Zuytdorp (1712)

On 1 August 1711, Zuytdorp (also Zuiddorp, meaning ‘South village’) departed from the Netherlands to the trading port of Batavia. It never arrived. No search was undertaken as there was no clue to where the ship was lost and the crew was never heard from again. 

Hints of a Shipwreck

In 1834, Aboriginal people told a farmer from near 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 it nor any survivors.

Between 1926 and 1927 members of the Mallard, Drage and Pepper families who lived and worked in the area discovered wreckage from a ship along the shore and cliffs between Tamala and Murchison House Stations. Tom Pepper, Tamala Station’s head stockman, had married Lurlie Mallard, an Aboriginal woman. Tom, Lurlie, her sister Ada Drage and Ada’s husband Ernest found coins (some dated 1711), bottle fragments, timber (including a spar and a carved female figure) and breech blocks from swivel guns. They also found evidence of a deliberately lit fires, atop and at the foot of the cliffs. In 1954 following advice from Tom Pepper, a geologist, Phillip Playford, travelled to the area and viewed the site. The remains indicated that some survivors came ashore from an unknown wreck.

Image: Artist's impression of the Zuytdorp wrecking event

One possible theory involved the survivors joining the tribes that travelled between two major Aboriginal encampments (Wale Well to the north on Tamala Station and Billiecuthera Well to the south east) on Murchison House Station. 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.


In 1964, a team led by Geraldton identity Tom Brady, including Graham and Max Cramer, 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.

Image: Zuytdorp Cliffs

In 1969, the Western Australian Museum became responsible for the site and it commenced the recovery of the silver under the leadership of Harry Bingham. After 1971 Jeremy Green with Geoff Kimpton as chief diver, led the program. 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. Prince ‘Jah’ the former Nizam of Hyderabad and then owner of Murchison House Station, provided infrastructure in the form of a large flying fox erected on the cliffs. This led to a number of very successful recoveries. In 1976, the wreck was protected under the terms of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act and under the terms of that Act a restricted zone was declared around the site. This prohibits all unauthorized visitation to the site. There appears to have been considerable unauthorised looting of the site on occasions when the weather allowed diving nonetheless. 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 watch keeper.


In 1986, the Museum's program was resurrected under the leadership of Dr M. McCarthy concentrating as much on the social elements of the tragedy as it did on the recovery of what little remained of the silver and other objects. It also looked towards the production of a site plan designed to examine theories about the wrecking and the possibility that survivors had reached the shore. The expanded program also focused on possible movement of survivors away from the wreck site and archaeological examination of the survivor's camps for evidence of intermingling with Indigenous people. This element involved many specialists including anthropologists, historians, archaeologists and an expert metal detector operator.   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 book on the subject to add to his earlier academic works. 

Image: Silver coins concreted into the reef

In 1994 a parliamentary select committee chaired by the Hon. P. G. Pendal, MLA, met in order to formally credit all who were involved in locating the British ship Trial and the Dutch East Indiamen Batavia, Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon), Zuytdorp and Zeewijk. Many submissions were received from those who felt that they, or their deceased relatives, had a role in the discoveries. In using the term ‘to discover’, i.e. to ‘find out or become aware of, whether by research or by chance’, the Committee in its report differentiated between ‘primary discoverers’, those whose research led to the finding of a wreck, or were ‘physically involved in the act of discovery’, and ‘secondary discoverers’, those whose involvement, in the committee’s opinion, was ‘resultant’, ‘consequential’, ‘subordinate’ or ‘supporting’.

The distinction between Primary and Secondary Discoverers as defined in the Pendal Committee Report was significant because ex gratia payments were awarded to those Primary Discoverers still living. In 1997 amendments to the Maritime Archaeology Act 1973 (WA) were enacted, containing a ‘Register of discoverers of ancient shipwrecks’ with the intent of ‘providing statutory recognition of the discoverers’ (see section 24 and the Third Schedule of the 1973 Act as amended). The Pendal Committee’s findings recognised the discoverers of Zuytdorp in the following manner: that Tom Pepper and Phillip Playford should be regarded as primary discoverers, and that Ada Drage, Max Cramer, Graham Cramer and Tom Brady should also be recognised as secondary discoverers.

In 2007, following a submission by the Drage family, and a supporting recommendation from the Western Australian Museum’s Maritime Archaeology Advisory Committee, the Western Australian Government formally recognised Ada and Ernest Drage as additional primary discoverers.


This shipwreck needs permission to dive on in WA, a 500m protected zone exists around the site.

Image: Set up showing the dangerous conditions and difficulty of removing artefacts from the site


Gosper, S., 2006, Drage family: Ernest and Ada Drage; Descendants of Ernest and Ada Drage, Sharon Gosper.

Kimpton, G., & McCarthy, M., 1988, Zuytdorp, 1702-1712. Report to the director and Head of Division on underwater and other work conducted during the period April 1986 to April 1988, Report Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum, No. 30.

Playford, P., Carpet of Silver, The Wreck of the Zuytdorp, University of Western Australia Press, 1996

McCarthy, M., 1990, Zuytdorp. A report on the Excavation in progress situation to date (June 1990). Report - Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum, No. 42.

Morse, K., 1988, The archaeological survey of Excavation progressing midden sites near Zuytdorp wreck. Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 12(1):37-47.

WA Museum Shipwreck database, http://museum.wa.gov.au/maritime-archaeology-db/wrecks/id-811, accessed: 25/6/2014.

Weaver, F., 1994, Report of the excavations of
previously disturbed land sites associated with the VOC ship Zuytdorp, wrecked 1712, Zuytdorp Cliffs, Western Australia. A report to the Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle, Western Australia Report - Maritime Archaeology Western Australian Maritime Museum, No.90