In early 1740, a day after departing the Netherlands for Jakarta, a Dutch East Indiaman carrying coin, bullion and general cargo and passengers, grounded and then sank on the treacherous Goodwin Sands, offshore Deal, in Kent, England. Her story is now being uncovered, with the help of our equipment.
A drawing of a ship similar to the Rooswijk – a Dutch ‘hekboot’ by Adolf van der Laan in 1716. (Copyright) Collection of the Fries Scheepvaartmuseum.
The Rooswijk had had the bad luck to set off into what became a violent storm lasting several days. She was a ‘retourschip’, a type of Dutch East Indiaman designed to withstand the lengthy 18 month to three year voyages typically undertaken to Jakarta, then called Batavia , and had been built just two years earlier, in 1737, for the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company. It was only her second voyage.
But, instead of having made that journey, she’s now the focus of an intense dive operation to uncover her secrets, having been identified as the Rooswijk Dutch East Indiaman in the early 2000s.
Over nearly two months this summer, a team of Dutch and British maritime archaeologists are diving on the site, in 25 metres water depth, to excavate and record what it holds. It’s the third year marine and coastal archaeological contractor MSDS Marine Ltd. has been contracted to manage the fieldwork for the project on behalf of the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) and their project partners Historic England.
For the project, which is largely funded by the Dutch government, MSDS Marine is using our Scout USBL diver tracking system, the predecessor to our current Micro-Ranger 2 USBL system. It’s installed on the dive support vessel Curtis Marshall, in an over-the-side arrangement, and is being used with our Wideband Sub-Mini 5s (WSM 5) USBL beacon/responders.
Scout calculates the position of a subsea target by measuring the range and bearing from a vessel mounted transceiver to a small acoustic transponder fitted to each diver. Using Scout, maritime archaeologist divers are able to pin-point exactly where they have found artifacts and features, which is crucial for being able to reconstruct what the vessel would have looked like and how it came to its watery grave. In poor visibility, Scout enables the surface teams to always know where the divers are, and can guide them around the site using a Multibeam Bathymetry basemap.
Mark James, director and project manager at MSDS Marine Ltd., says, “We are using a Scout USBL system during the excavation for our subsea positioning for a number of reasons: to track the divers; position finds and features; and to locate things like the cargo basket, crane hook and tools that we send down to the wreck site.
“The Scout system has allowed us to locate finds and artifacts to a high degree of accuracy, as well as to produce accurate site plans and to guide divers around the site. It has also saved a lot of time during lifting operations, where we have been able to track the lifting equipment so that it’s then easy to find by the divers.”
The Rooswijk project has used the Scout system in conjunction with the 3H Consulting Site Recorder program and all tracking has been undertaken against multibeam bathymetry data collected over the last four years.
A collection of some of the coins found in the wreck of the Rooswijk. Photo from Historic England.
Silver ingots stored on the ship, which had 237 crew when it set sail, were removed a number of years ago. During last year’s (2017) excavation, some 1,800 artifacts were recovered including chests, pewter jugs, ornately carved wooden knife handles and leather shoes. A nit comb, a lead cheese container and a chest full of thimbles were also found, alongside coins with small holes in – thought to have been made in order to be sewn into the crew’s clothing for smuggling. Large areas of the wreck site are also being recorded. The 2018 excavation has revealed a number of finds that have helped to further understand life on board the vessel as well as features that have led to a deeper understanding of the construction of the ship and the wrecking process.
A selection of the pewter jugs found on the Rooswijk. Photo from Historic England.
“The project has revealed some amazing finds that have helped us to understand better both life on board the ship and construction of the vessel,” says Mark.
The project is something of a race against time. Historic England says the ship is a rare survival of a vessel directly associated with the convoy of goods direct from Europe to Indonesia during the early Georgian period, but the site is classified as being “high risk” on the Heritage at Risk Register due to environmental factors, such as currents and shifting sands, and unauthorised diving and salvage.
According to the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, there are around 250 Dutch East India Company shipwrecks, but only a third have ever been located and none have been scientifically researched or excavated on this scale, until now.
The material gathered from the Rooswijk, the remains of which are owned by the Dutch Government, and managed by Historic England, will initially be processed in the UK, before being returned to The Netherlands.
Angela Middleton and Sarah Bohuch looking at a thimble check found onboard the Rooswijk. Photo from Historic England.
An open weekend is being held this weekend, August 11-12, from 10am to 3pm, at the project’s conservation facilities at Old Port Warehouse, on Military Road, Ramsgate. Visitors will be able to meet the team, try a virtual dive on the site and learn about the finds that have been made and
You can follow the project on the following social media: