Meermin (VOC ship)

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refer to caption
An 18th-century Dutch hoeker
Career (Dutch Republic) Flag of the Dutch East India Company.svg
Name: Meermin
Owner: Dutch East India Company
Chamber of Amsterdam
Builder: Dutch East India Company
Laid down: 1759
Commissioned: 1761
Maiden voyage: TexelCape Colony
Fate: Grounded off Struisbaai, southern Africa, 1766; broke up in situ
General characteristics [1][Fn 1]
Type: Hoeker
Tonnage: 480[1]
Length: 102 ft 2 in (31.14 m)[Fn 2]
Beam: 29 ft 9 in (9.07 m)
Draught: 11 ft 9 in (3.58 m)
Sail plan: Full rigged

The Meermin was an 18th-century Dutch cargo ship of the "hoeker" type, one of many built and owned by the Dutch East India Company. Laid down in 1759 and fitted out as a slave ship before her maiden voyage in 1761, her career was cut short by a mutiny of her cargo of Malagasy people. They had been sold to Dutch East India Company officials on Madagascar, to be used as company slaves in its Cape Colony in southern Africa. Half her crew and almost 30 Malagasy lost their lives in the mutiny; the ship was deliberately allowed to drift aground by the mutineers off Struisbaai, now in South Africa, in March 1766, and broke up in situ. As of 2013, archaeologists are searching for the Meermin's remains.

Construction and use[edit]

The Meermin was laid down in 1759 in a shipyard belonging to the Dutch East India Company in the Dutch port of Amsterdam.[8] In Dutch, the company's name was Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, which they abbreviated to "VOC", these letters being used to form a monogram: this was used on company materials as a logo.[9] The Meermin was a 480-ton Dutch hoeker, square rigged with three masts.[10][Fn 1]

The hoeker originated in the 15th century as a type of fishing vessel with one or two masts in response to the growing Dutch trade in herring,[11] and was known in English as a hoy.[12] Equipped with guns, hoekers were employed as defensive escorts for fishing fleets, or Buisconvoyers, in the Second Anglo-Dutch War of the 1660s.[13] They came to be used more widely in trade with the Dutch East Indies via the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa,[14] as their rounded sterns proved to be more resistant to warping and springing than square sterns,[15] which were prone to "catastrophic leaking when exposed to strong sun."[15] Larger than most hoekers,[16] the Meermin was unusual for her type in that she was built of oak and had a beakhead, a feature not normally present in smaller merchant vessels.[17]

The Meermin was built for use as a slave ship in the VOC's African trade;[18] between 1658 and 1799 the VOC acquired and transported 63,000 slaves to its Cape Colony, now part of South Africa.[19] The ship began her maiden voyage at Texel, an island off the coast of what is now the Netherlands, on 21 January 1761, with a crew of 62 under the command of Captain Hendrik Worms; she arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on 15 June.[20] Although fitted out as a slave ship,[21] vessels such as the Meermin routinely carried other goods when not transporting slaves.[22]

Mutiny and destruction[edit]

Main article: Meermin slave mutiny

From December 1765, the Meermin was working the coastline of Madagascar, collecting Malagasy men, women and children for use as slaves in the Cape Colony, under Captain Gerrit Muller and a crew of 56.[1][Fn 3] Carrying about 140 Malagasy, she set sail from the north-western coast of Madagascar on 20 January 1766.[24][Fn 4]

refer to caption
Three-masted, square rigged hoeker: Groenewegen, 1789

Two days into the voyage a "large party of [Malagasy]"[26] was allowed on deck, the men to assist the crew, and the women to provide entertainment by dancing and singing.[27] This was to prevent death and disease among the Malagasy, so avoiding loss of profit.[28]

On 18 February 1766,[29] the ship's supercargo ordered some assegais, or African spears, and some swords, to be brought on deck for the Malagasy to clean.[30] When the weapons were clean and the Malagasy were ordered to return them, they attacked the ship's crew, and took control of the ship.[31] A truce ensued, the terms of which were that if the Malagasy would spare the lives of the remaining crew the ship would be sailed back to Madagascar, but taking advantage of the Malagasy's lack of navigational skills, the crew instead set sail for the coast of southern Africa.[32]

On sighting land, the crew persuaded the Malagasy that what they saw was a part of Madagascar the mutineers were unfamiliar with: after further subterfuge by the crew, the Malagasy set the Meermin to drift towards the shore at Struisbaai. But the sea was rough, and one of the ship's masts was cut down to improve her balance.[33] The Meermin eventually grounded on a sandbank, by which time a militia consisting of local farmers and burghers had been formed onshore, who had observed that the ship was flying no flags, which they recognised as a distress signal.[21] The militia killed or captured those of the Malagasy who ventured ashore, and then organised the removal into custody of all Malagasy remaining on the ship, under the command of a magistrate from Stellenbosch.[33][Fn 3] The Meermin was assessed as beyond recovery, and left to break up where she grounded.[33]

Salvage and archaeology[edit]

The VOC authorities salvaged as much as possible from the Meermin, recovering 286 muskets, 12 pistols, 5 bayonets, gunpowder, musket balls and compasses; cables, ropes and other items from the ship were auctioned on the shore.[34] The ship's logbook has not survived.[23]

In 2004, Iziko Museums started a maritime archaeology project to find and recover the wreck of the Meermin, with supporting historical and archaeological research funded by the South African National Lottery.[35]

Iron fastenings were used extensively in wooden ships. This combined with the possible presence of anchors and cannon give fairly good signatures.

Jaco Boshoff[36]

Jaco Boshoff of Iziko Museums, who is in charge of the research, retrieved the Meermin's plans from the Netherlands, to help identify this wreck among the numerous ships reputed to have run aground in the Struisbaai area.[36] The search for the Meermin has employed an airborne magnetometer survey, as a marine magnetometer survey proved to be impractical owing to the shallowness of the waters.[36] Magnetometer surveys can readily pick out wreck sites, as iron items from the ships can be detected by their recognisable signatures.[36] Of 22 new, possible wrecks identified, 11 were identified as candidates for the wreck of the Meermin.[36] Six are on what is now land, but have been ruled out as they are wrecks of pine-built ships, whereas the Meermin was built of oak.[36] In 2011, the Iziko Museums' travelling exhibition "Finding Meermin" included updates on the progress of Jaco Boshoff's work with the archaeological research team.[35] In November 2013 it was reported that, while the ship had not yet been found, lack of funding was holding up completion of the search, with four target areas remaining to be examined.[37]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Different sources describe the Meermin as a two-masted or single-masted ship of 450 tons, but, having examined the ship's plans, archaeologist Jaco Boshoff confirmed that she was one of the rarer, and heavier, oak-built three-masters.[2] The ship's plans are held at the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam, and are available to view online in low resolution.[3] The ship type "hoeker" was named after its original purpose, using baited hooks to catch fish,[4] and distinctive features of a hoeker are the "apple cheeks" of the bow.[5] This ship's name, "Meermin", is Dutch for "mermaid".[6]
  2. ^ Meermin is listed as 110 voet in length and had a keel to beam ratio of 10:3; one Amsterdam voet is approximately 11.15 inches (28.3 centimetres).[7]
  3. ^ a b The sources use various 18th-century Dutch terms, not all of which are easily translated into modern English: Captain Muller's rank is given as "Gesaghebber"; the magistrate from Stellenbosch was a "Landdrost".[23]
  4. ^ The exact number of Malagasy on the Meermin is unknown, since officers on VOC ships carried out their own, undeclared trade, to the extent that this is how "most slaves actually got to the Cape [Colony]";[21] it was also a cause of severe over-crowding on slave ships.[21] Some of the Malagasy gave their number as 150.[25]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Mountain 2005, p. 204.
  2. ^ "Meermin 1759". VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012; "Slaves Failed Bid for Freedom". Rebirth.co.za. 2000. Retrieved 13 February 2012; "Struisbaai (R319)". Western Cape Government. 2005. Retrieved 13 February 2012; Chandler 2009; Mountain 2005, p. 204.
  3. ^ "Algemeen plan en spantenraam van de hoeker 'De Meermin'". Maritiem Digitaal. 1760. Retrieved 17 February 2014  (click on the image to view a larger version).
  4. ^ Collins 2001, pp. 68–71; Chandler 2009.
  5. ^ Collins 2001, p. 67.
  6. ^ "Dictionary.com Translator (Meermin)". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  7. ^ "Amsterdam Voet". Terminology from the age of sail. Retrieved 13 February 2012; "Meermin 1759". VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012;
  8. ^ "Meermin 1759". VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012; Mountain 2005, p. 204; Chandler 2009.
  9. ^ "The Dutch East India Company (VOC) 1602–1799" & "VOC-logo". entoen.nu. Retrieved 13 February 2012; "File:VOC stone.jpg". Wikimedia Commons. 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  10. ^ "Meermin 1759". VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012; Chandler 2009.
  11. ^ Konijnenburg, van 1913, pp. 93–4, 96.
  12. ^ Collins 2001, p. 67; Konijnenburg, van 1913, pp. 66, 72, 96.
  13. ^ Konijnenburg, van 1913, p. 96; "Scheepstypen van de VOC" (Hoeker). VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  14. ^ "Dutch East India Company, Trade Network, 18th Century". Hofstra University. 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  15. ^ a b Collins 2001, p. 69.
  16. ^ "Scheepstypen van de VOC" (Hoeker). VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  17. ^ Chandler 2009; Konijnenburg, van 1913, p. 47; "Algemeen plan en spantenraam van de hoeker 'De Meermin'". Maritiem Digitaal. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  18. ^ Chandler 2009; "Slave Ship Mutiny Program Transcript". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  19. ^ "History of Slavery: The first slaves at the Cape". Rebirth.co.za. 2000. Retrieved 19 February 2012; "Amersfoort 1655". VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2012; "Dutch East India Company, Trade Network, 18th Century". Hofstra University. 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2012; "Secrets of the Dead: Slave Ship Mutiny". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  20. ^ "Meermin 1759". VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  21. ^ a b c d "Slave Ship Mutiny Program Transcript". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  22. ^ Webster 2008, pp. 8–9.
  23. ^ a b "The Meermin Story". Iziko Museums. 2007. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  24. ^ "Slave Ship Mutiny Program Transcript". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 21 February 2012; Alexander 2007b, pp. 87, 89; Alexander 2007a; Mountain 2005, p. 204; Malan 2008.
  25. ^ "The Meermin Story: At Zoetendal’s Valleij...". Iziko Museums. 2007. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  26. ^ Alexander 2007b, p. 89.
  27. ^ Alexander 2007b, p. 89; Mountain 2005, p. 204; "Slave Ship Mutiny Program Transcript". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  28. ^ Alexander 2007b, pp. 102–3; "Secrets of the Dead: Slave Ship Mutiny". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  29. ^ "The Meermin Story: The Story Begins...". Iziko Museums. 2007. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  30. ^ Alexander 2007b, p. 89; "Slave Ship Mutiny Program Transcript". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  31. ^ Alexander 2007b, p. 90; "Slave Ship Mutiny Program Transcript". Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  32. ^ "The Meermin Story: The Story Begins...". Iziko Museums. 2007. Retrieved 13 February 2012; Mountain 2005, p. 204.
  33. ^ a b c "The Meermin Story: Surrender". Iziko Museums. 2007. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  34. ^ "The Meermin". Mermaid Guest House. Retrieved 13 February 2012; "Meermin 1759". VOCsite.nl. 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012; LaFraniere 2005.
  35. ^ a b "Finding Meermin". Iziko Museums. 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  36. ^ a b c d e f Chandler 2009.
  37. ^ "Slave ship still eludes dogged scientists". IOL. 14 November 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 

Sources[edit]

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