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Ancient Trade Routes

Surveying work on the hull of the Griffin wreck. The remarkable state of preservation can be atrributed to the fact that the vessel sank rapidly into the sand after the shipwreck.
Chest of octagonal plates, in crab and shrimp style.
Case of saucers in position since 1761 under four metres of sand.
A row of porcelain bowls stuck together.
Water dredges remove the sand from the wreck site.


The Story

Built in 1747 for the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) in Blackwall on the Thames, the Griffin was launched September 27, 1748. With a displacement of 500-600 tonnes, she was armed with 26 guns. In December 31, 1760, escorted by four other East Indiamen, Pocock, Oxford, Suffolk, Valentine, and the schooner Cuddalore, the Griffin left Canton to accompany Alexander Dalrymple on his secret mission to establish an English free port on the island of Balambagan in the Sulu Sea. The true purpose of this expedition is the reason why the ships did not follow the traditional route of return to Europe to take a southern route, from the east of Palawan and the Celebes Sea resulting in the Strait of Sapy.

At dawn on January 20, 1761, the Griffin collided with a reef northwest of the island of Basilan and sank quickly. The crew was saved but the entire cargo was lost. The five other ships continued their journey to Jolo where they landed three days later.


Remains of the cargo of the Griffin.
During the excavation of the Griffin, a curious tetraodon swims up to a tea pot.
Sea life amidst the cargo of the Griffin wreck.
Sea life amidst the cargo of the Griffin wreck.
A cylindrical box made to measure for punch bowls.

The Discovery

The National Museum of the Philippines has set for itself the goal of finding wrecks of historical importance for its own national history. Together with Franck Goddio it was decided to try and find the Griffin. After archival research the possible location of the wreck was determined. It then took months of search, to finally locate the wreck.

A long section of hull belonging to Griffin was finally discovered 6.5 meters beneath a sand dune. The vessel was well preserved, over 29 meters long, with two thirds of the keel as well as significant sections of the shell and lining. The wooden remains were subjected to in situ surveys and a systematic analysis of the naval architecture. The artefacts unearthed at the bow was in large part made up of chests of tea and fine quality porcelain, mostly blue and white, representative of Chinese porcelain known as East India Company in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Fifty-five people worked on the archaeological excavation of the site for more than 14 months, with the underwater research team comprising of fifteen diggers who devoted 5,317 hours diving on Griffin. Approximately 500,000 m3 of sediment, or about 1 million tons, were moved during the search and excavation.

Further information can be obtained from the website of IEASM (Institut Européen d'Archéologie Sous-Marine).

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