On 4 October 1655, Vergulde Draeck of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) set sail from Texel, on what was to be its second and final voyage to Batavia (modern Jakarta) in the East Indies.
The jacht Vergulde Draeck carried a cargo of trade goods worth 106,400 florins, together with eight chests of silver coin worth 78,600 florins, and the crew consisted of 193 men.
Following Brouwer’s route, the vessel made use of trade winds before making a northward turn to the East Indies. The vessel was lost on 28 April 1656 on a reef off the coast off Western Australia, north of Yanchep, near Ledge Point.
The vessel began to break up immediately and two of the ship’s boats were launched. Subsequently, a boat was dispatched to Batavia to get help. Arriving on 7 June they reported that 75 people of the 193 people on board had reached the shore and the other one of the ship’s boat had been driven ashore and damaged. Several vessels were dispatched to try and find the survivors but no one was found.
When the site was discovered in 1963, it had been looted and damaged. The wreck’s original finders approached the Western Australian Government suggesting that they transfer their rights as finders of the site to the Government on the condition that the site was protected under legislation.
In late 1963 the site was protected by law and the WA Museum’s Department of Maritime Archaeology was called in to assess and excavate the site in 1971. In 1972, the Department conducted its first major excavation. Over several months a very large collection of artefacts was systematically excavated from the site. Finds included beardman jugs, clay tobacco pipes (including a box of complete pipes), bronze and brass utensils, tools, accessories, glass bottles, various armaments, over 8,000 bricks from the Netherlands (presumably used as paying ballast on the ship) and over 8,500 silver coins, mostly Spanish reales.
The 1972 fieldwork was the first major underwater archaeological excavation undertaken in Australia and saw the commencement of a series of major archaeological excavations by the Department in the 1970s and 1980s. Subsequent visits to the site were made in 1981 and 1983.
The objectives in 1981 were to excavate the main wreck site areas that had been left at the end of 1971–72. This proved to be extremely difficult because of the bad weather and limited time.
The 1983 season was a great success due to long periods of unusually calm weather. During the excavation period, on the 19 days when diving took place, a total of 332 diving hours were recorded. Finds included a Southeast Asian smoking pipe (a very unusual find for the mid-17th century), several beardman jugs and an astrolabe.