"In the southern winter of 1712 the Zuytdorp struck reef 100 m off the coast south of Shark Bay with little warning. She then rolled on her side, spilling cargo and material into the sea. Subsequently, the heavy swell pushed the ship towards the cliffs and the reef platform until if could go no further. During this the Zuytdorp's bottom tore open and more material spilled forth into the water." (Reconstructed Narrative)
In the summer of 1711 the Zuytdorp (VOC Chamber Zeeland) left Zeeland, Holland under Marinus Wijsvliet with 316 people on board. It carried a special cargo of 250,000 newly minted guilders for the VOC in Asia. Because of unfavourable conditions off the coast of Africa 112 people on board had died by the time she reached Cape of Good Hope later that year. As a result, the Zuytdorp was forced to enlist over a hundred new men at the Cape and only left in April 1712 for Batavia together with the Kockenge. Both ships were headed for Java but were separated early on in bad weather. The Zuytdorp was lost without trace.
After the Zuytdorp was wrecked, a number of people made it onto a nearby reef platform at the bottom of rugged limestone cliffs. The survivors managed to salvage a number of materials from the wreck such as chests and barrels and possibly camped here and on top of the exposed cliff for a little while. They lit fires to keep warm but also act as beacons to attract passing ships. Water was available in wells and soaks fed by the winter rains.
The likelihood of being discovered was the greatest where ships crossing the Indian Ocean hit the Australian west coast, so the people from the Zuytdorp stayed near the site. Unfortunately, no ship came near and because of the low success rate and high losses of previous missions, Batavian VOC authorities did not send out any rescue parties.
What happened to the Zuytdorp survivors afterwards is not known. It is probable that they explored the area up to 30 km from the wreck and left behind items. It is also very likely that they were discovered by the local Aboriginal people, who in 1834 told stories of white people camping and trading biscuits. Another link which indicates contact with indigenous people could be the occurrence of a disease in the region which was prevalent at the Cape of Good Hope in 1688. Legends about red or fair haired Aboriginal people also persist.
Of the four VOC ships wrecked off Western Australia the Zuytdorp remains the most enigmatic because none of its survivors made it back to Batavia. This emphasises the importance of private and archaeological investigations based on the material remains of the Zuytdorp.
Over four decades the Pepper Family, geologist Phillip Playford and Jeremy Green and Michael McCarthy of the WAMM along with fellow divers and archaeologists have invested time and energy to find, protect and research the Zuytdorp wreck and land sites - often under difficult and even dangerous circumstances.
The wreck of the Zuytdorp was first discovered in 1964 in white water on an exposed reef between the coastal towns of Kalbarri and Geraldton. It was located after the identification of wreckage and two camp sites on the shore nearby as Zuytdorp survivor sites in 1927 and 1954. Both the underwater and terrestrial sites proved difficult to work in due to the strong sea currents and bad weather.
Between 1971 and the late 1990s the WAMM carried out extensive archaeological investigations on the Zuytdorp sites. The emerging picture is most conclusive for the actual wrecking of the vessel but still sketchy for the events occurring on shore.
Today, the ANCODS collection is recorded in over 1300 artefact entries associated with the ship. In 1992 the wreck and surrounding land was declared Zuytdorp Nature Reserve. Access to the area is by permission only from the Western Australian Maritime Museum. Diving on the wreck is prohibited.
Zuytdorp images courtesy
WA Maritime Museum