"We have found that several God-forsaken wretches and malignants in the wreck are breaking up everything and are getting intoxicated like animals between decks. It was decided this forenoon by the whole Council, not only of superior and petty officers, but also by seamen an soldiers that we would all swear a precious oath to God to be loyal to one another and faithful to the Company, and to punish together, be it even with death, all evil-doers and malignants." (van der Graeff journal 14 June 1727 in Edwards, 1975:96)
The Zeewijk (VOC Chamber Zeeland) had left the port of Flushing, Holland, on 7th November 1726 under the command of Jan Steyns with 212 people on board. Its cargo consisted of ten chests of coins and building supplies. Like the Batavia, the Zeewijk was on her maiden voyage to Batavia when she struck reef in the Houtman Abrolhos on 9th June 1727.
Of all the VOC ships lost off Western Australia, the men on the Zeewijk fared the best after crashing onto a reef (which they later named 'Half Moon Reef') with full force on 9th June 1727. Although the vessel was badly damaged it did not break up, unlike the other ships. This enabled the men to access its cargo of provisions.
They found refuge on an island (today's Gun Island) and sent a first party of men to Batavia in the Zeewijk's longboat. They disappeared forever, leaving 88 survivors behind. While the provisions of the wreck lasted, those survivors constructed a small sailing vessel Sloepie, which took them 4 months.
They eventually managed to depart after 9 months and successfully made their way back to Batavia on 30 April 1728 - together with the whole cargo of VOC coins! Skipper Steyns was later prosecuted for carelessness and misrepresenting the events in his journals.
Today the wreck of the Zeewijk lies in heavy surf, breakers and strong currents 4 km off the nearest land. Its wreckage is scattered over the outside and inside of Half Moon Reef. Relics from its survivors' camps were discovered as early as 1840, but it was not until 1968 that the wreck site was finally identified. Between 1974 and 1977 the Western Australian Maritime Museum (WAMM) conducted land and underwater surveys and excavations.
"Two divers, with a writing board and collecting bags, formed a swimline team. The divers swam parallel to each other holding a measure line between them. One diver swam up and down the baseline keeping the zero point of the measure line on the baseline, while the other diver, who did the searching, swam corresponding search tracks at 2 m intervals." (Ingelman-Sundberg 1976:23)
Similarly to the other wreck expeditions, the Zeewijk teams had to battle the heavy surf conditions. Artefacts recovered include pieces of rigging, cannons, kegs of nails, wine glasses and ceramics. The stratigraphy of the campsites on Gun Island was heavily disturbed either by guano mining or the nesting burrows of the resident population of terns. Artefacts found in the land site include glass, bone, ceramic and metal objects. The Zeewijk ANCODS collection at the WAMM holds 4196 artefact records.
Zeewijk images courtesy
WA Maritime Museum