MARITIME AND UNDERWATER CULTURAL HERITAGE

Griffin Shipwreck

Griffin is an English East India Company ship which sank in Sulu Sea near Basilan Island in 1761. According to historical sources, the vessel left England carrying packs of clothing and private trade on its way to Canton, China where it was loaded with cargo composed mostly of tea. On the way back to Europe, Griffin was joined by five other ships. On board Griffin was Alexander Dalrymple who was appointed to negotiate an agreement with the Sultan of Jolo. The agreement would allow the East India Company to freely trade and establish a trading port in Sulu. The fleet diverted from the traditional route and sailed via the East of Palawan and Celebes Sea. However, upon arriving on a shallow area near Basilan Island, Griffin struck a rock and rapidly sank. All the sailors were saved by the other ships but the entire cargo was lost. They then continued with the plan in Jolo and founded the free port.

In 1986, archaeological excavations were conducted by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) and project collaborator French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio and his World Wide First team. The activities lasted for fourteen months and exposed the shipwreck at a depth of approximately 15 meters. The hull section, measuring 29 meters long, was discovered under 6 meters of sand. Thousands of artifacts were retrieved from the shipwreck which mostly consists of tea chests and porcelain wares. During the 18th century, tea was highly regarded in England, a luxury and expensive. Proof for the demand for tea may also be gleaned by the number of porcelain tea sets retrieved from the cargo.

The porcelains in the Griffin yielded several tea and coffee pots, cups, saucers and lids. The three main design themes on them were landscapes, human representations and floral decorations. Most porcelain pieces are decorated with blue underglaze while some are coated with enamel. There are also Chinese white porcelains in the cargo. The enamel coatings or designs were easily degraded by saltwater and age that only few or no traces were left on the surface.  Among the other artifacts found in the wreck were iron ballasts, wooden ship riggings and crating materials, cannons, nails, tin, lead slugs, amorphous statues, wine bottles, ropes and pottery sherds.

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