Dutch Shipwrecks on the Western Australian Coastline

So you think history is boring? Treacherous isolated coastline on the other side of the world is a great place for adventure… and way back in the 1600’s Western Australia was on the other side of the world.  Trading ships from the Dutch East India Company encountered our coastline, leaving shipwrecks, marooned survivors, and some of the best ripping yarns maritime history can offer.   

LIFE ON PERTH GIVES YOU THE LOW DOWN, ON THE SHIPS THAT WENT DOWN. 
 

Deadwater Wreck (Busselton).

The "Deadwater Wreck".

 

So let the story begin.......... 

 

Why were so many Dutch ships wrecked on the Western Australian Coastline?

A Dutch trading body called the Dutch East India Company made over 5000 arduous ocean trips to Asia, to buy exotic spices to sell on the European markets.  This all happened between 1602 and 1800.  Formed in Amsterdam during 1602, the Dutch East India Company became an international powerhouse, competing with all the major seafaring nations of the day. They built a massive fleet of merchantmen, which carried passengers, trading goods, and lots of silver coins to purchase all the new cargo.

Prior to 1611, the preferred route to Asia ensured the ships stayed fairly close to the East African coastline, after rounding the Cape of Good Hope.   However in 1610, Hendrik Brouwer  followed the westerly winds (Roaring Forties),  crossing much of the southern Indian Ocean, before heading north to Asia.   This was a brilliant idea because it shortened the journey, and everybody arrived feeling more healthy.  A skilful mariner could save up to six months travel time. The down side to this new route was that navigational instruments were still rather primitive (no chronometers yet), and many of the ships sailed too far east before swinging north.   As a consequence, many were shipwrecked on the desolate Western Australian coastline.  Why not check out our discussion on the Seynbrief  to find out more about catching the Roaring Forties.

In fact over 1400 ships have been wrecked on the Western Australian coastline. To be fair, only four Dutch ships were actually wrecked, with another three presumed missing in the region. Not a bad track record when you consider the number of journeys they made along the coastline.  During it’s 198 year history, the Dutch East India Company still managed to wreck more than 650 ships worldwide.  Nice effort guys.

The Brouwer Route including the Shipwreck Deviation.

The Brouwer Route including the Shipwreck Deviation.

The Dutch East India Company did more than just trade goods. They organised many expeditions to explore, and chart the unknown coastline they referred to as New Holland.  Discovering much of the Western Australian coastline, detailed maps were drawn to improve knowledge of the region, and to ensure fewer ships were endangered during future trips. They even mounted daring rescue missions to search for survivors.  The Dutch East India Company were always optimistic about the survival skills of their marooned crews.  Williem de Vlamingh during his voyage of 1697, was ordered to search for survivors of the Vergulde Draeck, wrecked over 40 years earlier. These and other Dutch survivors unintentionally became Australia’s first European settlers. Despite leaving behind some intriguing clues, they all mysteriously vanished… never to be seen again. 

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Why did the Dutch shipwreck survivors vanish into thin air?

Conservative estimates suggest over 300 passengers and crew of the Dutch East India Company inhabited the Western Australian coastline, as a consequence of being marooned. That seems like a lot of people, though it must be remembered they landed across a period of nearly 100 years (1629 -1727).

In such small unprepared groups, they never stood much of a chance of long term survival in an extremely harsh, and arid environment.  Even when the highly organised British settlers arrived in 1829, they struggled for many years before establishing a viable community. The British originally numbered 150, were well supplied, and had carefully chosen their settlement site along the Swan River.  You can only imagine the struggle encountered by the early Dutch shipwreck survivors.

Evidence suggests many of the survivors attempted to shape some form of existence on the coastline. When the Vergulde Draeck was wrecked in 1656, seventy five people made it ashore.  Seven of the crew then bravely sailed a small boat north to Batavia, and raised the alarm. In 1658 the rescue mission of the Waeckende Boei, reported finding a beach littered with wreckage from the Vergulde Draeck. Survivor activity was supported by the discovery of a circle of the ships planks, planted deliberately with their ends in the sand.  This may have been a roughly fashioned wind break enabling the survivors to maintain a presence on the beach while awaiting to be rescued.  During the mid 1800’s, three more poles and uprights were discovered along Western Australian beaches. The occasional stone circle was also found, but with so much shipwreck activity along the coastline, it is difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions to their origins.

Several fires were seen on the shore behind  where the wreckage was discovered. On closer investigation, they were found to have been lit by the Aborigines living in the area. The curiosity of the local Aborigines, can also explain why some wreckage found it’s way inland.  It appears the survivors may have given up waiting on the beach for a rescue mission to arrive from Batavia. In desperation, they probably trekked inland with the hope of finding food, and improved shelter. It is likely they became disorientated, perishing in an unfamiliar and hostile environment.

Beardman Jugs.

 

Beardman Jugs recovered from various Dutch wrecks.

Rescue missions experienced similar difficulties. Three landing crew from the Goede Hoop (1656) became lost in the bush, and were never seen again.  Members of the Vlamingh expedition (1697) ate the local vegetation, and became violently ill. The weary shipwreck survivors would have been exposed to even greater health risks, from drinking brackish water, and eating unknown poisonous plants. 

Dutch Guilder encrusted in coral.

In 1927, a campsite was discovered on the top of the coastal cliffs near the wreck of the Zuytdorp (1712). Various items including broken bottles and cooking pots were found near old abandoned camp fires. In 1931, forty silver guilder coins from the Vergulde Draeck were found in the sand hills near the entrance to Moore River.  No human remains have ever been located, suggesting a short, but fatal trek inland may have ensued.

Dutch Guilder (left) encrusted in coral.

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Did some Dutch survivors manage to establish an inland settlement around the oasis of Palm Valley in Central Australia?

The existence of an isolated Dutch colony was first reported in an English newspaper called The Leeds Mercury (25th January 1834). This article was reproduced in other publications around the world during the 1830's.  These included the Perth Gazette  (20th September 1834 - page 359), and a Dutch scientific journal in 1837. Various explorers and academics have been talking the colony up ever since, but are yet to produce any solid evidence of its’ existence.

The story is rather fascinating, and can be summarised as follows.
 

  • In 1832 a covert English expedition commanded by Lieutenant Nixon discovered a group of 300 Dutch people living in a desert oasis known as Palm Valley.
     

  • They were the descendants of Dutch shipwreck survivors from the mid 1600’s to early 1700’s. Their ships were wrecked on the Western Australian coastline, and included the Vergulde Draeck (1656), the Zuytdorp (1712), and the Zeewijck (1727).
     

  • The catalyst for the settlement was the wrecking of the Concordia in 1708, on the northern coast of Western Australia.  Eighty men and ten women trekked more than 1500km inland, and established a settlement in Palm Valley, near Central Australia.  Stores salvaged from the wreck were carried on the journey.
     

  • They lived in houses which were enclosed by a great wall, to defend the colony from attacking Aborigines. Their principal diet consisted of fish netted from the valley’s rivers, and maize grown from simple plantations. They would occasionally capture kangaroos and other local wildlife.  Food shortages were common.
     

  • A broken form of old Dutch was spoken by the settlers, from which their story was translated. The men wore trousers, and jackets fashioned from animal skins.
     

  • Lieutenant Nixon invited some of the settlers to return with the expedition.  They refused, and Nixon had to leave promptly.  His time was limited by the changing monsoon season, and the distance required to trek back to his ship.

The Dutch East India Company’s ship Concordia is central to the story. It is officially listed as being lost somewhere near Mauritius in 1708. That places it a long way from the north coast of Western Australia. Without the Concordia, the Dutch Colony would lack a viable founding population. Survivors from the other known wrecks, would have been too few in number, and separated by a period of years too great, to sustain a settlement.  

Concordia - Central to the Palm Valley Colony Story.

No direct evidence has ever been presented to validate the existence of a Dutch settlement at Palm ValleyPalm Valley certainly exists.  It is an ancient sandstone escarpment and valley floor, populated by thousands of red cabbage palms. Ochre coloured gorges, rock pools and white sands dominate this rich oasis.  The valley exists in stark contrast to the arid desert that surrounds it.

Any group of wandering shipwreck survivors would naturally be attracted to the comforts of Palm Valley, if they were ever lucky enough to find it.  The first European to officially see the palm trees was the explorer Ernest Giles in 1872. He never actually entered the valley, fearing dangerous flooding from some threatening rain. The valley was not properly discovered by Europeans until a nearby German mission was settled in 1877.  If you accept the Dutch colony idea, the area was settled in 1708, and rediscovered on May 15th, 1832.  Neither Giles or the German settlers, found any evidence of the 300 person colony, and they arrived only 40 years after the fabled Nixon Expedition departed. The valley is now a popular tourist destination.  To date no visitor to the region has stumbled upon an artefact from the mystery colony.

Even if sustainable numbers were marooned, a 1500km trek across a hostile desert, carrying heavy stores would have been impossible. Scarcity of food, water, and shelter, would have hindered an extended inland journey. The probability of then successfully locating a desert oasis in Central Australia would have been marginal.  Particularly in the unexplored, and unmapped inland Australia of 1708.

Lieutenant Nixon and his expedition vanished as quickly as they appeared. Such an important discovery would have surely required urgent investigation.  It was nearly two years before the discovery appeared in an article in a regional English newspaper, and then later reproduced in the Perth Gazette.  Judging by this lack of editorial interest, the press of the day considered the story to be no more than an elaborate “Traveller’s Yarn”.

Until some hard evidence is presented supporting the Palm Valley Colony, it will retain it’s mythical status.  It is an intriguing story, which will endure for many years to come.
 

Conspiracy Theory:  Why was the Nixon Expedition shrouded in so much secrecy?  Why did Governor Stirling hurriedly return to England in August 1832?  Perhaps British intelligence had confirmed the existence of an inland Dutch settlement.  A Dutch colony predating the British occupation of Western Australia, would have created long term issues for both Stirling, and the homeland.  So in April 1832 a secret military mission was organised to locate, and remove all evidence of the settlement's existence.  With the job done, Stirling personally reported the news back to England.  Some word of the incident did leak, though was contained within some vague newspaper articles.

 
  Palm Valley - 300 Years Later. 

After failing to even locate a discarded coke bottle, we knew our chances discovering the lost settlement were smashed!

Red Cabbage Palms.

Red Cabbage Palms capture a time when central Australia had a tropical past.  During periods of excessive rainfall, water still cascades across the valley floor.  A concern for Giles in 1872.

These Red Cabbage Palms are found nowhere else in central Australia.

Following up on our not so successful “Deadwater Wreck Expedition” we decided to check out Palm Valley, and search for evidence of the lost Dutch Settlement.  After an all day investigation of the valley floor, we found absolutely nothing. Over 300 years later, the sands of this lonely oasis yielded no evidence of an early European settlement.  We left Palm Valley convinced there was no way a group of shipwreck survivors could have ever trekked this far inland, and then established a viable community.  Yet when the sheer beauty of the valley is appreciated in stark contrast to the surrounding desert, you can easily conjure up imagery of a lost world, undiscovered to modern civilisation.
 

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What are the names of the Dutch ships that were wrecked on the Western Australian Coastline?

Four ships of the Dutch East India Company are known to have been officially wrecked on the coast of Western Australia.

Batavia (1629)

The Batavia was wrecked during the early hours of the morning on June 4th 1629, after striking a reef in the Houtman Abrolhos Islands.  The reef is now known as the Morning Reef.  There were 341 people on board the Batavia.  Using two boats salvaged from the wreck, most of the passengers and crew were transferred to the nearby islands.  Forty people drowned in the rough seas.

Batavia and a Stone Portico (cargo).

Partially restored stern section.

The Batavia Room in the Shipwreck Galleries Fremantle.

Batavia Stern Section.

Following a brief survey of the islands, Captain Francisco Pelsaert  concluded there was no fresh water, and a very limited supply of food.  On June 7th, Pelsaert  and 46 of the crew set sail in one of the ship’s long boats for Batavia.  Leaving behind over 250 survivors, Pelsaert  arrived in Batavia  over a month later.  He was promptly given command of the vessel Sardam, and instructed to return on a rescue mission.

Meanwhile back at the wreck site things were going horribly wrong.  Before the Batavia struck the reef, a nasty character called Jeronimus Cornelisz  had planned a mutiny.  Being shipwrecked was not going to curtail his desire for a life of piracy. He was now the most senior officer amongst the survivors, and quickly assumed control.  Cornelisz cunningly ferried 20 soldiers under the command of Wiebbe Hayes, to a nearby island to search for water.  With the soldiers isolated, Cornelisz and his followers brutally murdered 125 men, women, and children.

Batavia Cannon.

Meanwhile Hayes had discovered a good supply of food and water.  He promptly sent smoke signals to Cornelisz, though they remained unanswered. Eventually some of the survivors escaped from the islands under Cornelisz’s control. Arriving by rafts or exhausted from swimming across the water, they advised Hayes of the terrible massacre taking place. Fearing an attack, Hayes fortified his island, and made some weapons from the materials available in the area.  

Batavia Cannon.

 

Several attempts were made by the mutineers to overthrow Hayes, with many being killed on both sides. Hayes repelled the invaders for nearly two months.  During the last battle on September 17th, the rescue ship Sardam was sighted near the island. The mutineers realised if they boarded the Sardam before Hayes, they could gain control over the ship.  Hayes was no fool, and made every effort to be the first on board.  The race was on.

Thankfully, Wiebbe Hayes was the first survivor to speak to Captain Pelsaert.  After a short battle, the combined forces of Hayes and Pelsaert defeated the murderous mutineers.  Following a brief trial the worst offenders were executed on the island. Amongst them was Jeronimus Cornelisz. The lesser offenders were returned to Batavia.  On the journey back to Batavia, Pelsaert  marooned two of the mutineers on mainland Australia. They were never heard of again.  Deliberately left near the mouth of the Murchison River, they are unofficially Australia’s first European settlers.  Only 68 of the 341 crew and passengers of the Batavia, survived the horrible ordeal.

Walga Rock Mystery

About 350km inland from where the two mutineers were marooned is a large rock monolith known as Walga Rock. It is roughly 1.5 kilometres long, and 5 kilometres around it’s base. Displayed on the walls of a huge cave inside the rock, are many ancient aboriginal paintings.  One image looks most unlike the rest. Clearly visible is the painting of a ship from the seventeenth century. Perhaps the two marooned mutineers painted the figure of the Batavia on the rock, and then spent the remainder of their lives with the local Aborigines.

Is this an image of the Batavia painted on Walga Rock?

 

Vergulde Draeck (1656)

The Vergulde Draeck was wrecked on April 28th 1656, on a reef off Ledge Point, with 193 people on board. Only 75 survivors managed to struggle onto the shore. The Vergulde Draeck sustained heavy damage upon impact. Very few provisions were salvaged, but fortunately a small boat was saved.

Using this boat, seven of the ship’s crew sailed north to Batavia, and reported the tragedy. Three rescue missions were organised to locate the remaining 68 survivors, though nobody was ever found. Two intriguing tales emerged from the wreck of the Vergulde Draeck, and are discussed separately within this text. These being: 

The Vanishing Survivors.
Abraham Leeman.

Beardman Jug recovered from the Vergulde Draeck.

 

Beardman Jug.

 

Zuytdorp (1712)

The Zuytdorp was wrecked during April 1712 on a reef at the base of some rugged cliffs south of Shark Bay. There were 286 passengers and crew on board the ship.  Unlike the other three Dutch wrecks, nobody from the Zuytdorp reached Batavia to report the incident. We will never know the exact circumstances of that fateful day.

The anchor (right) probably broke a fluke when the Zuytdorp was dragged through the surf towards the steep coastal cliffs.

Zuytdorp Anchor.

 

Zuytdorp Anchor.

Excavation of the site has provided some clues. The Zuytdorp first struck a reef about 100 metres offshore, before pounding waves pushed the ship towards the base of the cliffs. There was probably no time to launch the boats.  Any survivors who had succeeded in leaving the ship would have been in major spot of bother. Imagine standing on a reef platform at the base of insurmountable steep ocean cliffs, being ravaged by huge seas, and sucked into dangerous blowholes. Somebody did manage to get to the cliff top.

The Zuytdorp's Bell.

In 1927, a stockman stumbled upon a survivors camp on the top of the cliffs. Various items including silver coins, broken bottles and cooking pots were discovered near old some abandoned camp fires.  No human remains have ever been found.  It is possible that some survivors climbed the mast of the disintegrating ship, and bridged the small gap between it, and the cliff face. Exhausted, they reached the cliff top, and survived there for a short period of time.  In recognition of their struggle, the cliffs are now known as the Zuytdorp Cliffs.

The ship's bell (left) rang for the last time in 1712, alerting the passengers to the impending disaster.

The Zuytdorp's Bell.

 

 

Zeewijck (1727)

The Zeewijck was wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, during the evening of June 9th 1727, with 212 people on board. The lookout officer spotted some breaking waves half an hour before the impact, though dismissed them as moonlight reflecting off the sea.  At 7:30pm the Zeewijck collided with what is now known as Half Moon Reef.

Unlike other Dutch wrecks, the Zeewijck did not disintegrate upon impact.  One week later, Captain Jan Steijns launched the long boat, and landed 96 survivors on the relative safety of nearby Gun Island. Thirty survivors decided to stay on the wreck, which became their home for an amazing five months.  Unable to be floated, the Zeewijck was securely locked onto Half Moon Reef.

Zeewijck Cauldron Lid.

Twelve of the fittest survivors set off in the long boat on July 10th, in hope of reporting the disaster to Batavia. They were never heard of again, possibly becoming marooned on the mainland. After waiting four months, the remaining survivors concluded that the long boat crew never reached Batavia. In a bold decision, it was noted in the ship’s log of October 29th, the intention to construct a vessel to carry all the castaways to Batavia.

Zeewijck - Cauldron Lid.

 

Construction of the sloop took four months, and utilised materials from the Zeewijck, and local mangrove timber. Two swivel cannons were also added, to protect the ten chests of money they intended to salvage. The completed vessel was named the Sloepie, and was the first European ship built in Australia.  She was officially launched on February 28th 1728, standing 20 metres long by 6 metres wide.

On March 26th 1728, the Sloepie left Gun Island with all 88 remaining survivors on board.  Eighty two Zeewijck survivors arrived in Batavia on April 30th 1728.  Six people perished during the journey.  The Zeewijck story is an incredible journey of determination, lasting more than ten months from the shipwreck to Batavia.  They even made the journey carrying the ten chests of money.

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Did some Dutch ships vanish along the Western Australian Coastline never to be heard of again?

Between 1694 and 1726 the Dutch East India Company lost three ships without trace, on the route from Cape Town to Batavia.  No wreckage has ever been recovered, and no survivors lived to tell their fateful tales.  It is possible at least one of these ships may have been wrecked on the Western Australian coastline.

Ridderschap van Holland (1694)
The Ridderschap van Holland disappeared  after departing the Cape of Good Hope on February 5th 1694.  It belonged to the largest class of the Dutch East India Company’s ships, and vanished with 325 passengers and crew. Such was the loss of this vessel, that Willem de Vlamingh was despatched in 1696, to search for wreckage and survivors.  Commanding an expedition of three ships, he found no evidence of the vessel. His expedition charted much of the Western Australian coastline, and sighted the future location of the City of Perth.

Fortuin (1724)
The Fortuin disappeared on it’s maiden voyage to Batavia, after departing the Cape of Good Hope on January 18th 1724. Like the Ridderschap van Holland, it was a large vessel.  No wreckage or survivors were ever found.

Aagtekerke (1726)
After departing Cape Town on the 29th January 1726, the Aagtekerke sailed into oblivion. Also a large company vessel, no survivors lived to tell the tale. It’s route could have possibly wrecked it on the coast of Western Australia.

 
In 1727 the Dutch had the misfortune to have the ship Zeewijck run aground on the reefs of the Abrolhos Islands. The Abrolhos Group of islands are off the coast of Western Australia.  Survivors of the Zeewijck reported the wreckage of another unidentified Dutch vessel on the islands. They also discovered several water wells, and harvested some vegetables they found growing on the islands. Perhaps these were the remnants of survival, from one of the three missing ships.

With all the resources directed to searching the northern coastline, the southern beaches escaped the attention of the Dutch rescue expeditions. It was not until 1846 that a surveyor walking along an estuary north of Busselton, possibly discovered the partially submerged wreckage of a Dutch trading vessel. It was located in a shallow estuary, covered by water, sand, and thick seaweed. Described as an ancient vessel of great tonnage, it could have well been the decaying wreckage of the Ridderschap van Holland, Fortuin, or Aagtekerke. Some quicksilver (mercury), and silver coins were discovered close to the site.  Resting in the still waters of the Vasse Estuary, the ship became known as the “Deadwater Wreck”. Serious interest in the vessel had to wait until 1910. Unfortunately it was too late. The passage of time, and it’s accessibility to amateur salvage enthusiasts had left no clues. Maritime archaeologists at least have a rough idea where it is. 

The Deadwater Wreck.

 

For a more detailed discussion on this wreck, and other countries that visited Western Australia before it was trendy, check out our article on the "Deadwater Wreck".  Today all our wrecks are protected by special legislation, effectively meaning if you remove even a single coin, you’ll be shot on site. Just joking… but you can still be locked away, never to be seen again.

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Why were the Dutch leaving old dinner plates on the Western Australian coastline?

On October 25th 1616, the Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog stepped ashore, on what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island, off the coast of northern Western Australia. This was a big deal, as it was the first recorded landing of a European on the coast of Western Australia.  To mark the occasion, Hartog nailed a pewter plate to a post.  It was inscribed with all the important details of his landing.  The area is now known as Cape Inscription.

Eighty one years later in February 1697, the Hartog plate was found by the Dutch expedition of Willem de Vlamingh. The First Mate, in seeking higher ground for a better view of Dirk Hartog Island, climbed a hill and found a pole with a pewter plate half hidden in the sand. The plate was badly weathered, and the post had almost rotted away to nothing.

Hartogh's Plate as it would have looked on Cape Inscription.

 

Hartog’s Plate on Cape Inscription.

Vlamingh decided to take Hartog’s plate with him, and leave a new pewter plate at the same location. The new plate was inscribed with a copy of Hartog’s inscription, together with details of his own visit to the island.  Just like Hartog, Vlamingh used a kitchen plate selected from the galley, and hammered it flat.  It was promptly nailed to a post of cypress pine he had collected from Rottnest Island.  Vlamingh set sail on February 12th 1697.

Vlamingh's Plate.

One hundred and four years later in July 1801, Vlamingh’s pewter plate was found by the French expedition of Nicolas Baudin. Captain Emmanuel Hamelin arrived on the corvette Naturaliste to rendezvous with Baudin's ship Geographe. They considered taking the plate home. After much debate, it was decided removing the plate would be the wrong thing to do, so they nailed the plate to a fresh post, and left the island. This post thereafter became known as Hamelin's Post.  Not every crew member agreed with this decision.  Junior officer Louis de Freycinet, desired the plate with a passion. He worked his way through the French Navy, and eventually   gained   command   of  his  own  ship.  In  1818  he  returned  to  Cape  Inscription,  and    recovered Vlamingh’s plate for France. 

One of the 1908 posts.

 

 

 


 


The 1908 Posts.   In 1907 the remains of the Vlamingh and Hamelin Posts were removed from Cape Inscription.  Two posts of Raspberry Jam Wood were erected at the site during 1908.  In 1997, the 1908 posts were removed, and replaced with new posts made of Rottnest Island and Baltic pine.  In 2006 the Cape Inscription Area was added to the National Heritage List.

Should anything else happen, we will keep you  posted.

Vlamingh's Plate.  You can still see the text, nail holes and centre circle from the pressing. It is securely bolted behind bullet proof glass in the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, just in case passing French tourists get any ideas.

Hamelin's Post.

Four years later during January 1822, the now lonely post was the subject of Western Australia’s first recorded act of graffiti vandalism.  British navigator Philip Parker King wrote his name on Hamelin's Post by hammering in a series of nails.  Tagging had just begun.

So where are the plates today?  Dirk Hartog’s plate is now on display in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and is the oldest written record of a European landing in Australia.  Vlamingh’s plate spent many years on display in the French Academy in Paris. Someone accidentally misplaced the plate, and it then remained lost for over 100 years. It was rediscovered in 1940, on the bottom shelf of a small room nobody went into much. The French Government returned Vlamingh’s plate to Western Australia in 1947.  It is now housed in the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle.

Dirk Hartog Island still hides one last piece of historic kitchenware.  During Baudin’s expedition of 1801, the Captain of the Naturaliste, Emmanuel Hamelin left his own inscription on a lead plate.  Nailed to a post on a prominent headland, it  remains undiscovered to this very day.

POSTSCRIPT:  All these posts can leave you a little confused.  Just to make life easy here are some post-it notes.

Hartog's Post:  This was the original post erected on 25th October 1616 by Dirk Hartog.  The post was believed to have been made of oak.  We don't really know what became of Hartog's Post, but according to William de Vlamingh's description in 1697, it had by then almost rotted away.  Presumably there may be still fragments of it in the ground at Point Inscription.

Vlamingh's Post:  This post was erected on 4th February 1697, by Willem de Vlamingh, to replace Hartog's weather beaten post, and plate.  It was believed to have been made from the Cypress Pine he had collected while visiting Rottnest island.  Vlamingh removed Hartog's Plate and returned it to Holland, though saw no value in the decaying Hartog PostVlamingh's Post was removed during a survey of Point Inscription in 1907, and presented to the Western Australian Maritime Museum.
 

Hamelin's Post:  French Captain Emmanuel Hamelin, erected a third post on 16th July 1801.  He was annoyed to have learnt his crew had discovered Vlamingh's Plate while exploring Cape Inscription, and had taken it on board the Naturaliste.  He ordered that his crew return it immediately, and attach it to a new post made from a section of the ship's spar.  Hence Hamelin's Post was created. The wood is believed to be Baltic Pine.  In 1818 one of Hamelin's former officers, Louis de Freycinet returned to Cape Inscription and removed the plate for France.  He did not remove Hamelin's PostVlamingh's Post, and maybe even the fragile remains of Hartog's Post, were also still at the Point in 1818.  All three posts were now without plates.

On 24th January 1822 visiting British sailor Phillip Parker King  had his name, and the date, outlined in nails on Hamelin's Post.   Hamelin's Post was later removed during a survey of Point Inscription in 1907, and presented to the Western Australian Maritime Museum. 

Pictured here is Hamelin's Post.  You can still make out the nail inscriptions left by King in 1822.  We have rotated the post below, so you can better make out the figure "1822".  The word "KING" can also be seen just above the date, though it takes a little more imagination to visualise.  Hamelin's Post is also significant, as it is an actual piece of wood from the historic vessel, the Naturaliste

Hamelin's Post (1801)

King's 1822 inscription on Hamelin's Post.

KING

1822

Hamelin's Post with
detail of King's 1822
Nail Inscription.

 

Vlamingh's Post 1697 (left).

Hamelin's Post 1801 (right).

Vlamingh's Post (1697).       Hamelin's Post (1801).

One of the 1908 posts.The 1908 Posts:  In 1908 the Western Australian Government erected two posts made of Raspberry Jam Wood to mark the historical importance of the site.  The Vlamingh and Hamelin Post's (pictured left) had both been removed the year before.  In 1997, the 1908 Posts were removed.  One of the 1908 Posts was presented to the Western Australian Museum, and the other remains in private ownership.
 

One of the 1908 Posts.

The 1997 Posts:  The 1908 Posts were replaced in 1997, with two new posts made of Rottnest Island, and Baltic pine.  These were the same type of woods that the Vlamingh and Hamelin Post's  were shaped from.  Could these 1997 additions be the Last Posts?  We think not.

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What is the story of the Dutch mariner who was marooned twice on the coastline of Western Australia?

Once the survivors of the Vergulde Draeck gathered on the beach in 1656, the Captain decided to organise a daring rescue mission. Using a small boat salvaged from the wreck, a selection of the ship’s crew were instructed to sail north to Batavia, and report the tragedy. Captain Albertsz appointed his understeersman Abraham Leeman van Santwits to lead the mission of seven sailors.  After the nasty Batavia mutiny in 1629, Albertsz probably thought he should stay behind with the remaining survivors, just in case they got up to no good.

Six weeks later, Leeman arrived in Batavia. The journey was an amazing accomplishment under arduous conditions, and a demonstration of Leeman’s superior navigational skills. Several rescue missions were quickly dispatched, but with no success.  The Goede Hoop in 1656 lost three crew on the mainland, and left a longboat with eight crew smashed on a reef. In 1658 the Emmeloort and Waeckende Boei arrived at the wreck site with Abraham Leeman on board.  Being a former survivor from the Vergulde Draeck, he had some local knowledge of the area.

The beach where the survivors gathered.
The beach where the Vergulde Draeck survivors gathered in 1656.

Leeman was in charge of the landing parties, and two years after being shipwrecked was back on the shore looking for survivors. Despite finding scattered wreckage on the beach, Leeman found no survivors.   From this point on, things went horribly wrong for Abraham Leeman.

 

  • March 22nd 1658: Leeman returns to the Waeckende Boei, after a long day searching the shore. Despite Leeman having concerns that a dangerous storm was forming, the Captain ordered him to return, and continue the search. The storm whipped up the ocean, and Leeman was unable to either land, or make contact with the Waeckende Boei.

  • March 23rd 1658: Leeman’s crew drifted north as the storm worsened,  before finally crashing into a rock ledge.  Heavy damage was sustained to the boat.  Meanwhile, the Waeckende Boei  headed out to sea to ride out the storm.
     

  • March 24th - 27th 1658: Surviving on a diet of seals and seagulls, Leeman repaired the boat, and then headed south searching for the Waeckende Boei. They slept over night on Lancelin Island, though were unable to sight the ship.  Fearing the worse they then sailed north again.
     

    Lancelin Island - Campsite for Leeman in 1658.
    Lancelin Island - Campsite for Leeman in 1658.

     

  • March 28th 1658: Camping on the beach that evening Leeman sighted the Waeckende Boei, and quickly lighted some scrub fires. They were acknowledged by a cannon blast from the ship. Things were looking good, so Leeman responded with a second scrub fire. With darkness ensuing, and the seas rising, Leeman decided to make for the ship the next morning.
     

  • March 29th 1658: Dawn broke and the Waeckende Boei was gone.  Hoping they would return, Leeman and his crew waited on the beach for a week.  However, the ship was long gone, and arrived in Batavia on April 10th 1658. The Emmeloort  had left even earlier, reaching Batavia on March 18th 1658.  Leeman was now marooned for a second time.
     

  • April 8th 1658: Realising that their only chance of survival, would involve a long sea journey to Batavia, the fourteen marooned crew gathered sea-weed, seal meat, and drinking water.  They set sail on April 8th 1658.
     

  • April 9th - 29th 1658: Three of the crew died of thirst.  They were forced to drink seawater, and their own urine to survive.  After three weeks, the weary crew reached the coast of Java, where they replenished their dwindling supplies.  Seven men abandoned the boat to take their chances on the mainland.
     

  • 30th April 1658: Leeman and the three remaining crew struggled on.  Totally exhausted, and undermanned, they were soon wrecked further along the coastline.
     

  • 1st May - 23rd September 1658: For nearly five months they trekked through the dense Javanese jungle, before eventually arriving in Batavia on September 23rd 1658.

To have survived one journey to Batavia is a remarkable feat of endurance. Incredibly, through sheer determination and courage, Abraham Leeman had now survived two. In recognition of his achievement, a sleepy little fishing village on the Western Australian coastline was named Leeman. The captains of the Emmeloort and Waeckende Boei were wrapped over the knuckles by a High Council, for some dubious maritime decisions. Discouraged by this misadventure, the Dutch East India Company waited another forty years, before searching again for survivors from the Vergulde Draeck.

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Why does Australian History tend to forget the efforts of the Dutch East India Company, and focus on the voyages of Captain Cook?

Many people believe that Captain James Cook discovered Australia in 1770. They tend to forget that Dutch mariner Willem Janszoon landed on Australia’s northern coast in 1606. It is a surprise to many people, when they find out that Cook never even sighted the coast of Western Australia.

Some of the reasons the Dutch expeditions became relegated to Trivial Pursuit questions are as follows:

Captain James Cook.

The Unknown Dutch Mariner.

 

Captain James Cook

Famous Dutch Mariner

  • Australia was established as a British Colony. The British influence meant that the earlier Dutch expeditions never received the recognition they deserved. Captain Cook had a much better public relations team working for him.
     

  • The horrific Batavia mutiny gave the Dutch mariners some really bad press. The whole incident was a nasty affair, and is usually the only piece of Dutch history most Australian’s can recall.  Every visitor to the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, can view the tortured skeletal remains of a mutiny victim. The old guy still scares me each time I take a peek.
     

  • There is a misconception that the Dutch mariners were solely interested in trade.  Any landing they made in Western Australia was considered an accident, forced from navigational error.  The Dutch were in fact very skilful mariners, who organised many expeditions of discovery to Australia.  Admittedly, trade was always a consideration during a journey organised by the Dutch East India Company, as trading was their core business.
     

  • Unfortunately Willem de Vlamingh made a bad call after his journey of discovery in 1697. He advised the Dutch East India Company that Western Australia offered no economic potential. Thereafter no more Dutch expeditions visited the coastline.  Captain Cook visited the east coast of Australia, which had many more natural harbours.  Harbours were a big factor in those days, so the settlement decision was a no brainer for the British.  The Dutch encountered a much more physically challenging coastline along Western Australia.
     

  • Vanishing ships, lost settlements in Central Australia, and Aborigines seen wearing white fluffy Dutch collars, have contributed a mythical quality to the Dutch maritime effort.  Some of these stories might be more suitable in a movie screenplay, than a museum exhibit. Too many of these yarns can tarnish all the solid history.
     

  • Some history buffs blame famed navigator Mathew Flinders, for suggesting that Willem Janszoon didn’t exactly know where he was when he discovered Australia in 1606. Janszoon incorrectly identified the Cape York Peninsular, as part of Papua New Guinea.  Another bad call. In hindsight it was a minor technical mistake, with some major historical outcomes.
     

  • When a Dutch mariner left the Dutch East India Company, he generally disappeared off the face of the earth.  History quickly forgot them.  We can partially blame the culture of the Dutch East India Company for this.  They punished some of their mariners with heavy fines if they arrived too late in Batavia.  Others returned from their voyages of discovery, to have their expeditions evaluated only from potential trading opportunities.  Even finding an image of their more famous mariners can be a difficult task.  Willem de Vlamingh retired after his great voyage of discovery in 1697.  Once things wrapped up at his Goodbye Bash, he stepped out of the door, and like an old Dutch shipwreck... was never heard of again.

Despite these lingering issues, the Dutch maritime effort is now starting to be properly recognised for it’s contribution to Australian History. Some Western Australian shipbuilders skilfully crafted a working replica of Janszoon’s ship the Duyfken.  What a shame the Duyfken  had no historical links to Western Australia!

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How come every time I read an article about a Dutch ship the spelling is different?

I gess wee will nevar noh de anzwer to dis one.

Jokes aside, I think it has something to do with translation from the old Dutch language, to the modern Dutch interpretation, and then finally into English. Something definitely gets lost in the translation. There seems to be several ways to correctly spell each ship’s name. This is possibly why Dutch Spelling Bees always end in a draw. Spelling them is one thing, but have you ever tried saying them out loud.  Ridderschap Van Holland and Aagaterke!  With names like that, no wonder these ships vanished off the face of the Earth.

 
VOC Historical Society
This is a best place to visit when you want to learn more about the important role the United East India Company,  played in the exploration of the Western Australian coastline.  These guys are on top of their subject, and have some great mysteries and shipwreck tales to share.

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