Wreck of the Zuytdorp

Video | Updated 11 months ago

Presented by Dr Michael "Mack" McCarthy, Curator, Maritime Archaeology
Presented as part of the In the Wild West Lecture Series in 2012.

Since the 1960s WA Museum staff have been searching for answers to the mysteries surrounding the Dutch East India Company trading ship Zuytdorp. Dr McCarthy will discuss the ship and its loss, as well as the discovery of the wreck and subsequent archaeological research.


Welcome to the Wild West series in Geraldton. Thank you. The topic is the Zuytdorp. It is one of only seven Dutch East Indiaman, American East India, Portuguese East India ships that sailed to the Indes, but of all those ships, it’s the only one to have been lost with all hands, and that what makes the archaeological remains so significant. In all other cases – Batavia, Gilt Dragon, the American China trader Rapid, Correio Da Azia and other wrecks, somebody got back to tell the tale. So the remains on the seabed and at the land opposite the wreck of the Zuytdorp become the most important story that we have.  The only one that can be told from the archaeological remains.

What we know though, now, is that this report here, of the wreck thought to be the Mercury in 1834, where Aboriginal men came down to Perth and said that “30 days walk north of Perth, there was a ship with blankets flying, with all the white men dead, with coins as thick as sea pods under the trees” - we now believe that this is related to the Zuytdorp story. Why not the Mercury? It relates mainly to this reference in here, to the Weel men, and the Weel men are the men who told the two men who walked into Perth about this shipwreck. They were not going to go up and have a look because they were frightened of the Weel men who they called “cannibals” and so what we actually have is a second hand Indigenous account of a wreck that we now believe to be the Zuytdorp, mainly related to the Weel men - which is a point that I’d like you to keep in your minds as we go through because you’ll soon see why we believe it to be so - and not the Mercury which was lost with all hands in 1834 and still not yet found.

First knowledge of an unidentified shipwreck on the coast was told to Phillip Playford by this man Tom Pepper, and his wife Lurleen Pepper. Tom’s a European stockman. He married Lurleen Pepper and they lived on the Murchison House and Tamala Stations, and Tom – quite a wonderful character apparently – in 1927 found with the others - we now believe it wasn’t just Tom, but we now believe it was the others in the family – found evidence of a wreck here at the foot of these cliffs that you can see. The cliffs are very steep. There’s a small area down the bottom there where Tom, Lurleen, her sister Ada and others would go down and fish, and they found evidence of wreckage down at the bottom of this cliff area, and at the top of the area they found evidence of fires, most likely to attract other people in.

This image that you see here of the wreck site with a piece of mast, coins found here, bottles smashed on the cliff top, breech blocks and so on, is what was found.

In 1941, after learning of the wreck, the Sunday Times planned an expedition and sent an expedition there, which found materials and later, in 1954, a young geologist Phillip Playford who was working on the coast at the time, befriended the Peppers and learnt about the story, and he was part of a Channel 7 expedition and a WA Newspaper’s expedition that went up there. There we have a picture of Mrs Pepper with some of the expedition people, Tom Pepper and Phillip Playford sitting. They made a little airstrip and here are images from that time.

The wreck was still unidentified at the time. Here’s a picture of Jim Cruthers, a very famous character in Australian television, and Phil Playford with what we think is a spar from the Zuytdorp. Here is their camp. Unfortunately they used some of those timbers to make the camp that they found, and here is the famous Hugh Edwards, the author, and Tom Pepper with some of the timbers that were lying around on the area adjacent to the shipwreck.

They tried to dive, but the weather was not good enough to allow them to do so, but they did manage to find quite a lot of material that indicated a wreck, and most importantly, they were finding coins dated 1711. Phillip who’s quite a gentleman scholar, he started to research these coins and found that the 1711 coinage was only ever on two ships – one the Belvliet and the other the Zuytdorp and from that Phillip was able to deduce that this was the wreck of the Zuytdorp. He then produced the first account of a shipwreck from archaeological remains on this coast which was published by the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, and there it is there, The Wreck of the Zuytdorp by Phillip [Playford’s].

Dives, though they tried to dive, did not occur until much, much later. Here is a reasonable day on the wreck. You can see the cliff top where they found materials, the area below where that person is down there, the rock where they found breech blocks and other materials which I’ll come to later. You can see the blowholes blowing there. So it’s an undercut reef so it’s extremely dangerous, and one day there was a very good weather event, and this led to a dive led by Tom Brady, the man in the red shirt, with the two Cramer brothers, and we also had numerous other people involved, especially Alf Morgan, a bushman. You’ll see Tom is holding a petrol drum, a jerry can. They found a lead ingot straight off where they are there on this magnificent day, and thinking it might have been silver, they tried to bring it in, and later they found that it was just 100% lead.  led

It wasn’t until another dive later that they found a carpet of silver, as large as they described, as a Volkswagen, at one end of the wreck, and it was there that the very famous and very controversial salvage diver, Alan Robinson became involved. He’s the man who put explosives on the Trial wreck in a fit of peak when he felt he was being dispossessed by the government, but he was no doubt not just a buccaneer, but quite a capable and driven man. Here’s a proposal that he put forward to recover the silver; a flying fox arrangement on the cliff, sending the divers down past the waves into deep water and then they would come back in towards the silver deposit and try and recover it.

There was a lot of controversy about it, a lot of vying for rights and arguments in the press and so on, and it was an enormously wonderful period to read about, but it was certainly a nightmare for the bureaucrats.

The dives resulted however, in very many injuries. On Alan Robinson’s next dive the doctor was badly injured. The Navy inspected the site and they too had a near miss, and the Navy concluded it was too dangerous to work. Neither Robinson nor Tom Brady’s plans actually came to fruition, and eventually the museum developed its own dive team under a very famous former Royal Australian Navy clearance diver Harry Bingham who was twice honoured for his role in some extraordinary diving feats.

The museum team commenced its work and at the same time Alan Robinson who was very annoyed that he wasn’t given the contract, started to recover material. At one stage he was found at the Denham Jetty in a boat The Four Aces and seeing the cops coming, he quickly jettisoned this cannon overboard and coins and other materials, which later on were found by these young boys. For their sins they were given replicas of the cannons and a reward. That was the end of Robinson’s period/involvement and Tom Brady and others, and then began the museum’s involvement under Harry Bingham.

Here we have the museum team with a very young Geoff Kimpton there, diving on the wreck, and you get a feel here for what it’s like from the sea. They were very successful in recovering a lot of materials including part of a bell. I remember Geoff telling me that he was “rolled” as we call it, in there and again, very close to suffering severe damage.

What they also recorded was here, the famous carpet of silver that had been reported earlier. Here you see the coins on their edges and all stacked. It’s quite a magnificent site. This is one of the museum’s photographs of that carpet.

This is that fabulous period that many of the older people amongst you will remember of the Sharks and Shipwrecks, the Treasure is not for the Finder and so on. This was the time when everybody loved what was coming from the sea, it was on the telly, there was all sorts of wonderful television shows and so on, and there was a great fascination. The argy-bargy between the bureaucrats and the salvers represented by Alan Robinson and company, was quite wonderful to see. For the bureaucrats not so nice I expect.

In 1971 Jeremy Green was appointed as an archaeologist instead of Harry. Essentially his people were shipwreck police. Jeremy was an archaeologist. He was brought out from England. Harry left soon after, as did lots of his team, and Jeremy brought a new team to the museum with a view to bringing on an archaeological footing rather than a pure salvage footing. Of course his main work initially was on the Trial, the Gilt Dragon and the Batavia with the Zuytdorp secondary because his job at the Zuytdorp was purely to recover silver.

In that same period, the Australian Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks was founded and its job is to assist the Dutch, Australian and Western Australian peoples in dividing up the materials that come from these Dutch shipwrecks.

Here is Jeremy and his team working on the wreck. They're there wearing crash helmets and all sorts of stuff underwater, and he’s joined by Graeme Henderson who eventually became the Director of the Maritime Museum, but then at the same period, the James Matthews, the Slaver was found. Then an American China trader the Rapid and there were such pressures on the museum team that they would go to the Zuytdorp whenever they could to try and recover the silver.

Here are some of the other excavations that were occurring the time. Green typically underdressed on the Batavia, myself here on the Gilt Dragon and on the Trial and here we are also on Zeewijk and other wrecks at the time. So Zuytdorp was one of many.

Scott Sledge, the museum’s wreck inspector led a number of dives to the site. Here he is with some of the staff - ex SAS diver Jimmy Stewart, Colin Powell, Bob Richards - and they recovered quite a lot of materials as you can see here, on one of those early dives.

One of the wonderful things was the involvement of Prince Jah, the Nizam of Hyderabad. He was at the time one of the richest men in the world who after being exiled from India, purchased Murchison House Station. Being an engineer he wanted to help the museum, and not only used his boat Kalbarri which is very much like Calypso, the famous Cousteau ship, but he also built this wonderful big A-frame or quadrupod with a great big flying fox system which was designed to follow the Robinson idea of getting the divers in beyond those swells that you see, and then come back in under the swells to do the work.

It was interesting – I hadn’t joined the museum by this time – but the story goes that the flying fox was all readied. There you see the cage that was going to carry the divers in and bring them out with the goodies, and Jeremy said to Jim, “Righto, you go and try it out,” and Jim being a bit clever said “No, no. Put my weight of stones in it first.” You get a bit of a feel how dangerous this wreck is when you see those blowholes at the back and the jagged reef there. Jim’s concerns were proved right and here he is wondering what might have happened had he got into that cage. That huge cable had just been worn completely through by the waves and snapped, on the very first time it was used.

I joined in ’78 and replaced Scott Sledge as Inspector of Wrecks. We used to fly in using that airstrip and being a former pilot, or a pilot at the time, this was not clever. This was a very dangerous airstrip and on a number of occasions I felt that we’d really pushed it trying to land on this strip, which really was only good for Austers and Pipers. We would try and come in on four wheel drives, and we also appointed a watch-keeper who lived up there with the job of calling us whenever the weather was good. Ian Field was one of the most prominent of those who loved living up there with his dog. He would call us and sometimes we’d be up there in three or four hours, but however, quite often the weather would change on us on the way up.

Geoff Kimpton rejoined at the same time – one of the earlier divers I mentioned – and at the time this picture’s taken, we’d made a smaller A-frame. Geoff is in the water there, I’m kitted up as safety diver and the others are suitably attired in being our support crew.

More accidents occurred. I had to recover Jeremy Green at one stage. He got rolled with a bag of coins and his camera. He had the presence of mind to keep the coins and his camera in his hand, but he lost his mask and fins. There were great risks being taken. The logic to Jeremy of having all these other wrecks to work and then having staff nearly injured with the weather and the conditions on Zuytdorp to recover coins, started to sink in.

Things came to a head in 1980 when Ian Field was deliberately burnt out when he went into Kalbarri to get some supplies. Here’s Ian contemplating the remains of his caravan. A halt was called and a watch-keeper was appointed. The watch-keeper was Dominic Lamera who lived on the site, not far from Ian and had this wonderful camp here, and he as appointed part time warden with the job of calling the museum, as Ian had done.

Then we had the Rapid, HMAS Sydney and the Bunbury whalers - the Xantho, the Cheynes III, and work on the Long Jetty - the Cumberland and Trial. So though we were very busy, the Director continually lobbied for action on the wreck, wanting the silver out of there. So we continued whenever we could. Here is a picture of, or a site plan showing where the wreck is, showing the 54 and 58 expeditions campsite, Phillip Playford’s, what he believes may be survivor’s campsites where barrel hoops and other materials were found, the burnt out museum’s caravan, his track in, the old airstrip that almost killed us a few times and then the oil exploration tracks that originally brought Phil Playford in, in those very early days.

The pressure continued from the Director to do work and though everything had been closed down in 1981 and no further work was done, with Dominic being responsible to basically keep an eye on things, I was lobbied to take over and did so, with Geoff Kimpton very keen to be involved. I produced a number of aims which were beyond the recovery of coin, as far as I was concerned, recovering coin, loose visible artefacts, recovery of the artefacts on the scree slope – that’s where the cliff had gone down – and then the compilation of written visual and oral material on the wreck because I knew as a former dive instructor there was a lot of people and a lot of stories out there. Then material that might come in an amnesty situation because I also knew that there was a great deal of material in private hands, and as a dive instructor and as an archaeologist, you really want to see what this is, to see if you can get any clues as to what this is all about. It’s more important to say to people “Okay, just let us know what you’ve got, we’ll record it and we’ll give it back to you,” than actually never learning, especially if you consider the Zuytdorp was the only one where no one got home and we needed every clue possible to tell the story.

Then I also wanted to clean up our campsites and the detritus from the A-frame and all the roads that were pushed in, and then to publish for museum purposes. I also decided I would bring Phillip Playford back in to tell the story of his wonderful work in the early days, and start further work on an exhibition for the Zuytdorp.

Here’s Geoff and I on our first dive down. You can see we’ve adopted the KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid. There we are carrying the Hookah down. The Hookah in this case being a little engine that pumps air down to us, and here we are at work. Immediately Geoff dived in, as the only chap who’d ever been diving in those early days under Harry Bingham, who’d seen the carpet of silver, his words were “The silver has gone. The carpet is gone.” I’m having a look here. You see we’re dressed very lightly, that’s to ensure that you can get out if the sea breaks over you. Those very heavy wetsuits actually slow you down very badly in the heavy seas.

This is the sort of thing that was left of the carpet. This for example is one of the few deposits remaining of an area that was once a carpet of silver.

Here is evidence of blasting. Whoever had done it clearly had blasted or used explosives. So we took numerous pictures showing what was remaining and what was not.

Here is a cannon on the seabed. What happened if you look at that cannon closely, you’ll see it’s very badly eroded and some of the things Geoff and I recovered on that first dive were these very small fragments here up against a cast of an original. This is one of those breech loading cannons. They didn’t put the cannon ball in up this end as they do normally. They put a thing like is shown here with Phillip Playford, this breech, which you put a cannon ball, a powder charge and a shot, and you put it in the end like a rifle barrel and then lock it in. Now, this cannon was just like that. These bits were just like that cannon there. But if I could draw your attention to those breech blocks, the one that Phillip showed there, eight of those were actually on the reef opposite the wreck, and I’ll come to that later as to why that would be so, but you can see how the sand blasting by the waves reduces a whole cannon to nothing.

Ingots out in the deeper water there, just on the end of the wreck site. So while we were there we decided we would recover some of these ingots and take them out to deeper water.

This is where Geoff Kimpton’s skills as a diver - the man is extraordinary. I think he’s a forerunner in my opinion, to these ‘extreme sports’ people. He just got a glorious adrenalin push from working in difficult situations, and the only problem with that is that I needed to be in there with him, and I’m not an extreme sportsman. But there we are. There’s Geoff on the end of that line going out through that surf and he’s out there picking up ingots, inflating an airbag and pushing them out to sea.

One of my students – I was a former sports teacher in Carnarvon – Andrew Young, offered to help with his cray boat and he brought his cray boat down and we recovered the ingots. We also recovered navigation dividers and an adze, which is copper which is used by the cooper who makes casks for gunpowder. You obviously have to have a copper adze rather than an iron adze, otherwise you would blow yourself up. But there we are with those ingots, some of them weighing 300 pounds which Geoff and I recovered.

Then I brought in the team from the land - here we have my team John Carpenter, myself, Brad Duncan, Geoff Kimpton and Brian Richards. There’s the old A-frame in the background - to continue working. I began an oral history program as indicated earlier, talking to people like Pearly Whitby who’s mother was Ada Drage, Lurleen Pepper’s daughter, Prince Jah, Tom Brady who led the early expeditions, Cecil Blood, one of the famous stockman, Neil MacLoughlan, the Cramers, Hugh Edwards and here I’m interviewing Freddy Blood about who found the wreck and all those stories and so on.

What I realised in these talkings was it wasn’t just Tom. It appears that Lurleen, his wife, beautiful picture here, Ada, her sister and possibly their father Charlie Mallard  and this glorious picture of Charlie with the handlebar moustache holding one of the figures from the Zuytdorp that they had recovered in 1927 and kept under the bed at their outcamp for many years until they finally told the Perth people that this wreck was there [in 1941].

The other thing that we did is examine all the nearby wells and soaks - Billiecuthera Well, Wattie’s Well, Ram Yards [well] and so on - to see if there was evidence of the movement of the Dutch away from the wreck. Right up the top here, Wale Well, Karkura - an Aboriginal burial site, many wells and soaks through this region, Gee Gie Outcamp where they kept the figurehead at a place they called Modesty Villa and further down of course, Murchison [House Station] . So our other job was to see if we could find evidence of where the Dutch went after the wreck, and here’s Geoff and I trying to find some of these wells and soaks.

Here Billiecuthera, a massive Indigenous encampment, based on water which the stations used and then developed to carry water for stock and windmills and so on. This is one of the major encampments which would have, if the Aborigines and [Dutch] Europeans joined together, had evidence of them.

I went even down some of the wells that were lined here – Bullocks Smellum, a well that was dry and the story goes that the bullocks used to race in here to paw at the ground. So they’d made this well and I went down to see whether there was any evidence of materials down there.

Into every single hole in the caves that we could find in the reef platform, and Geoff and I dived actually in the blowholes on one reasonable day, to see if there was materials under the reef.

Dominic, who was very keen, Dominic Lamera, the abalone diver, when he couldn’t dive he would also hunt for Dutch things. He took us to all the soaks and wells he knows and there we were photographing everything that he knew. He was very generous with his knowledge and I invited Phil Playford to come back and write a popular account on what had happened as indicated.

He, [Phillip]  advised also of the early days, the early indigenous heritage of the place - and this is a very rich area for future study - the European and Aboriginal heritage in the station country with Murchison House and Tamala I think, and all the area between, and Phillip has introduced me to this, a very important area for study by archaeologists and historians, and Tom Pepper Junior, son of the famous Tom, became an advisor also.

Here is one of Phillip’s plans showing the indigenous people who occupied the area, the Yinggarda Tribe, the Malgana and the Nanda Tribe. There is Billiecuthera Soak and Wale Well, the two great encampments, and Karkura, the great Aboriginal burial ground in the region.

In our work as we went through these areas we found evidence of burials, here an Aboriginal one sadly scattered by the winds, which we looked to see whether it was Dutch. Obviously not. It is a sad thing that these are being exposed. They’re up in the Karkura region. Phillip also advised us of his belief that this image here at Walga Rock inland on the Murchison was the Zuytdorp. It’s certainly got gun ports which the Zuytdorp had, and what he thought was three masts, but later we realised that this is not a Dutch East Indiaman and it’s actually a steamship, most likely SS Xantho.

If we look at where Walga Rock is here, and Phillip quite rightly, considering that he’s got a Dutch East Indiaman in here, then why would an image not end up at the famous indigenous gallery at Walga Rock? However the SS Xantho is down here which is almost equidistant on the river, and what we now say is that this is not a mast. This is a funnel. These are false gun ports which were common in the era, and these are the two masts that we know Xantho had.

One of the other things that we looked at was the notion that Aboriginal influences in the burial also suggested that maybe the indigenous people and the Dutch interacted. Phillip was aware of a disease called Porphyria Variegata that had actually started with two people, Gerrit Jansz and Ariaantje Jacobs, just before the Zuytdorp came through into Cape Town. He would have been about 20 year old, their son. The disease was started by these two and he disappears from the records at the time the Zuytdorp come through, after having loss 100 people on its voyage from Holland to The Cape. The theory was that he may have got on board the Zuytdorp with the disease, may have got off the Zuytdorp and introduced it to the Aboriginal people in the Shark Bay area. Anne Mallard of California called Phillip in 1988 saying that her husband had died of Porphyria Variegata. This looked very strong, and Phillip then consulted specialists looking at Jacobs, Ellis van Creveld Syndrome and Poly Digitalis and all these diseases which may have indicated a link with the Dutch.

Here we are examining a grave with a border and though it might have been Dutch and we also invited Sandra Bowdler to join the expedition. However Dominic later advised us that he saw this skeleton scattered – well not scattered, but scattering and put the border around it.

I decided to revise the research strategy to investigate further these camps, using folks like Sandra Bowdler and other anthropologists, and also to help facilitate the interest that Phillip had in these studies, and then also look towards more visitation by people to the site under our Site-Wreck Access Program. Made our various reports, and also thankfully all the interviews I had with people, when there was a committee established to try and give back to those who’d reported the Dutch wreck some of their credit, luckily I was able to lean on all the people who’d been involved in the Zuytdorp – the Drage family, the Pepper family and everyone else, to say what they had to say about who found the Zuytdorp.

If you look here you’ll see that many people are significant in the finding of the Zuytdorp and in doing contributions, including Sir James Cruthers who was a  journalist who investigated the Zuytdorp in the ‘50s and ‘60s who was in effect the leader of that team that Playford did that wonderful work on, and of course the Sunday Times, the earlier period. The finders of course, were also listed.

Here is one of my information sheets and here is our signage telling people about the wreck and what is there, and so on, and when you’re there please leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos and so on.

We revegetated the tracks that Prince Jah put in and then I invited Bob Sheppard, an expert metal detector operator – well actually he invited himself, he wanted to write a novel on it. But I learnt he was an expert metal detector operator, probably Western Australia’s and Australia’s best, and now our leading heritage metal detector operator - to help us look for signs the Dutch had moved from the wreck. He kept copious plans and notes. He was very, very thorough. He worked with us many for many times and we went to the major encampments.

Phillip then also suggested a visit up here to Wale Well, with Bob and others. There is Wale Well, an extraordinary place. Here is some of the evidence, and what’s equally important is some of these stones are Tumblagooda limestone from south of the Zuytdorp on the Murchison River. They had been taken from the Murchison River, past the wreck, up to Wale Well, clear indicators of the movement of indigenous people north and south.

Here, Phillip is with Tony Cockbain, Bob Sheppard and myself and in Tony’s hand is that object there, and that is a tobacco box lid with the town of Leiden, clearly from the Zuytdorp. The question however is, did the Dutch take it there or did the Aboriginal people take it there in one of their travels?

We also, with Sandra and Celmara Pocock, looked at all the Aboriginal sites we could find in the region. Here for example is a gnamma hole, one of those holes in the limestone where you put a little lid on and keep your water after winter. We’re trying to find, did they move? Were they taken by the Aborigines? Did they move back and forward or what happened in these regions? I also elected to remove the A-frame. It was terribly rusty. Continuing on the re-greening, bringing in more and more terrestrial archaeologists and people to examine the land sites, and while there, here I am diving with a lull in the swells to have a quick look and see what we should be doing further. You had to take every opportunity you could.

While there I earmarked not only ingots, a cannon which is difficult to see in this picture I’m sorry, a bronze gun. Look at this. You can see one of these in the museum which is over three metres long today, and look at that. It’s only a metre long now, with the sand, and that anchor, on that dive that I showed you a bit earlier, I decided we would recover these and while we were doing that work, our land archaeologists would do their work.

This is a midden. Was there European materials in the midden? Here’s my archaeologists at work – Libby Vickery and her man. In this case Fiona Weaver, Richard Cassels, Jon Carpenter, our chief on site conservator diver, and here are some of the materials we’re finding on the land - a gambling counter, a bail seal, buttons and so on – clear evidence the Dutch had got up off the wreck, and here’s Kate Morse. Kate’s main job was to tell me ‘Were the Indigenous sites of the period of the Zuytdorp?’  She did a wonderful bit of work here, but here, realising that they’re 5,000 years old. So what we found there was there were no Indigenous camps opposite the Zuytdorp of the period when the Zuytdorp came in. They were all thousands of years old.

We also developed our Australian Contact Shipwrecks program based on what we learnt at the Zuytdorp, that obviously there were many wrecks where people came ashore, and we needed to look at the attitude of Aboriginal people to the strangers on the shore. Lesley Silvester joined me on internship at the museum and she began this wonderful database and study of every known time that Aboriginal people interacted with downed airmen in one case, and 26 shipwrecks.

This one here is the famous Stefano where the Aboriginal people – here’s the two boys shown here – were actually carried and walked and given all sorts of help by the Aboriginal people on North West Cape.  An amazing story which now can be read about in the books that have been produced. Did this happen here?

We needed also to have a site plan. All good archaeology has a site plan. Here the late Ross White laid the survey for us. Here is – you can’t see it – but the Department of Land Administration aerial photos based on Ross’s work. These are 10 metre grids and they extend out into the water, and we were able to recognise all the main underwater features on this wonderful day, which was 10 or 20 years ago, but we were able to use our photography to attach to that, and we were able to produce profiles through the wreck and into the land to try and look at what had happened on the site and where materials remained.

Clearly, the Zuytdorp which drew more than that, was on its beam ends there, hit the reef, spilled open here and pushed across here, spilling ingots to finally end up there. This is thanks to the Department of Land Administration.

We also changed tack and decided to use a boat. Here’s our little 18-footer. People like Andrew Young and other cray people at Kalbarri who we’re indebted to, would keep a watch out for us because we were going 40 miles from Kalbarri north, and if we got into trouble they said they’d give us a hand and get us home.

Here we are beginning the site plan. Here’s Geoff who’s not only an amazing diver, but a pretty good artist, and we’re beginning the site plan. Using those aerial photographs where we could see reefs but none of the artefacts, we would then use a builder’s tape, common builder’s tape and then draw the materials in. For example, this was measured that distance from that reef on that angle, and here we have Geoff sketching in.

Stanley Hewitt, a retired architect and draftsman joined us and he got those grids that DOLA put for us, he got the plan that Geoff has done here, and joined them together to give us an impression of the ship on the seabed, anchors, cannon, silver coins once here, ingots in here. This is the cannon we raised and the anchor we raised, and so on, and produce a plan for public and archaeological purposes.

Here we prove for the first time that people could have got ashore because the masts are hanging over the drying reef. This was a very, very important piece here.

Then Stanley, being an artist, produced this representation of the Zuytdorp ashore, based upon the DOLA map, our work and of course the stories and so on that we were able to put together, based upon what remained on the seabed.

He also produced this one which we call The Day After because all of you know that storms pass very quickly in the West Australian coast.

Then to get the anchor - here we are getting the anchor out – Geoff devised a great system here using a jack to break it free, and then straight away into lift bags and straight out to sea. That anchor is so big that we had to put it through two floors in the museum in Fremantle.

There we are looking back, towing the anchor out, and also a cannon, which we did the same way. We took it out to sea, well over a quarter of a mile out to sea, in 60 feet of water, put it down on the seabed with a view to getting our work boat Henrietta and bringing it back.

Here, when we come back three months later, is the same cannon, showing extraordinary movement of the seabed at the Zuytdorp, and this is why those early divers didn’t see the carpet of silver the first time, because the seabed had covered much of the wreck up.

We found other evidence of coins hidden away there and decided to investigate them, and here we have opening what we call the armoury concretion. You may wonder at that crow bar. It’s not actually used to excavate, the geopick is. Geoff would wedge himself under this crow bar so when a sea broke over the top of him, he wouldn’t get pushed out. It’s a remarkable commentary on his stickability.

Here you can see him wedged under the crowbar. As I say, he’s a bit of an extreme sportsman and I’m not, but I had to be in there with him. But you can see the crowbar across his waist here, and double weights to keep him down in the swells, and of course great results. He’s got there, one of those wonderful plates, the sort of thing that De Vlamingh and Hartog left and inscribed their names on.

Jon Carpenter and others joined us. Here we are taking a video for the first time on a reasonable day, and here is the most amazing find. Jon and Jeff recovered a beautiful ornate glass from underneath the concretion. You can still see the A-frame in the back by the way. An amazing piece of glass.

This picture – he actually did this – he had to go into town one day and he didn’t have any shaving gear. So he’s having a shave there. This is the essence of success, having a good team – an on-site conservator, the chief diver, great photographers.

Finally that amnesty happened and it produced some surprises – not welcome surprises. These are Dominic’s coins, our watch man. He recovered over 200 of these excellent quality coins. But the most important thing to me that he gave us was a bell, the part of the bell. Geoff had recovered this piece in 1981. Dominic had found this piece, he said, amongst the exploded materials that I showed you earlier. What’s important here is the date on it, 1704, but it was a sad thing really to see that this had been done.

We also took students with us and they looked at other land camps. Then we put together the bell.

So bringing Phillip Playford back on board and making him part of my team proved essential. His book, which I really recommend to you, won the Premier’s Award, essentially telling the story of the Zuytdorp right up until the period of publication.

Here he’s taken our site plan and we’re still waiting to produce our results ourselves with our own, but what we’ve got here is the notion that Zuytdorp’s coming along from the south, hits that reef that I showed you earlier, spins around. It’s on its side, loses the adze and these navigation dividers, starts to spill out the ingots and slowly works its way in, breaking up with the stern where the coins are, the midship section and those anchors there.

We also reported to the Australian Netherlands Committee about our work. They were very pleased. They are pleased to have seen it go beyond purely salvage into the archaeological and the other elements.

Then I produced a Management Strategy for it, which involves lots of things, including public access and that sort of thing in the future.

Here is the cannon we raised. Peter Hickson there donated the money for this gun carriage that Geoff made, and again, it shows you this extraordinary man diver, wonderful sort of recorder, but also an artisan to be able to produce this glorious carriage for the Zuytdorp.

Here Fairlie Sawday, our Artefact Manager at the time, with some of the finds. Our work continues. That glorious tumbler. The cannon interestingly has an English broad arrow. So they either stole it or bought it from the Poms. The 1711 coins. The cannon, when it was deconcreted and we took the tompion, or that wooden plug out, actually the ball rolled out. It was loaded. Then there was the four cannons that were given to those young boys that I showed you earlier, as a thank you for the cannon that they found from Alan Robinson’s time at Shark Bay.

There’s the plate. This is the sort of thing that’s flattened out to make the Hartog and De Vlamingh plate. There’s the Dutch East Indiaman insignia, and Geoff and I continued our work on the wreck.

Here we are diving and you can see the swell building. This is the sort of thing sadly that - we were prepared to take these risks at the time, but we were starting slowly to be overtaken by health and safety legislation. Very important stuff, but it does also preclude the taking of risk, even when you want to take the risks, as we do and sometimes need to do in archaeology.

There we are at work, as you can see. By the time these standards are coming out saying that you’re not allowed to do this sort of thing if you’re employed, putting the onus on your directors and people higher up the chain, it was becoming more and more untenable for them to be allowing us to take this sort of risk. There we are in the water.

So that’s a problem we have. The directorate was starting to get concerned at this time. The wheels were beginning to fall off, obviously. This is sort of showing that. Not only that, stupid rules brought in by government where we had to no longer have our own four wheel drive, we had to take it from a pool, and the pool rules were you weren’t allowed to take your four wheel drive off the road. I mean how do you get to that stage? We did of course, but then you had to pay squillions for the damage you did to the paint work and so on. All sorts of things were going wrong, slowly making it more and more difficult to work in the field.

So we make our reports. There are the three eras that I report on to the ANCODS [Australia Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks]; the Bingham-Kimpton era of ’69 to ’71, the Jeremy Green era – ’71 to ’85, the McCarthy-Kimpton era – ’86 to 2002.

Here are some of our sketches and drawings that we’ve done, mainly Geoff because “right angle” is not in my dictionary of what we were doing in our reports. These by the way are on the web. You can go and see our department’s 285 reports which are in PDF form on the web, and you can read them on the museum’s website.


Here was my suggestions as to what we need to do for the future: continue the recovery of Silver if its visible and loose, leave those that are not visible under there. Let the difficult conditions and the legislation and the fact that we have surveillance to look after them and monitor it. But, we do need to get back to those land sites. We do need to follow the Dutch and did they move away from the wreck. Did they leave graves and so on? We really need to get back there in due course, and of course we do need to continue with our publications. I’m at the moment right now beginning the archaeological catalogues and those sorts of more technical things, on top of the popular things that you see here, for the future.

So this is where we need to concentrate in the future in following these areas marked here, and also looking at the wonderful indigenous European heritage, station heritage, up until the ‘80s when the stations really became unviable as pastoral stations.

Here is the hinterland. You can see how difficult it is to go there and we need await a burn, a natural burn like this, to allow us to get back there, and we had been awaiting that to continue our work on the site.

We need to continue our work on these wonderful people who worked those stations – the Drages, the Peppers, the Mallards and so on, and I’ve called this “unfinished business.” It is an indicator of where we are today.

Wendy van Duivenvoorde, a Dutch scholar, joined us recently and we wanted to make scholarly works that are understandable by all and available to a wide audience. We have some disagreements on spelling which normally you do get with Dutch scholars, however we’ve started on our work and we’ve started on the next stage of work which is involving other people.

Here Wendy is examining the timbers that were recovered, looking to see if there’s any evidence at all to help her with her study of Dutch East Indiaman ships, even using microscopes of course. There’s that stern piece I showed you, and she’s been studying those.

Springing to that that -  to now - today - to the equation things - we never had in those early days, throwing out the patients and putting it through the MRI and so on.

Here’s Wendy studying. She’s now left us and gone to Flinders [University], but she’s sending over loads of students to us from Europe and all other places to continue this work.

So we’re concluding here with our next stage - not the final stage because we must get up there and do this land work as soon as that burn occurs - but we’ve now got other scholars joining us from all over the world in helping complete studies of the objects that we’ve raised. We’ve just completed the study of the ingots and you will sort of be following us more. The catalogue that I will be producing will be a major work in association with up to 20 or 30 scholars and so on.

So thank you very much and I hope you enjoy the next lecture.

This video recording was made possible with the support of Chevron Australia.