Divers have found the wreck of a steamer carrying the remains of 499 Chinese gold miners that sank north of New Zealand in 1902.
The sunken SS Ventnor was found 21 kilometers off the Hokianga Harbor after a three-year search, Xinhua News Agency reported.
Authorities in China and New Zealand have been notified of the find.
The Heritage New Zealand, the national historical agency, had gazetted the discovery so that no items could be removed from the wreck without official permission, according to John Albert, chairman of the Ventnor Project Group that led the search.
“Finding the SS Ventnor highlights the significant ties between China and New Zealand,” Albert was quoted as saying.
“It is important historically in terms of the early Chinese contribution to New Zealand and culturally in terms of the shared attitudes towards human remains. Since the time of the shipwreck, remains have drifted to shore. These have been interred and their graves cared for by local Maori.”
The British shop was chartered in 1902 by Cheong Sing Tong, a charity organization led by Chinese businessman Choie Sew Hoy, to transport the exhumed remains of Chinese men who had died in New Zealand back to their homeland for reburial according to Chinese customs, the news agency said.
The men, mostly from the Guangdong area, had come to New Zealand to work on gold fields and the towns that sprang up around those mines. The men were buried in New Zealand before being returned to China.
The SS Ventnor picked up the remains in lead-lined coffins in Dunedin, Greymouth and Wellington. But on Oct. 27, 1902, the ship struck a reef on the Taranaki coast off the west of the North Island, and sank the next day with the loss of 13 lives.
While human remains and occasional flotsam washed up on Hokianga beaches, the location of the wreck had remained a mystery for more than a century, according to Xinhua.
In 2007, Wong Liu Shueng, a third-generation Chinese New Zealander, and others in the local Chinese community began to search for the lost bones so they could accord them the rites and customs that had been denied to their families more than a century earlier.
Maori people had collected and buried the bones over the years, the report said.
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