Indonesian wooden anchor

(Wood, stone, iron, polypropylene rope, nylon monofilament fishing line)

Maker unknown

circa 1990

Gift of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority 1995


Photos: MAGNT

Wooden anchors of this type from the MAGNT collection have been used in the Malay Archipelago for hundreds of years. The original design, however, is thousands of years old and derived from what has been called an Austronesian pattern anchor. These anchors were made from a naturally grown timber hook, or tree branch, and were weighted down with a stone or a large clam shell (Tridacna sp). The stone or shell was lashed to the timber hook with rattan or other handmade fibre rope.

The MAGNT anchor, however, differs from the Austronesian pattern in that the timber hook that forms the arm and the shank is made from two pieces of timber. In this case, the wood used is Teak (Tectona grandis), a hardwood known in Indonesia as kayu jati.

The arm and the shank are joined together at the crown, with the shank passing through a slot in the arm and held in place by an iron bolt that passes through both, fixing the two in place. Nylon fishing line is used to attach a large stone to the other end of the shank which weighs the anchor down and acts as an anchor-stock. Fishing line is also used near the throat of the anchor to strengthen the attachment of the single arm to the shank.

It has been suggested that this particular type of anchor, and the method of attaching the arm and the shank, may have been introduced to the Southeast Asian region by the Chinese during the Ming voyages (1404 – 1433) led by Admiral Zheng He (1371 – 1433). The Chinese are known to have sailed as far south as the Indonesian Island of Java.

One of the earliest written references to the use of these anchors in the Southeast Asian region was made by English mariner Thomas Forrest (1729–1802) in 1792. Forrest was employed by the British East India Company and for a time was based in Balambangan (Pulau Balambangan, Sabah, Malaysia), an 18th century British trading post located on the northern tip of the Island of Borneo. In 1774, Forrest sailed his vessel Tartar Galley through the Maluku and New Guinea region and explored various routes into the ‘spice islands’. Forrest made a number of sketches and drawings of the boats and canoes that he saw. One such drawing, that of a Bugis padewakang (a type of traditional Indonesian sailing boat) of about 4–5 tonnes, shows a wooden anchor with a single arm and stone stock at the bow.

Approximately 30 years later in 1803, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1778 –1846) and Nicolas-Martin Petit (1777 – 1804), artists on board Nicolas Baudin’s ships, La Géographe and Naturaliste, record a similar wooden anchor with a stone stock in Timor.

In 1995, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority donated three wooden anchors (including this one) to MAGNT. The anchors had come from Indonesian fishing boats that had been apprehended for illegally fishing in the Australian fishing zone without a license. Unfortunately, the name of the vessels from which the anchors originated was not recorded when the anchors were salvaged, prior to the destruction of the boats. MAGNT was pleased to accept the donation as the anchors demonstrate the continued use of wooden anchors in the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago into the final years of the twentieth century.