Michael Hatcher

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Michael Hatcher unveils a bell found at the "Nanking cargo" site (1986)

Michael "Mike" Hatcher (born 1940) is a British explorer and marine salvor.

He has specialised in work in the South China Sea. In 1981 he was involved in investigating the wreck of Dutch submarine K XVII.

He is especially known for his recovery of large quantities of Chinese porcelain from the VOC ship Geldermalsen (known as the "Nanking cargo") which was sold at auction by Christie's in Amsterdam in 1986.[1]

In 1999 he discovered the Tek Sing shipwreck and retrieved 360,000 pieces of porcelain.

With a total of more than 350,000 pieces of porcelain, this is the greatest porcelain treasure that has ever been recovered. The cargo originates from the Tek Sing, a junk whose history British shipping researcher Nigel Pickford was able to reconstruct in unprecedented detail. It is the story of an incredible shipping disaster with more than 1600 dead (and was consequently entitled the “Titanic of the East” by SPIEGEL news magazine). The story conjures up an exciting and moving picture of opium smuggling, economic difficulties and mass emigration in the early 19th century.

The vast number of different types of porcelain on board would seem to imply that it must have been new porcelain. The find therefore forces us to revise the dating system for certain types of porcelain which had previously been assumed to have been produced much earlier. The greater part of the find refers to everyday Chinese porcelain utensils, which were intended for export to other countries inside Asia and thus rarely found in the Western Hemisphere. The porcelain itself was robust and has survived almost 200 years in the sea in excellent condition. Never before have experts been able to examine Chinese export porcelain intended for the South East Asian market on this scale.

The catalogue itself broke new ground being a valuable reference work on porcelain for professional circles. It also served as an auction catalogue in conjunction with the auction list featuring all the individual lots.

The extent and character of the salvaged cargo made it necessary to set new standards for the auction: never before had auction wares been so elaborately exhibited and previewed; never before had such large quantities of one type of goods been auctioned off; never before had an opportunity existed to acquire antique porcelain with such a fascinating and tragic history at reasonable prices - nor is such an opportunity likely to occur again; never before had an auction taken place nearly round the clock for 9 consecutive days; never had an auction been held simultaneously in so many auction rooms around the world.

The treasure recovered from the Chinese junk Tek Sing was immense: more than 350, 000 pieces of Chinese porcelain, most of it in impeccable condition. The porcelain was stowed in the tower cargo holds of the ship, where it also served as ballast to stabilize the enormous ship. Further items such as mercury, sextants, pocket watches, cannons, coins and other merchandise were also salvaged. The recovery was the largest in salvage history.

Most of the porcelain was blue-white porcelain manufactured in the Chinese city of Dehua in the 18th and early 19th century for export to Asian markets. Other categories of porcelain from different periods were also found, dating back as far the 15th century. The cargo contained a remarkable amount of porcelain of different shapes and sizes but with identical decoration. It gave buyers in the 21st century the opportunity to compose complete dinner sets with Qing porcelain that has lain on the bottom of the sea for 200 years. As the merchandise had not been made for the European markets, shapes and patterns were not adapted to European taste, but were genuinely Chinese.

Hatcher already has two important finds of Chinese porcelain to his name: the Hatcher Collection (from an unidentified Chinese junk) and the Nanking cargo from the Dutch Geldermalsen that sank in 1752. Both cargoes were successfully auctioned in Europe in the 1980s. When Hatcher introduced the new sensational find to the most prominent auction houses in order to bring it on the marker, he decided on Nagel Auktionen, the leading auction company for Asian art on the European continent. It was the greatest auction of its type in all times.

The importance of the discovery and the auction was emphasized by the commissioning of a special book on the history of the Tek Sing and its cargo. Harper Collins published a book about Mike Hatcher's life written by the Australian author Hugh Edward and titled “Treasures of the Deep”. It was co-written by Nigel Pickford, whose previous books on shipwrecks, "The Atlas of Shipwreck & Treasure” and “Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century”, have been best sellers. The book “The Legacy of the Tek Sing” contain a lively and beautifully illustrated account of the story behind the shipwreck, a dramatic tale of treachery and heroism, arrogance and greed, all played out against a background of opium smuggling, piracy and mass emigration. It gives details about the salvage as well as the historical background.

Manila Galleons The Manila Galleons were large ships the Spanish built of 700 tons in the 16th century, 800 tons in the 17th century and 1,700 to 2000 tons in the 18th. Three or four of these ships sailed annually in each direction until 1593, when a law was enacted limiting the sailings to two per year in each direction. To the people of Spanish America these Galleons were considered the "China Ships," bringing cargoes of silks, spices and other precious merchandise from the East. To the people of the Orient, they carried Mexican and Peruvian silver pesos that were to become the standard of value along China's coasts. To California, they provided the opportunity for exploration of her coast. To Spain, they were the link that bound the Philippines and the Moluccas.

The voyage from Acapulco to Manila was not exceptionally dangerous, with only an occasional storm unsettling the routine sailing, which took from 8 to 10 weeks. On the other hand, the voyage from Manila to Acapulco was extremely hazardous. Because the winds in the Philippine latitudes are from the east, the Manila Galleons had to beat their way as far north as Japan before reaching the belt of westerly winds, which would carry them across the Pacific until they reached landfall off the coast of California to work their way down to Acapulco. This voyage took from four to eight months, depending on luck. Generally, 300 to 600 crewmen sailed on each Galleon, with approximately 150 perishing from epidemics, scurvy, thirst, starvation or exposure.


A number of controversies surround the salvaging of historic wreck cargo undertaken by Michael Hatcher. The salvaging of both the Tek Sing and the Geldermalsen have been heavily criticized by archaeologists for stripping archaeological sites of valuable artefacts without recording any context and destroying the less economically valuable parts of the assemblage, such as the ships themselves.[2]

Seven containers of the Tek Sing cargo were seized by Australian authorities pursuant to their Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 as the Indonesian government had confirmed that they had been illegally exported from its territory.[3] This confirmation came too late for much of the cargo however, and it was able to continue its journey and be sold at auction in the EU. On 12 September 2001, the 71 939 seized ceramics were returned by Australia to Indonesia.


Further reading[edit]

  • Hugh Edwards. Treasures of the Deep: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Captain Mike Hatcher (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000) ISBN 978-0-7322-5885-6
  • Nigel Pickford and Michael Hatcher. The Legacy Of The Tek Sing, Granta
  • Christie's Amsterdam B.V. The Nanking Cargo, Chinese Porcelain and Gold, European Glass and Stoneware, recovered by Captain Michael Hatcher from a European ship wrecked in the South China Seas. Amsterdam, 1986
  • Sheaf, Colin (1988). Hatcher Porcelain Cargoes: The Complete Record. Phaidon. ISBN 978-0-7148-8046-4.