New evidence uncovered from the wreck of the Rooswijk has revealed extensive smuggling amongst the crew, a factor that may have led to their untimely demise off the south coast in 1740 as they were forced to choose between jettisoning their cargo or being pulled down to the depths.
A joint team of English and Dutch marine archeologists have uncovered a haul of silver coins with holes in them to enable them to be sewn into the clothing of the crew alongside ducatons from the Republic and the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium), silver that was not registered as cargo and intended for illegal trade in Indonesia alongside some of the intended cargo, including the infamous “pieces-of-eight.”
Carrying an already valuable cargo of silver worth 300,000 guilders or £2.5m in todays money, the Dutch East India Company ship Rooswijk was on route from the Netherlands to Batavia (Jakarta) when it ran aground and sank off England’s notorious Goodwin Sands with the loss of all 237 hands.
In high demand and used in trade for spices and porcelain, the value of the registered silver on board the Rooswijk was believed to be in the region of 300,000 guilders and in the form of silver ingots and Mexican reales. Despite strict Dutch East India Company rules , it is believed that up to half of all the silver that was pouring into the Dutch East Indies was illegally smuggled.
“The Rooswijk is special because it tells us about ordinary people of that time, but also about entrepreneurship and trade relationships that ensured connections between cultures all over the world. We consider this to be shared cultural heritage.” – Martijn Manders, Project Leader
In other Rooswijk related discoveries, a team working in the Netherlands as part of the same #Rooswijk1740 project have uncovered the names of 19 of the 237 crew on board when the ship sank.
Carrying out a new archive based study encompassing transport letters, civil legal documents and more, the Dutch team have discovered that those lost on the voyage include the German born Gerrit Hendrik Huffelman, a veteran senior sugeron and Thomas Huijdekoper, a 19 year old on his first voyage. The majority of those on board the ship were of Dutch origin with some from German, Swedish and Norwegian backgrounds.
Two fibia bones have been recovered from the wreck and it’s hoped more human remains may be able to be raised.
“It’s extraordinary that after more than 270 years we now know the names of some of the people who may have lost their lives with the Rooswijk. Seafaring was a dangerous way of life and this really brings it home… Sea-faring was a dangerous way of life and this really brings it home. The revelation that the Rooswijk was used to smuggle silver adds to our understanding of global trade at this time. We shall have to wait and see what else we might discover from this site in the coming months.” – Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England
Dives on the 85ft deep wreck will be continuing throughout the month and into August for the project which began last summer and has seen the discovery not only of the silver but many personal items of the crew such as lead cheese containers, pewter vessels, a chest of thimbles and a comb. The finds will be returned to the Netherlands and some material may be made available for display in Britain in the future.
Michael East is a writer with a wide variety of eclectic tastes including politics, history, archaeology, professional wrestling and British science-fiction. A former Students' Union President and newspaper editor, he has studied at a variety of institutions and graduated in both history and politics.
He is interested in truth, justice and the unAmerican way. Named as TIME Person of the Year in 2006 and 2011, he is known variously as a rake, a libertine and as the King in the North... if to nobody else but himself.