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East Indiaman "Grosvenor" porcelain

East Indiaman 'Grosvenor' Coffe Cup

Chinese porcelain with underglaze blue decoration. The decoration is possibly based on a print illustrating the story of the East Indiaman "Grosvenor" which foundered the 4th of August in 1782 at Pondoland, at the coast of South Africa.

At the time of the accident, between 139 to 153 persons were on board the ship. Not earlier the 117 days after the foundering eight survivors arrived through the dessert to Cape Town, to tell the story.

The party had been split in two groups to try their luck to survive in different ways. Several of the women seemed, to the astonishment of the British community, to have survived by being taken up as wife's by Kaffer tribes and remained settled there. The survivors' story got widely published at the time and in 1938 Jonathan Lee published a modernized version.

No doubt a western print has been set before the Chinese porcelain painter but the original has yet to be found.

In the decoration we can see a group of dark-skinned people with short, curly hair on a stretch of land by the sea or a wide river. On the left there is a large rock with a tree on top.

Four people sit or lie beside a bundle of blankets or clothes and two stand while on the left, two half naked persons are depicted One of them are pointing to the left with all signs of confusion drama and despair.

The decoration has sometimes actually been called "The Shipwreck Survivors" but, on a sticker on the backside of a dish with this decoration in the Sypestein Museum in Loosdrecht (the Netherlands) a 19th century inscription in faded ink tells us the decoration is called "De Chinese Begrafenis" (The Chinese Funeral).

The scene is known from teacups and saucers, plates and a few oblong dishes. Some dishes and saucers are made of "soft-paste" crackled Chinese porcelain, but the majority are ordinary blue and white. The cup to the right is of the so called "softpaste" variety, with its characteristic wide meshed crackled glaze and some discoloration in the crackles.

These pieces have mostly dated to the 1730-40s, which is probably why the close match to the actual events connected to the foundering of the East Indiaman "Grosvenor" of 1782 has not been noticed.

Jan-Erik Nilsson