An agreement signed almost four decades ago between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Australia has resulted in Western Australia receiving a priceless collection of historic artefacts from four 17th and 18th century ships wrecked off the State's coast.
The collection includes more than 1,125 objects from Dutch East India Company ships, including the Batavia, which struck a reef in the Abrolhos in 1629, the Vergulde Draeck which sank 27 years later in 1656, the Zuytdorp which struck the cliffs about 60kms north of the mouth of the Murchison River in 1712 and the Zeewijk in 1727, which wrecked on the Pelsaert Group in the Abrolhos islands.
Late last year the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, His Excellency Mr Willem Andreae gifted the Netherlands collection to Australia at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.
“It was the wish of the Dutch Government to return the artefacts to WA to keep them as close as possible to the shipwrecks as part of the Australian Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks (ANCODS) agreement,” Mr Andreae said.
To symbolise the final transfer of the Dutch collection to Western Australia, Mr Andreae handed a pewter plate from the Batavia to Premier Colin Barnett in a ceremony at the Shipwrecks Galleries in Fremantle on Monday February 21.
“This plate symbolises the conclusion of 30 years of close cooperation under the ANCODS agreement,” Mr Andreae said. “I look forward to a new level of cooperation with WA as planning begins for major cultural events in 2012 and 2016.”
Next year commemorates the sinking of the Dutch VOC ship the Zuytdorp 300 years ago and four years later it will be 400 years since Dirk Hartog landed on the island now named for him.
WA Museum CEO Alec Coles said the Museum was proud to receive a collection with such historic links to both the Netherlands and Australia and that told the stories of extraordinary maritime adventure.
“This collection includes everyday items such as bricks, bottles, plates and navigational instruments discovered at the wreck sites by archaeologists and amateurs since the early 1960s,” Mr Coles said.
“Of particular interest are a box of coins that had never been opened and a pair of elephant tusks not found on any shipping manifest – possibly picked up by the crew in Africa to be sold later.
“The gift to Australia also reunites a set of book clasps with a book from the Batavia, regarded as the earliest historical book in the country, possibly a bible or navigational log.”
Mr Coles said the artefacts would be integrated with the maritime archaeology collections already held at the WA Museum’s Shipwrecks Galleries in Fremantle.