Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – Usually when you read about the monetary exploration of an ancient shipwreck, thousands of dollars, if not millions, are involved. Investors are secured in hopes of finding a Midas quantity of gold.
A huge ship is rented and crewed. Equipment that calculates the depth of the sea, the pet name of a guppy swimming by and a mermaid-alert device are all purchased at high prices. I have not included the film, scientists and that guy who does the voice over for National Geographic specials.
Here, a shipwreck has been discovered in Indonesian waters. I have no clue where it is and I don’t ask. I assume it has already been excavated and the items of value have been taken long ago and the only thing left is the wine that I purchased in bottles in a shop during my travels. They are coral encrusted corked green bottles of many different sizes with liquid still in them. I purchased them cheap, as there is not much of a demand for the fermented grape juice as Islam forbids its consumption. And I live in an Islamic country.
From what I understand, the island boys on a homemade boat hold their breath for about three minutes and grab what they can and then surface. In this case, it was bottles of wine. After many exchanges, they wend their way to the small store, and I mean about a quarter the size of a 7-11. Here they are put on sale for the non-Islamic people who may happen by. I told them I didn’t want to drink it, but that the bottles were of historical interest. In order to enhance the sale, they said that a non-Muslim drank some of it and got pretty drunk. (Read between the lines)
I chose an assortment and returned home. Time went by and both my wife and I noticed the odor of alcohol. One of the bottles was leaking vapors. I went on the Internet to find information on the care of shipwrecked bottles of wine but there were none. I guess not many people have them in their home. We sealed all the bottles with candle wax and put them on a shelf.
I decided to perform some research. Were they worth anything, I wondered. I spent an hour or so on the Internet and found a wine auction house (never knew there were such businesses) in Belgium who sold two bottles of shipwrecked of wine for about 3,000 Euros. ($4,000 USD) I was rich, I thought!
I immediately sent them pictures of my collection asking about the history and the possible value and, more importantly, if they wanted to auction them. After about a week or so, they said they did not know about the history and they could not auction them because they did not know where they came from. A shipwreck in the South China Sea was not good enough for them. I guess they needed the name of the boat.
Undaunted, I elected to perform my own research. One of the bottles was not really a bottle at all but an oblong glass vessel, pointed at each end so it could not stand up. It was embossed with the name “J.M. Taylor Walworth Surrey.” Searching the net, I found a Taylor wine concern in Australia and asked if it could possibly be from their winery. I was added to their e-mail list for advertisements with no reply.
I then contacted the Surrey (England) Historical Society and received back an automated e-mail saying they were closed for inventory and would get back to me about two weeks after they finished counting whatever they had to count. I was looking at February. To my surprise, they replied two days later.
The oblong bottle is called a “Hamilton” named after a Mr. Hamilton I suppose. It is a soda bottle which contained non-alcohol drinks in soda water similar to carbonated drinks today. The bottle was oblong to prevent the loss of fizz through the cork keeping it in contact at all times.
“J.M. Taylor” was a business listed as a soda water manufacturer. J.M. (John Mercer) Taylor was the owner from 1825 to 1851. The business started in 1791. He inherited it from his father, a victullar whose business was to provision ships with food and drink. I have no clue as to the wine bottles except if they don’t have a seam on the sides of the bottles then they are very valuable. All of mine have seams.
It will be fun trying to track down the name of the ship, the origin of the wine and why they would be shipping flavored carbonated water (known as ginger beer) to the Malaya colony in the first half of the 1800’s. A fun task during land as (Monsoon season) when it rains most of the time.
…Life is good. . . . .