Flor De La Mar

Article By:
Mohd. Sherman b. Sauffi (Maritime Archaeology Museum)

The legend of the lost ship on the Portuguese fleet called Flor De La Mar (Flower Of The Seas) had been an agenda of story telling, speculations and assumptions for many years since her lost in December 1511. Lots of theories and speculations about her, that make her “A billion dollar baby”, some said that she lost or vanished on the unfaithful event, some said that she have been taken over and all the treasures are stolen, some says that she had been destroyed by rivals ships and most provocative some says that the ship was not lost and know whereabouts the ship but somehow until now, well 500 years later, it can never be found elsewhere and remains a mysteries.

Enjoy the silence? We are actually got away from our leagues ladies and gentlemen. Before we jump into conclusions about anything, there’s a good start we look at the early document of “Portuguese Document On Malacca 1509 until 1511”, collected, translated and annotated by the late M.J Pintado with National Archives of Malaysia in 1993. It is a “Long Term Project” which was started the ideas since 1974. Credits goes to all the personnel who work on the project especially Dato’ Zakiah Hanum Nor, Ex-Director General National Archive Malaysia.

The written historiography collections with importance which had information about Malacca, “Letters from Alfonso de Albuquerque” in 7 volumes and the six Chroniclers - Joao de Barros, Diogo do Couto, Fernao Lopes de Castanheda, Gaspar Correia, Damiao de Goes and Manuel de Faria e Sousa. The document itself had information about what really happen to the ship Flor de La Mar.On the Document 2 (1511), Portuguese Republic Ministry of Colonies Asia Joao de Barros, Chapter II, “What Alfonso went through along the route that he took fom Cochin to the island of Sumatra, where he was visited by the King of Pedir and Pasai and what else he did up to the time he arrived in Malacca”, Document no. 13 noted “ …together with other jewellery taken as spoils from Malacca and put on aboard the galleon Flor de La Mar, as we shall further on”.

The unfortunate event that bring Flor de La Mar to bottom of the sea stated on the Book Seven Of The Second Decade of Asia by Joao de Barros, “The Achievements of the Potuguese in the exploration and conquests in the lands and seas of the east, after Alfonso de Albuquerque’s departure from Malacca to his entry into the red sea” Document no. 224, “ Above all they had to brave the fury of the storms at sea and the danger of the sandbanks near the coasts….”, Document no.225, “The truth of this we are going to see in the notable example of Alfonso de Albuquerque, who left Malacca with his galleons filled with trophies.

Sailed as far as the Kingdom of Aru at the end of the region called Timia Point in Sumatra. There at night his galleon was dashed against a hidden reef and broke up into two parts with the poop in one section and the prow in the other, because the ship was old and the seas heavy”.Alfonso indeed inside the ship and his men unable to get aid from other ships that sails along with them. By the following morning, Pero de Alpoem, a captain from another ship called “Trindade”, gave aid for the shipwrecked men in a ship’s boat and save them from tragic fate.

During the period of danger, Alfonso had many precious things in his ship but the only “precious things” he saved was a little girl, the daughter of one of his slaves, while standing on a raft he held the child in his arms – the only things that he saved from among the rich spoils he had obtain from Malacca which were in his galleon. The great loss of Alfonso which is refers to his honor on the ship were the two lions hollowed iron, fine piece of craftsmanship and artistry, which the emperor of China had sent as gift to the Sultan of Malacca.

Another interesting note on the event was the mutiny by the Javanese workers, on a Junk in the company of Jorges Nunes de Leao, the junk did not steer along the right course and entered the port of Aru, where the Javanese and the natives robbed it. Alfonso did go the wreck site with seeking help of Captain Jorge Bothello by using a ship Carravel type and enquire the natives who dived for pearls to dive the wreck site. However, the natives near the coastal area of Pasai might have robbed most of the cargo.

There were more than 10 ships responsible on the Malacca invasion campaign by the Portuguese in 1511, to name few, Flor de La Mar, Trindade, Anunciada, Santo Antonio, Santa Cruz, Bretao, Taforeia, Enxobregas, Cambaia, Santa Caterina, Joia, Santiago and Sao Joao. The Portuguese were the first pioneering Europeans to established empire in Southeast Asia by the invasion of Malacca , August 1511 througout 130 years before the Dutch did. Alfonso de Alburquerque died in 1515, where he left behind the legacy of navigations and established Portuguese maritime control from the Persian Gulf to Malacca, to the great enrichment of the monarchy.

However, some questionable speculations about The Flor de La Mar cargoes: where did it really go? Where all the treasures of Malacca Sultanate that had been robbed? If the ship were broke into two parts, why nowadays people claim that they knew and found the wreck?If we calculate for 500 years including the changing of tides, currents and based on the unstable geographical of Sumatera, does the ship still there?

Just for comparison, the Fort Santiago at Malacca A’ Famosa fortress if we look at the picture closely we sees that the sea is near the fort but 500 years later then compare the picture with the new land of Malacca, it is about 5 kilometers out from the cultural sites. Now look at the Sumatera coastal area and think again. More research need to be taken and document to be analyzed, considerations for regions political issues, economics and diplomacy.

We need to take a deeper look to this point so that the cultural heritage of Malaysia, Indonesia and Portuguese will be preserved with proper research and a little bit of sincerity in doing it.

Phil-Sherman William @ Mohd. Sherman bin Sauffi
Maritime Archaeological Museum
Department Of Museums and Antiquities
Jalan Damansara
50566 Kuala Lumpur

original posted


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