The Lost Treasure of Flor de la Mar, Flower of the Sea
The Flor de la Mar or Flor do Mar (meaning Flower of the Sea ) was a Portuguese carrack of 400 tons that sailed the seas during the early 1500s. This ship was carrying a great amount of treasure when it sank somewhere off the coast of Sumatra, possibly at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca, during its voyage back to Portugal. Attempts to find this ship have been made over the years, though they have not been met with success. Whilst some have claimed that the ship has been found, these have not been supported with irrefutable evidence. Thus, the wreck of the Flor de la Mar, along with the treasure it was transporting, is still considered to be lost.
Malacca City, Malaysia: Flor de la mar, Replica of Portuguese ship, built in 1994. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
One of the most beautiful carracks of the Middle Ages
The Flor de la Mar is recorded to have been built in Lisbon in 1502. When it was constructed, this ship was one of the largest and most beautiful carracks of its day. In the same year, the Flor de la Mar made its maiden voyage by sailing from Lisbon to India under the command of Estêvão da Gama. In the following year, the ship sailed back to Portugal, laden with Indian spices. In 1505, the ship was part of another voyage to India, this time under the command of João da Nova. On its return journey in the following year, the Flor de la Mar was forced to stop in Mozambique for almost a year for repairs.
João da Nova, 1460 - 1509, Spanish-Portuguese explorer. ( Public Domain )
The Portuguese Expedition
The Flor de la Mar was not only used for trade, but also for battle, as it saw combat in subsequent years. In 1507, for instance, it participated in the Portuguese conquest of Ormuz. In the following year, the ship took part in the battle of Diu, and was also present at the conquest of Goa in 1510. In 1511, the Portuguese set their sights on the Sultanate of Malacca, whose capital (also called Malacca) was one of the richest cities in the world at that point of time. It was from their new colony in Goa that the Portuguese ships, one of which was the Flor de la Mar, began their voyage of conquest. The expedition was led by Afonso de Albuquerque, the Governor of Portuguese India.
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Illustration depicts the aftermath of the Portuguese conquest of Goa ( Public Domain )
The Portuguese expedition was successful, and Malacca became part of their overseas empire. Apart from that, much booty was gained from this undertaking. This was placed in the Flor de la Mar, as it had a large capacity for the transport of goods, to be brought back to the court of King Manuel I in Lisbon. However, the ship’s design made it difficult to maneuver when it was filled to its maximum capacity. Additionally, it has been repaired several times over the years, thus making it not the safest ship to transport the spoils of war.
Sinking of the Ship
Apart from the treasures of Malacca, the Flor de la Mar is said to have been transporting an impressive tribute from the King of Siam to the Portuguese king, as well as all of de Albuquerque’s personal fortune. This was the largest treasure ever assembled by the Portuguese navy. Unfortunately for them, their treasure ship never made it back to Lisbon. The Flor de la Mar left Malacca in November 1511, and probably sank a month later.
The Flor do Mar ( Public Domain )
According to a contemporary report, it was whilst sailing along the coast of Sumatra that the ship was caught in a storm. An attempt was made to seek refuge on the coast, but the ship was wrecked on a beach. As a result, the ship broke into two, and its back, which was embedded in the sand, demolished by the waves. Along with the ship, the treasure was also lost. Another report, however, claims that most of the treasure was later recovered by the surviving Portuguese.
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Regardless of whether the treasure is still in the wreck or not, attempts have been made to find the remains of the Flor de la Mar over the years. Several claims have been made regarding the discovery of its remains, though none of these have really been substantiated. In 1992, for instance, a treasure hunter by the name of Bob Marx is said to have announced his discovery of the ship after 3 days of survey. According to the story, the project had to be halted, as word of the ship’s discovery leaked out (presumably prior to the announcement).
A replica of Flor do Mar, Maritime Museum of Malacca. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The ship is unlikely to have survived at all, given the rough conditions of the sea in that region. Additionally, it is entirely possible that the ship’s cargo was salvaged by the survivors / locals after the storm, as the ship is recorded to have not been wrecked in the middle of the sea, but on a beach. Whilst some of the treasure would have almost certainly sunk to the bottom of the sea, this area is said to be a zero visibility diving area, with a muddy bottom and high currents, thus making it extremely difficult to locate these precious objects.
Top image: Illustration of the Flor do Mar. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
By Wu Mingren
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