The Mysterious China Wreck

These artifacts from the China Wreck are on display at the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum in Fenwick Island

Today, for my book on Delaware shipwrecks, I’ve been writing on the China Wreck, which was discovered in 1970 by two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessels. The NOAA ships were conducting an underwater survey to determine if shipping lanes were free from potential obstructions. When the line that connected the two vessels snagged on something, divers went exploring, pinpointing the hotspot by the noting the V formed by the  taut line.

In this case, they found what was thought to be a late 19th-century British ship laden with china, hence its nickname. Indeed, there was so much china that the commander of the expedition compared the site to a bargain basement sale at Macy’s, with merchandise awaiting the shoppers.

Like many folks, I’ve heard that the wreck was likely the 483-ton Principessa Margherita di Piemonte, a bark from Naples, Italy, that was sailing from Plymouth, England, to Philadelphia with a cargo that included china clay and flint stone. On March 12, 1891, she foundered in a storm. But author and diver Gary Gentile, who wrote Shipwrecks of  Delaware Maryland, offers some convincing arguments against it, namely that most the china came from manufacturers that had ceased operations before 1891. So, the ship would have been carrying stuff that had been in storage.

Determining a ship’s identity often comes down to finding something with its name on it or a piece of cargo that can definitely be linked to the ship via detailed paperwork.  So far, that’s not been the case for the China Wreck. For a great display of some of the china, visit DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum in Fenwick Island. Another book to check out: Diving the China Wreck, by Michael S. Bullard.


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