This bell was recovered from the Forbes, a shipwreck discovered off the coast of Belitung Island in the Karimata Strait of Indonesia. The waters where the shipwreck was found are a maritime crossroad where trading ships coming from the Straits of Malacca, the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea entered the Java Sea.
An ill-fated voyage
The Forbes was a merchant ship belonging to Forbes & Company, a company from Kolkata, India. On its fateful last voyage, the Forbes sailed from Kolkata to the Sulu region, Philippines, on 5 April 1806. The ship was carrying a cargo of opium, textiles and iron. In addition to trade, the ship was also involved in privateering, engaging in maritime warfare against the Dutch under a commission of war. On 11 September 1806, the Forbes sank in the waters of East Belitung while travelling back to Kolkata.
Made of bronze using a lost-wax casting technique, the physical condition of the bell is relatively intact considering that it was under the sea for hundreds of years. The year 1802 is embossed on the bell, indicating when the ship was constructed. Ship bells are usually used to warn when another ship is approaching, when the ship is in danger, or as a signal for those on board. The bell was recovered along with a cannon and silver Spanish Dollars.
Pythagora Yuliana Purwanti from the Fort Vredeburg Museum, Yogyakarta, shares the significance of the Forbes ship bell.