From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...
Career (Dutch Republic) Flag of the Dutch East India Company.svg
Name: Zuytdorp
Owner: Dutch East India Company
Chamber of Zeeland
Fate: Wrecked at the Zuytdorp Cliffs in 1712

The VOC Zuytdorp also Zuiddorp (meaning 'South town') was a trading ship of the Dutch East India Company in the 1700s. On 1 August 1711 [1] it was dispatched from the Netherlands to the trading port of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) 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 winds to carry them across the Indian Ocean to within sight of the west coast of Australia 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 Australian coast between Kalbarri and Shark Bay, approximately 40 km north of the Murchison River. This rugged section of coastline was subsequently named the Zuytdorp Cliffs, 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 community between present-day Kalbarri and Shark Bay. [2]

An infamous predecessor of the Zuytdorp, the VOC Batavia was wrecked not far away on the Houtman Abrolhos islands and after the following mutiny, atrocities, massacres and trials, two of the mutineers had been marooned 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 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.

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 ollowing 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. These 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 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.

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 the chief diver in both eras (and in those subsequent being Geoff Kimpton, a former oil industry operative. 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 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 appointed watchkeeper.

In 1986 the Museum's program was resurrected under the leadership of Dr M. McCarthy. It concentrated as much on the recovery of what little remained of the silver and other objects as on 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 rchaeological 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, is tompion intact and to have a British Broad arrow inscribed) a bower anchor, coins, a pewter plate, and amazingly an intact, ornate drinking glass. While Kimpton's experience proved fundamental in the water) in the land phases the program involved many specialists including anthropologists, prehistorians, historical archaeologists ( Sandra Bowdler, Fiona Weaver, Richard Cassells, Kate Morse et al.). Metal Detector expert Bob Sheppard and his assistants also joined the team and thus 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 work on the subject. Details of the work conducted in this phase appear on Museum's Zuytdorp website.

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. Playford found that the disease was genetically linked and largely confined to Afrikaners and that all cases of the disease in South Africa were traceable back to Gerrit Jansz and Ariaantjie Jacobs, who had married in The Cape 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 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 and the Stellenbosch University in South Africa.[3] The conclusion was that the mutations were not inherited from shipwrecked sailors. Further with the SS Xantho 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 entry.

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 Museum has also produced exhibitions on the wreck, a website, and many reports. The Zuytdorp program was again shelved in 2002, though and the site one of the few restricted zones under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, remains under regular surveillance. 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, this is a modern phenomenon.



  • Playford, Phillip: Carpet Of Silver: The Wreck Of The Zuytdorp 1996, University Of Western Australia Press ISBN 1-875560-85-8
  • Bunbury, Bill: Caught in Time - Talking Australian History 2006, Fremantle Arts Centre Press ISBN 1-921064-84-6
  • Gerritsen, R: And their Ghosts May Be Heard 1994, Fremantle Arts Centre Press ISBN 1-86368-063-2
  • McCarthy, M. (comp), 2002 Chronological Precis of events occurring in Stage 3 of the WA Museum at the Zuytdorp site(s). For the ANCODS meeting December 2002. Stage 1 – The Bingham/Kimpton era: 1969-71; Stage 2 – The Green era: 1971-1985; Stage 3 – The McCarthy/Kimpton era. With assistance from many expert practitioners and volunteers, including Prof Sandra Bowdler, Dr Richard Cassells, Mr Stanley Hewitt, Dr Kate Morse, Dr Phillip Playford, Mr Bob Sheppard, Staff of the Department of Land Administration, Mr Ross White, Ms Fiona Weaver. 1986-2002. Report – Department of Maritime Archaeology. Western Australian Maritime Museum, No. 173
  • McCarthy, M., 2004: Zuytdorp. In J. Green, M. Gainsford and M. Stanbury, (Eds.) Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum: A compendium of projects, programs and publications. Australian National Centre of Excellence for Maritime Archaeology. Special Publication No.9: 65.
  • McCarthy, M., 2006. The Dutch on Australian Shores: the Zuytdorp tragedy—unfinished business. In Shaw, L., and Wilkins, W., (eds.) Dutch Connections—400 years of Australian-Dutch maritime links. 1606-2006: 94-109. Reproduced as Museum Report No 256.

External links

See also

Coordinates: 27°11′10″S 113°56′13″E / 27.18611°S 113.93694°E / -27.18611; 113.93694