Abrolhos Islands, Copyright WA Museum

The Western Australian Museum continues its search for a possible fifth Dutch East India Company (VOC) shipwreck, believed to have been lost at the Abrolhos Islands off the Mid West coast around 300 years ago, working alongside celebrated wreck-hunter and author Hugh Edwards.

An aerial magnetometer survey of a section of the Pelsaert Group was conducted earlier this year to look for magnetic anomalies that would indicate the presence of another, as yet undiscovered, historic shipwreck. While the survey was not conclusive, it did identify areas which warrant further investigation.

Among the known wrecked ships still unaccounted for is the Aagtekerke, a VOC vessel that left the Netherlands on its maiden voyage in 1725 and was lost the following year without a trace. Mr Edwards believes the ship was wrecked in the search area.

Western Australian Museum CEO Alec Coles said although the aerial survey did not positively identify the site of another shipwreck, there was enough information to go back later this year and continue the search using the recent data.

“There is enough information for the Museum to go back to the Abrolhos and continue the search which we are planning to do in November,” Mr Coles said. “But finding another historic shipwreck – Aagtekerke or not – is not guaranteed. The new data may well lead to new discoveries, but as to whether it points to a major wreck site remains to be seen.”

The continued search will be led by the WA Museum’s Head of Maritime Archaeology Jeremy Green working with a number of key stakeholders including Hugh Edwards, who firmly believes the Aagtekerke will be found there. Mr Edwards is a registered finder of two of the four VOC wrecks discovered along the Mid West coast: the Batavia (wrecked in 1629), and the Zeewijk (wrecked in 1727).

Should the Aagtekerke be found at the Abrolhos, it would be the fifth VOC wreck to be located there, along with Batavia, Zeewijk, the Vergulde Draeck (wrecked in 1656), and Zuytdorp (wrecked in 1712).

“The Museum has been investigating and interpreting these and other significant wreck sites for nearly 50 years, and holds arguably the biggest collection of excavated maritime archaeological material in the world,” Mr Coles said.

“Our shared maritime heritage with The Netherlands is significant. This year is the 400th anniversary of the first European contact with Australia with Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog’s arrival at Inscription Point near Shark Bay in 1616, so it is even more important we work collaboratively to find the elusive fifth Old Dutch shipwreck.”   

The aerial survey was funded by long-time Museum supporter and Chairman of Austal Lt, John Rothwell.

All historic shipwrecks are protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act (1976) which makes it illegal to damage wreck sites or remove artefacts from them. 

Mara Pritchard  
Communications and Media Manager
Western Australian Museum
(08) 6552 7803