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The VOC Zuytdorp also Zuiddorp (meaning 'South town') was a trading ship of the Dutch East India Company
Dutch East India Company
The Dutch East India Company was a chartered company established in 1602, when the States-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia...

 in the 18th century. On 1 August 1711 it was dispatched from the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 to the trading port of Batavia
History of Jakarta
The history of Jakarta begins with its first recorded mention as a Hindu port settlement in the 4th century. Ever since, the city had been variously claimed by the Indianized kingdom of Tarumanegara, Hindu Kingdom of Sunda, Muslim Sultanate of Banten, Dutch East Indies, Empire of Japan, and finally...

 (now Jakarta
Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Officially known as the Special Capital Territory of Jakarta, it is located on the northwest coast of Java, has an area of , and a population of 9,580,000. Jakarta is the country's economic, cultural and political centre...

, Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

) bearing a load of freshly minted silver coins.

Many trading ships of the time had started to use a "fast route" to Indonesia, which used the strong Roaring Forties
Roaring Forties
The Roaring Forties is the name given to strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between the latitudes of 40 and 49 degrees. Air displaced from the Equator towards the South Pole, which travels close to the surface between the latitudes of 30 and 60 degrees south, combines...

 winds to carry them across the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...

 to within sight of the west coast of Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 whence they would make a left turn and head north towards Indonesia.

The Zuytdorp never arrived at its destination. No search was undertaken, presumably due to prior expensive but fruitless attempts to search for other missing ships. The crew were never heard from again. Their fate was unknown until the 20th century when the wreck site was discovered on a remote part of the Western Australia
Western Australia
Western Australia is a state of Australia, occupying the entire western third of the Australian continent. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, the Great Australian Bight and Indian Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east...

n coast between Kalbarri
Kalbarri, Western Australia
Kalbarri is a coastal town in the Mid West region located 592 km north of Perth, Western Australia. The town is found at the mouth of the Murchison River and has an elevation of...

 and Shark Bay
Shark Bay
Shark Bay is a World Heritage listed bay in Western Australia. The term may also refer to:* the locality of Shark Bay, now known as Denham* Shark Bay Marine Park* Shark Bay , a shark exhibit at Sea World, Gold Coast, Australia* Shire of Shark Bay...

, approximately 40 km north of the Murchison River
Murchison River (Western Australia)
The Murchison River is the second longest river in Western Australia. It flows for about from the southern edge of the Robinson Ranges to the Indian Ocean at Kalbarri. It has a mean annual flow of about 200 million cubic metres.-Course:...

. This rugged section of coastline was subsequently named the Zuytdorp Cliffs
Zuytdorp Cliffs
The Zuytdorp Cliffs extend for about 150 km along a rugged, spectacular and little visited segment of the Western Australian Indian Ocean coast in Shark Bay. The cliffs extend from just north of the mouth of the Murchison River at Kalbarri, to Pepper Point south of Steep Point...

, remaining the preserve of the Indigenous inhabitants and one of the last great wildernesses until the advent of the sheep stations established in the late 19th century.

Theory of intermarriage between survivors and indigenous population

Location of the Zuytdorp

Something, perhaps a violent storm, occurred and the Zuytdorp was wrecked on a desolate section of the West Australian coast. Survivors scrambled ashore and camped near the wreck site. At this stage, Australia had no colonies to which to turn for help, so they built bonfires from the wreckage to signal to fellow trading ships that would pass within sight of the coast. But fires seen in the vicinity tended to be dismissed as "native fires".

It has been speculated that survivors may have traded with or may have intermarried with the local aboriginal
Indigenous Australians
Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands. The Aboriginal Indigenous Australians migrated from the Indian continent around 75,000 to 100,000 years ago....

 community between present-day Kalbarri
Kalbarri, Western Australia
Kalbarri is a coastal town in the Mid West region located 592 km north of Perth, Western Australia. The town is found at the mouth of the Murchison River and has an elevation of...

 and Shark Bay
Shark Bay
Shark Bay is a World Heritage listed bay in Western Australia. The term may also refer to:* the locality of Shark Bay, now known as Denham* Shark Bay Marine Park* Shark Bay , a shark exhibit at Sea World, Gold Coast, Australia* Shire of Shark Bay...


An infamous predecessor of the Zuytdorp, the VOC Batavia
Batavia (ship)
Batavia was a ship of the Dutch East India Company . It was built in Amsterdam in 1628, and armed with 24 cast iron cannons and a number of bronze guns. Batavia was shipwrecked on her maiden voyage, and was made famous by the subsequent mutiny and massacre that took place among the survivors...

 was wrecked not far away on the Houtman Abrolhos
Houtman Abrolhos
The Houtman Abrolhos is a chain of 122 islands, and associated coral reefs, in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia. Nominally located at , it lies about eighty kilometres west of Geraldton, Western Australia...

 islands and after the following mutiny, atrocities, massacres and trials, two of the mutineers had been marooned
Marooning is the intentional leaving of someone in a remote area, such as an uninhabited island. The word appears in writing in approximately 1709, and is derived from the term maroon, a word for a fugitive slave, which could be a corruption of Spanish cimarrĂ³n, meaning a household animal who has...

 on the Australian mainland, not far South from the later wreck of the Zuytdorp (for details about these two mutineers see castaway)

In 1834, Aborigines told a farmer near the recently colonised Perth
Perth, Western Australia
Perth is the capital and largest city of the Australian state of Western Australia and the fourth most populous city in Australia. The Perth metropolitan area has an estimated population of almost 1,700,000....

 about a wreck some distance to the North. With references to a wreck and coins on the beach, details strongly point to the Zuytdorp, however the colonists presumed it was a recent wreck and sent rescue parties who failed to find the wreck or any survivors.

The finding of the wreck

In 1927 wreckage, mainly coins (some dated 1711), bottle fragments, timbers including a spar, carved female figure, breech blocks from swivel guns and other objects including evidence of a deliberately lit fire, were seen atop and at the foot of cliffs on the coast mid way between Tamala and Murchison House Stations on the mid-west coast. In 1954 following advice from Tamala Station head stockman Tom Pepper, a geologist Phillip Playford travelled to the site and viewed the site which had been seen by Pepper (a European who had married Lurleen Mallard an Aboriginal woman). It had also been seen by his Aboriginal family including Lurleen, her sister Ada and her husband Ernest Drage. The remains indicated that some survivors had got ashore from a then unknown wreck. In lying on the coast between two major Aboriginal encampments Wale Well to the north on Tamala Station and Billiecuthera Well to the south east on Murchison House Station, it was thought that the survivors may have joined the tribes s they travelled between those two centres. Phillip Playford was subsequently involved in a number of privately sponsored expeditions to the site, though at all time he and his companions were prevented from diving by the swells and the treacherous and extremely dangerous conditions offshore. Excavations were conducted and Playford subsequently produced a report describing and identifying the site mainly from the coins dated 1711. This was published by the Royal Western Australian Historical Society.

In 1964 a team led by Geraldton identity Tom Brady, including Graham and Max Cramer, conducted the first dive on the wreck, and on a subsequent dive later found a veritable 'carpet of silver'. This discovery was followed by many other dives, including those by the Underwater Explorer's Club, the Royal Australia Navy and by the controversial salvage diver Alan Robinson. Many injuries resulted and some of the accidents nearly proved fatal.

The Western Australian Museum's work

In 1969 the Western Australian Museum became responsible for the site and it commenced the recovery of the silver under the leadership of former RAN diver Harry Bingham MBE. After 1971 the program was led by Jeremy Green, with Geoff Kimpton, a former oil industry operative, as his chief diver. A caretaker, responsible for site security and a weather watch (there are only ever a few days per year where diving is possible) was established in quarters adjacent the site. Infrastructure in the form of a large flying fox erected on the cliffs was provided by the then owner of Murchison House Station, Mr 'Jah' (as he preferred to be called) the former Nizam of Hyderabad. This all led to a number of very successful recoveries. In 1976 the wreck was protected under the terms of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act and under the terms of that Act a restricted zone was declared around the site. This prohibits all bar bona fide visitation to the site. There appears to have been considerable unauthorised looting of the site on occasions when the weather allowed diving nonetheless. In 1981 the dangers of the site, in water, on the land, (including in the air due to a very dangerous airstrip) and human factors (including the firebombing of the caretaker's quarters) led to the program being shelved and a resident abalone diver, Domenic Lamera appointed watchkeeper.

In 1986 the Museum's program was resurrected under the leadership of Dr M. McCarthy. Funded under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwreck's program, it has concentrated as much on the social elements of the tragedy as it did on the recovery of what little remained of the silver and other objects. It also looked towards the production of a site plan (using a combination of underwater archaeology and aerial photography, assisted by the Department of Land Administration and former architect Stanley Hewitt). The latter was designed to examine theories about the wrecking and the possibility that survivors had got ashore. The expanded program also focussed on the possible movement of survivors away from the wrecksite and on the archaeological examination of the survivor's camps for evidence of intermingling with Indigenous people. Diving conservators Ian MacLeod, Jon Carpenter and Paul Mardikian were also involved, notably in the conservation of objects raised. These included a cannon (surprisingly later found to be loaded, its tompion intact and to have a British Broad arrow inscribed on its upper surface) a bower anchor, coins, a pewter plate, and amazingly an intact, ornate drinking glass. While chief diver Geoff Kimpton's experience proved fundamental in the water, in the land phases the program involved many specialists including anthropologists, prehistorians, historical archaeologists ( notably Sandra Bowdler, Fiona Weaver, Richard Cassells, Kate Morse et al.). Metal Detector expert Bob Sheppard and his assistants also joined the team providing further expertise. In working with them and with the watchkeeper Domenic Lamera, who had spent many hours searching for them, all Indigenous, Dutch and pastoral historic sites were located, examined and reported on. In 1986 Phillip Playford was invited to join the team with the express purpose of providing his knowledge and expertise to the Museum and of writing a popular book on the subject to add to his earlier academic works. Details of the work conducted in this phase appear on Museum's reports series and Zuytdorp website. http://www.museum.wa.gov.au/collections/maritime/march/shipwrecks/Zuytdorp/Zuytdorp.html

The possibility of Dutch-Aboriginal genetic links examined

In 1988, an American woman who had married a Shark Bay Aboriginal man contacted Dr Playford and described how her husband had died some years before from a disease called variegate porphyria
Variegate porphyria
Variegate porphyria is an autosomal dominant porphyria that can have acute symptoms along with symptoms that affect the skin...

. Playford found that the disease was genetically linked and largely confined to Afrikaner
Afrikaners are an ethnic group in Southern Africa descended from almost equal numbers of Dutch, French and German settlers whose native tongue is Afrikaans: a Germanic language which derives primarily from 17th century Dutch, and a variety of other languages.-Related ethno-linguistic groups:The...

s and that all cases of the disease in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 were traceable back to Gerrit Jansz and Ariaantjie Jacobs, who had married in The Cape
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

 in 1688. The Zuytdorp had arrived at the Cape in March 1712 where it took on more than 100 new crew. It was thought that one of the Jansz' sons could have boarded the ship at this time and thus become the carrier of the disease into the Australian Aboriginal population. In 2002, a DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 investigation into the hypothesis of a variegate porphyria mutation having been introduced into the aboriginal population by shipwrecked sailors was undertaken at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre in Nedlands, Western Australia
Nedlands, Western Australia
The City of Nedlands is a Local Government Area in the inner western suburbs of the Western Australian capital city of Perth, located about west of Perth's central business district...

 and the Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch University
Stellenbosch University is a public research university situated in the town of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Other nearby universities are the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape....

 in South Africa. The conclusion was that the mutations were not inherited from shipwrecked sailors. Further with the SS Xantho
SS Xantho
Powered by a horizontal trunk engine, SS Xantho was a steam ship used in the colony of Western Australia as a pearling transport and mothership, as a tramp steamer, carrying passengers, including Aboriginal convicts and trade goods before she sank at Port Gregory, Western Australia in 1872.The...

 and other late 19th century vessels having brought hundreds of pearl divers to Western Australia from the islands occupied by the VOC, where diseases introduced by the Dutch would have been evident in the local populations, and because many were abandoned and are known to have intermarried with Aboriginal people, its is equally likely that any genetic links between Australian Aborigines and the Dutch can be traced to those sources and not to the Zuytdorp. See Walga Rock
Walga Rock
Walga Rock is the second largest monolith in Australia. Located at , about 50 kilometres south-west of Cue, Western Australia, it contains a cave with an extensive gallery of Indigenous art.-Painting:...


Phillip Playford's subsequent book called Carpet Of Silver: The Wreck Of The Zuytdorp was award winning and has run into many editions. It in turn was followed by radio identity Bill Bunbury reviewing the issues of the wreck and consequences in his chapter called A Lost Ship-Lost People - The Zuytdorp story in his work Caught in Time - Talking Australia History. The site, one of the few restricted zones under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 is an Australian Act of Parliament designed to legally protect historic shipwrecks and any relics or artifacts from those wrecks...

, remains under regular surveillance. The Western Australian Museum in both Fremantle and at Geraldton has produced exhibitions on the wreck, a website, and many reports. Due to the logistical difficulties and the advent of Health and Safety legislation prohibiting the taking of risk in an occupational environment, the Zuytdorp program was again shelved in 2002, though work remains to be done. Reproduced as Museum Report No 256. http://www.museum.wa.gov.au/collections/maritime/march/documents/No.%20256%20Zuytdorp.pdf . Recently there has been renewed interest in the authenticity of an inscription marked 'Zuytdorp 1711' that was once visible on a rock-face adjacent the reef platform at the site. Post dating Phillip Playford's first visits in 1954/5, when photographs of the same area show no inscription, this is a modern phenomenon.

External links

See also

  • List of shipwrecks
  • Maritime archaeology
    Maritime archaeology
    Maritime archaeology is a discipline within archaeology as a whole that specifically studies human interaction with the sea, lakes and rivers through the study of associated physical remains, be they vessels, shore side facilities, port-related structures, cargoes, human remains and submerged...

  • VOC ship Amsterdam
    VOC ship Amsterdam
    The Amsterdam was an 18th-century cargo ship of the Dutch East India Company. The ship started its maiden voyage from Texel to Batavia on 8 January 1749, but was wrecked in a storm on the English Channel on 26 January 1749. The shipwreck was discovered in 1969 in the bay of Bulverhythe, United...