Shared Dutch – Australian Cultural Heritage on Christmas and Cocos Keeling Island

Today we keep on searching the seabed around Christmas Island. It is raining heavily, poring actually, like it can only in the tropics. While continuing in the field we also spend time doing archival research. Our focus is on Dutch-Australian Shared Cultural Heritage at the moment.

Lees hier de blog in het Nederlands.

While mapping, we try to be as complete as possible,  including all wrecks around the islands. This will be of great use for those that have to manage the waters now and in the future.

Dirk Hartog-year
The search for shipwrecks around Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Island, with the Fortuyn as the primary target, takes place in the context of Dirk Hartog-year. On 25th October 1616, Dutch seafarer, Dirk Hartog, set foot at the northern tip of an island on the Southland, now known as Dirk Hartog Island, and marked his landing place with a commemorative plate inscribed with a text of his landing and the name of the ship, Eendracht. This plate and its post were to become the first archaeological remains from Europeans in Australia. It is now almost four hundred years ago that the Dutch explorer was the first European that arrived in Western Australia. This event is celebrated and commemorated this year with activities dedicated to Dutch-Australian cultural heritage.

Photo 1This plate, left by Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog, is the oldest-known artifact of European exploration in Australia still in existence. Translation in English: On the 25th October, arrived here the ship Eendracht of Amsterdam; the upper merchant, Gilles Mibais of Luyck; Captain Dirk Hartog of Amsterdam; the 27th ditto set sail for Bantam; under merchant Jan Stein, upper steersman, Pieter Doekes from Bil, Ao, 1616

Although not found yet, the Fortuyn is also part of that shared Dutch and Australian cultural heritage. The Maritime Programme of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands collects as much information as possible regarding  Dutch shipwrecks worldwide. Many of them are from the Dutch East India Company, West India Company and Admiralty Wrecks, of which it still has the ownership of. With the information and the cooperation of the countries in which these ships are wrecked the Programme focusses on a better management.

Around Christmas and Cocos Island there are potentially several Dutch shipwrecks to be found, for instance the Vice Admiraal Rijk that we talked about in the previous blog. The team has made a list with total of 30 shipwrecks from all over the world that (may have been) wrecked around Christmas and Cocos Island. In the next couple of blogs we will highlight a few of them. Today the other Dutch ship: The Aagtekerke.

The Aagtekerke

Our secondary target is the 850-ton Aagtekerke that was built for the Zeeland chamber of the VOC in 1724 and belonged to the second class of merchant vessels. It was 145 feet long and had an armament of thirty-six cannon and swivel guns. On 27 May 1725 the vessel sailed from Rammekens on its first voyage to Batavia under the command of Jan Witboom, with a crew of 212 men. Outward cargo consisted of merchandise and a consignment of bullion and specie amounting to about 200,000 guilders.

'Amsterdam' sail
Replica of the Amsterdam, the ship is comparable to the Aagtekerke (source: Commons Wikimedia)

After touching at the Angolan port of Benguela, the Aagtekerke proceeded to the Cape and anchored off Cape Town on 3 January 1726. Sixteen men had died during the voyage and forty-five of the sick were put ashore. Fresh provisions and crew replacements were taken on board at the Cape and the Aagtekerke put to sea on 23 January, never to be seen again. In October 1726 the Company in Batavia wrote to the Directors in Amsterdam notifying them that the Aagtekerke was considered lost. Wouldn’t it be great to find the lost ship back after almost 300 years! The chance however also remains that the Aagtekerke has lost more to the Australian mainland, as sailors on the Zeewijk (1725-1727) reported shipwreck parts on the Houtman-Abrolhos of a Dutch ship not long before they themselves wrecked on the West-Australian coast. Searching for shipwrecks is often like finding a needle in a haystack…

Robert de Hoop

Over Maritiem Programma

Het Maritiem Programma van de Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed houdt zich bezig met het onderzoek naar scheepswrakken, bruggen, havens en andere maritieme landschappen. Het doel is om kennis, onderzoek, beleid, samenwerking en educatie op het gebied van maritiem erfgoed in Nederland een stevige basis te geven. Het programma loopt van 2012 tot en met 2015.

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