Digital Library

Wells Collection

Hans van Tilburg (2012) NOAA report:

During his several tours of duty in East Asia (1922-1932), Lieutenant Forrest H Wells USN became fascinated with Chinese sailing craft. Subsequently, he took thousands of photographs of Chinese sailing junks, and collected numerous (43) wooden models from shipwrights and other sources. Later in his life he wrote several scholarly articles on the subject and came to be regarded as a prominent US expert in Chinese nautical historical development. Following his death, his rare model collection passed to his daughter, Ms. Kathryn Mears. It has since been boxed, moved, unboxed, and (no longer actively maintained) is beginning to fall into disrepair. Many of the vessels are extremely detailed and accurate representations and contain a wealth of technical and cultural information. Most of these models were intended for shipwrights in lieu of (non-existent) plans for the construction of a wide variety of traditional working Chinese junks. Large working models typically served this historically critical role in many seafaring cultures across the world. Most if not all of these traditional Chinese working craft no longer exist, and few were documented in any systematic fashion. These are glimpses of a vanished past.

Hangchow Bay inshore trader, Wells collection (Photo: Hans van Tilburg).

In 2009 Ms. Mears contacted Dr. Hans Van Tilburg (having read his book/dissertation on Chinese ship design and seafaring history Chinese Junks on the Pacific: Views from a Different Deck 2007) and gave the photo collection and all of FH Wells’ research notes to him for preservation, interpretation, and ultimately the benefit of the scholarly community. Furthermore, Ms. Mears requested assistance in finding a home for the large model collection. The Smithsonian Museum had, years earlier, expressed interest in this collection…provided that Ms. Mears package, insure, and transport the collection to the museum, and provide support for its display and curation (an impractical expectation). Van Tilburg works for NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program, which promotes efforts to preserve our world maritime heritage, and is supportive of assisting with this unique model collection. The goal of this specific project is to locate a proper long-term institutional home for the significant models among the collection below and assure the reconstruction, maintenance and display of these rare items.

In late September 2012 Van Tilburg traveled to Columbia MO, and with the kind assistance of Ms. Mears completed a preliminary photo survey of the model collection (September 26). No attempt was made to reassemble any of the models; they were photographed “as is”. Many of the disassembled parts and sails still exist and were also recorded (some associated with specific models, some not). These images have now been matched to FH Wells’ own inventory list (“Wells Collections of Oriental Ship Models”), which includes his brief notes on each model, and descriptive code (group letter category, number of masts and length, main decorative features), as well as the latitude and sometimes longitude of the original “home” of the junks, or year of collection.

The Wells Collection at Texas A&M

The Lieutenant Wells collection of Asian models was donated to Texas A&M University in 2014 and is housed in the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation (CMAC), where the models are undergoing cleaning and conservation care.

Lieutenant Forrest Wells with a Yangtse mandarin junk, No. 07 of his collection.

The collection encompasses 44 models of various provenances, sizes and quality. We hope to be able to study and publish each one of these vessels.

At this time we are inventorying, photographing, and matching each model wit the papers that came with the collection and the careful inventory made by Dr. Hans van Tilburg, including the pictures. 

Below is a table with the model numbers, one or two pictures, and the model designation in Lt. Wells undated inventory. Among the papers that came with the collection of models there are old pictures showing the models in his residences through time. At this stage of our project, we have not identified all the models. We hope to update this table regularly in the incoming months. 

Lieutenant Wells inventory has some codes, which mean the following: The first set of code consists of one or two letters and two numbers, separated by a dash. These letters and numbers have the following meanings: W – Rudders suspended from a windlass;  R – Removable rudders; FA – Fixed rudders abaft the stock; FB – Fixed rudders balanced by a fin forward of the stock; N – No rudder; and NO – No rudder with outrigger. The first number indicates the number of mast. It is followed by a dash and the length in inches. The second set of codes consists of two or three letters between brackets: v – varnished; b – painted black; o – oculus on the bow; g – bulworks painted in geometric areas of solid color; r – painted russet brown; k – presence of pa-kua; c- painted crimson red.



Asian Ship Models - Wells Collection

Ref.Image 1Image 2Comments
01W01Unknown. Not in Wells inventory. 12.5 in., 1 mast.
02W02W02.2Fukien War Junk. W3-28 [bpo] Box superstructure to house troops. Shields on rail, small cannon.
03W03Manila Dugout. NO0-13 [vs] Manila. Outriggers both sides. Matting awning.
04W04Yangtze Lake junk. FB3-40 [vs] Probably Poyang Lake. Box bow and other features of Antung junk. Cabin sides vertical.
05W05Chefoo small trader 1, or Yentai junk. W3-27.5 [bpo] Model is crude but valuable for showing main features of earliest junks.
06W06Yangtze mandarin junk 1. FB2-31 [vs] Based on Nanking. Canon on bow. Windowed cabin. Foredeck awning. Upriver mandarin's yacht bought in Shanghai from Tornroth.
07W07.2W07.1Yangtze mandarin junk 2. FB2-29. [vs] Based on Nanking. Canon on bow. Windowed cabin. Foredeck awning. Upriver mandarin's yacht bought in Shanghai from Tornroth.
08W08W08.1Pechili overseas trader 1. W5-26. [vs] special decoration.
09W09W09.2Fukien trader 1, or Foochow pole junk. W3-35. [bpo] Oval stern, painted, sea monster, red, on quarters.
10W10Chefoo sampan. R1-24. [vs] Partial deck.
11W11Yangtze Lake craft. FA1-36.5. [vs] Probably Poyang. Box bow. Cabin shutters slope inward from bottom to top.
12W12Grist mill junk. FB0-19.5. [vs] Paddle wheels turned by currect. Hull resembles Tselingin models.
13W13Tselingin salt junk 1. FB1-18. [vs] Structure suggests Yangtse rapids derivation. Cabin single. No anchor, uses spud. Flat top sail with boom projecting well past leech.
14W14Yangtse rapids junk 1. FB3-16. [vsy] Hull as in B3-54, but yin and yang on beam ends.
15W15Kiangsi River junk. FB1-36. [vs] Probably Kanchowfu (Lat 26; Long 115). Marked Kweichow when bought. Siamese Stem as in Landstrom Fig. 531. Wood cabin, rounded sides. Very high but narrow stern.
16W16Flower boat. R0-19.5. Destroyed. Bought in poor condition. Not in A&M collection.
17W17W17.4Tourist Export Model. Not in Wells inventory.
18W18W18.2Fukien trader 2. W3-25. [bpo] Has both a capstan and a windlass with ratchet, both foreign. Similar to W3-35. Not in the A&M collection.
19W19Tsingtao inshore fisher. W2-19. [vso] Plate bow without Chekiang overlapped stem.
20W20Moro Vinta. NO1-7. [vs] Outrigger on each side. Striped awning.
21W21W21.2Manila cargo lighter, or casco. R2-33. [bg] Hull and pole walk similar to Landstrom fig. 550. No battens on sails. Red bellow waterline.
22W22Yangtse rapids junk 2. R2-33. [vs] Same hull as B3-54. Crossbeams have plain red ends.
23W23Tselingin salt junk 2. N1-17.5. [vs] Hull and sail as in FB1-18.
24W24Phillipine outrigger 1. R1-17.5. [vs] Dugout, outrigger on both sides, no battens in sails. Bought in Olongapo. Subig Bay.
24aW24aPhillipine outrigger 2. R1-17.5. [vs] Dugout, outrigger on both sides, no battens in sails. Bought in Olongapo. Subig Bay.
25W25Chefoo small trader 2, or Yentai junk. W3-22. [vs] Characters on transom. Made by Wells' order.
26W26Island dugout
27W27Fukien trader 3
28W28Fukien trader 4
29W29High prow sampan 1
30W30High prow sampan 2
31W31Coal junk
32W32One-man dugout
33W33.1W33.2Chusan Island small trader
34W34Malay racing kolek
35W35.1W35.2Fukien trader 5. W3-29. [bpo] Similar to W3-35.
36W36Yangtse rapids junk 4. FB3-26. [vsk] Very shallow whale-back hull, no bulwarks forward of cabin. High rocker stern with two hors on transom to carry sheets. Pa-kua on beam ends.
37W37Pechili overseas trader 2. W5-26. Peggy's duplicate of W08.
38W38W38.1 Hangchow Coastal TraderHangshow Bay inshore trader, also called Shaosing junk
39W39Chinchow trader, also called red-head junk
40W40W40.1Lorcha. FA3-25. [cg] Originated by the Portuguese of Macao. Upper works white.
41W41W41.2Grand canal passenger junk. F1-45. [vs] canal runs between Peking and Hangchow. Passenger cabins sunk in weather deck. Overhead forms floor of second class. Roofed but otherwise open-air.
42W42W42.2South China trader, also called Kwantung overseas trader. W3-34. [vs] Hongkong. Mizzen mast missing, stem is foreign.
43W43W43.2Yangtse rapids junk 4. FB3-54. [vsk] Very shallow whale-back hull, no bulwarks forward of cabin. High rocker stern with two hors on transom to carry sheets. Pa-kua on beam ends.
44Thatched sampan. N1-2.5. [vs] Japanese. Not in the A&M collection.
45Bamboo sampan. N1-3.5. [vs] Japanese. Not in the A&M collection.
46Bird shape sampan. N1-4. [vs] Japanese. Not in the A&M collection.
47W47Carved model. R0-1.75. [bg] Canton.
48W48Manila Bay purse seiner, or banca. R2-30. [cx] Dugout-type hull. 28 paddles, hull sides very light blue. Underwater body red. Made at Cavite navy yard by Wells' order.
49Not in the A&M collection.
50W50Not in the A&M collection.
51W51Possibly the Footchow pole junk (W09) boat.