal Captain was carrying six passengers and 99 crew members. Her cargo consisted of 100,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain, as well as tea, silk, glass beads and gold.[2]

Even though the crew managed to free the ship twice, a third collision with the reef sealed her fate and she sank with the bulk of her cargo.[2] All but three crewmen survived the sinking; the three sailors who drowned were apparently drunk and refused to take to the lifeboats.[2]

The British ship Union picked up the survivors and carried them to Balambangan Island where, between 1761 and 1805, the East India Company maintained a free port.[2] The crew returned home on Syren,[1] which was a snow of 250 tons (bm) in the East India Company's service as a packet ship.[3]

Discovery and salvage[edit]

In 1999, an expedition led by Franck Goddio located the wreck in a depth of about 350 meters and salvaged part of the remaining stage freight.[4][5] Goddio utilised the Ocean Voyager as well as two high-tech 2-person submarines of the Deep Rover class, capable of diving 1000 metres.


A documentary about the ship, The Treasure of the Royal Captain, aired on the Discovery Channel in June 2000.[6]


  1. ^ a b National Archives: Royal Captain[1]
  2. ^ a b c d Goddio et al. (2000).
  3. ^ National Archives: Syren[2]
  4. ^ "Royal Captain" (French). Institut Européen pour l'archéologie Sous-Marine. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  5. ^ "Ancient Trade Routes – Royal Captain". Franck Goddio.
  6. ^ The Treasure of the Royal Captain, International Movie Database.


  • Goddio, Frank (1998). Discovery and archaeological excavation of a 16th century trading vessel in the Philippines. (Manila).
  • Goddio, Franck, Christoph Gerigk and Miguel Moll Kraft (2000). Royal Captain, A Ship Lost in the Abyss. (London, Periplus Publishing Ltd.). ISBN 1-902699-19-X