War Boat (99-12-60/52938)

View of 1840 Chinese War Boat, PM 99-12-60/52938. Please note the incredible wicker Lug Sails noteworthy for the battens that run across the width of the sail. Photo by John Henry Ronan Jr.
Rattan shields on ship model with Chinese characters. Photo by Alice Lu.
Museum label indicating provenance and time period of Chinese Junk. Photo by Alice Lu.
Profile view of war junk model. Photo by Norman Storer.
Detail of miniature gun breech. Rattan shields and staff weapons can be observed in the background. Photo by Norman Storer.

The first image that comes to mind when I think of ships is that of a pirate ship, built in Europe with triangular and trapezoidal canvas sails. However, there are many other cultures that have built ships that look different from this stereotype ship. When I first saw this Chinese war boat, I immediately noticed the difference in the shape of the sails. Instead of a triangle or trapezoid, this ship’s sails were slightly curved and had horizontal sections in them. Intrigued, I looked forward to finding out more about the differences (and similarities) between this Chinese ship and Western ships as I learn more about the history surrounding this ship and its construction, especially after discovering that this type of ship played a role in the First Opium War between the Chinese and British. Click to read more.

Alice Lu


Artifact number 99-12-60/52938 sits in the storage of the Peabody Museum, listed only as “War Boat”. The ship model, roughly 2 feet long and a foot and a half high, features unique and prominent Chinese Lug Sails. The model also sports wicker shields along the starboard and port sides and 2 breech loading cannons loosely fit to the rail of the vessel. It seems strange that the light wicker shields and the cannon could coexist on a vessel, likely indicating that the society that built this ship was lagging in military science. Concurrently, I initially imagined that the vessel would be much older, we found evidence that the vessel dates to 1840, and ships like this were likely used in the First Opium War of 1839-1842. Given the antiquated technology upon this vessel, it is no wonder that the British Royal Navy blew the Chinese fleet out of the water and established their maritime dominance in China. Click to read more.

John Henry Ronan


When one thinks of an eighteenth or nineteenth century warship, what comes to mind? Perhaps Lord Nelson's H.M.S Victory, or "Old Ironsides" U.S.S. Constitution, or maybe the ironclad steamers of the U.S. Civil War. Few people, however, would think of a two masted vessel with one open deck, armed with spears and matchlocks and defended by straw shields. That is, however, a description of the typical early nineteenth century Chinese war junk. Although for many centuries Chinese shipbuilding was in many ways more advanced than that of Europeans, by the mid nineteenth century China's navy was woefully unprepared with junks such as this one to face off against the greatest naval empire of the era and its heavily armed steam ships. But still they fought on, and the results of these conflicts would shape relations between China and the west for the decades to come.  Click to read more.

Norman R. Storer


Content of this page provided by students of Anthro 1218: Shipwrecks and Seafarers, Piracy and Plundering: An Introduction to Maritime Archaeology.