Treasures of the Tek Sing to return to Indonesia

More than 1,600 souls were lost when the Chinese trade ship Tek Sing ran aground on a reef and sank off the Indonesian coast in 1822.

So great was the loss of life, the shipwreck was later referred to as the “Titanic of the East.”

Lost too was the ship’s cargo: nearly 350,000 pieces of Chinese blue and white porcelain.

The Tek Sing and its treasures lay beneath the waters of the Gaspar Strait until 1999, when it was finally found by British divers.

Sadly, much of the porcelain was auctioned off around the world.

Fortunately, many of the ceramics from the initial salvage expedition were seized by the Australian Government and returned to Indonesia in 2001.

Now – exactly 200 years after the ship went down - we’re returning more.

The Government is today returning a further 333 ceramics from the Tek Sing to the Government of Indonesia.

These latest objects – removed in a subsequent dive – were recovered with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police in Perth, following an investigation after the objects were being advertised for sale online.

The return will be conducted under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act, which supports the return of foreign cultural property that has been illegally exported from other countries and imported into Australia.

Minister for the Arts, Tony Burke, said this handover is part of the Australian Government’s commitment to protecting and safeguarding the world's movable cultural heritage.

“Returning these items to Indonesia – where they belong – is about righting a wrong.

“These items should never have left Indonesia and been offered for sale. They belong with Indonesian cultural authorities so they can be properly preserved.

“The Australian Government has firm views about the return of stolen pieces of cultural heritage. Where it was done to Australians we want the objects back. And where Australia is holding objects we ought not have we want to assist in their return.

 “By returning these items to Indonesia we also honour those who lost their lives in this disaster.”

The Australian Government thanks all the authorities and institutions – Australian and Indonesian – involved in the return of these items.

A formal handover ceremony will take place at the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra on Wednesday, 17 August 2022. This date also marks the Proclamation of Independence of the Republic of Indonesia.

This return reflects Australia’s long history of cooperation and friendship with Indonesia, and the Australian Government’s commitment to protecting and safeguarding the world's movable cultural heritage.

As comprehensive strategic partners, Australia and Indonesia are committed to working closely together across a wide range of common interests, including to enhance our cultural partnerships.