The Tek Sing was traveling from China to Batavia and sailed a route not normally used by Chinese junks. She ran aground on a reef and sank within one hour.
The passengers included merchants, couriers, and students, but the greater part were impoverished migrants or coolies emigrating to work in the sugar cane fields of Java. Most of them were deck passengers. Some 1600 people lost their lives. 208 survived and were rescued.
The Tek Sing is referred to as the 'Chinese Titanic' or the 'Titanic of the East'.
In a hydrographic handbook ("Directions for sailing to the East Indies", by James Horsburgh, vol. 2, 1848), Nigel Pickford found information about a large Chinese junk having sunk near the Belvidere Reef some time in the early 19th century with the loss of many lives. With this information Mike Hatcher started his search. On May 12, 1999, the treasure divers discover a mound, 30 m below the water, 42 m long, 4 m high and over 10 m wide, in the South China Sea, north of Java. The mound is the wreck and the cargo of a Chinese junk. The cargo reaches 2 meters under the sea bed and the cargo hold originally was around 54 meters long. Nigel Pickford identifies the wreck as the Tek Sing (True Star), an unusually large junk from Amoy (today Xiamen) of approximately 1000 tons. It had three masts, the tallest measured over 90 feet.
Length: 50 m
Beam: 10 m
Height: 27.43 m
Propulsion: Wind-powered Sail plan: Junk Rig
The salvaged cargo contained mercury, sextants, pocket watches, Chinese ink pads, an iron and brass cannon, a bronze cannon, boxes with needles, pocket knives, Chinese brass padlocks, candlesticks, incense burners, telescope parts, coins and 350,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain. Most of the porcelain is from the kilns of the town of Dehua and was manufactured in the 18th and early 19th centuries for export to Asian markets.
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.
The Tek Sing's recovered cargo was auctioned at Nagel Auctions in Stuttgart, Germany in November 2000.
Nigel Pickford & Michael Hatcher, The Legacy of the Tek Sing