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Flag of the Dutch East India Company.svgDutch Republic
Name: Zuytdorp
Fate: Wrecked at the Zuytdorp Cliffs in 1712
Zeeland, Hoedjesschelling (6 stuivers), struck in 1711. Recovered from the VOC shipwreck 'Zuytdorp'.

The VOC Zuytdorp also Zuiddorp (meaning 'South Village' after a still existing village ( Source reference required) in the South of Zeeland, near the Belgian border) was an 18th-century trading ship of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, commonly abbreviated VOC). On 1 August 1711[1] it was dispatched from the Netherlands to the trading port of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) bearing a load of freshly minted silver coins.

Many trading ships of the time had started to use a "fast route" to Indonesia, which used the strong Roaring Forties winds to carry them across the Indian Ocean to within sight of the west coast of Australia whence they would make a left turn and head north towards Indonesia.

The Zuytdorp never arrived at its destination. No search was undertaken, presumably because the VOC had no idea whether and where the ship had been wrecked or taken by pirates and possibly due to prior expensive but fruitless attempts to search for other missing ships, even when an approximate wreck location was known. The crew were never heard from again. Their fate was unknown until the 20th century when the wreck site was discovered on a remote part of the Western Australian coast between Kalbarri and Shark Bay, approximately 40 km north of the Murchison River. This rugged section of coastline was subsequently named the Zuytdorp Cliffs, remaining the preserve of the Indigenous inhabitants and one of the last great wildernesses until the advent of the sheep stations established in the late 19th century.

Theory of intermarriage between survivors and indigenous population[edit]

Location of the Zuytdorp

Something, perhaps a violent storm, occurred and the Zuytdorp was wrecked on a desolate section of the West Australian coast. Survivors scrambled ashore and camped near the wreck site. At this stage, Australia had no colonies to which to turn for help, so they built bonfires from the wreckage to signal to fellow trading ships that would pass within sight of the coast. But fires seen in the vicinity tended to be dismissed as "native fires".

It has been speculated that survivors may have traded with or may have intermarried with the local aboriginal community between present-day Kalbarri and Shark Bay.[2]

An infamous predecessor of the Zuytdorp, the VOC Batavia, was wrecked not far away on the Houtman Abrolhos islands, and after the following mutiny, atrocities, massacres and trials, two of the mutineers had been marooned on the Australian mainland, not far south from the later wreck of the Zuytdorp (for details about these two mutineers see castaway).

In 1834, Aborigines told a farmer near the recently colonised 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 the wreck or any survivors.

The Western Australian Museum's work[edit]

[3] Details of the work conducted in this phase appear on Museum's reports series and Zuytdorp website.[4]

The possibility of Dutch-Aboriginal genetic links examined[edit]

In 1988, an American woman who had married a Shark Bay Aboriginal man contacted Dr Playford and described how her husband had died some years before from a disease called variegate porphyria. Playford found that the disease was genetically linked and largely confined to Afrikaners and that all cases of the disease in South Africa were traceable back to Gerrit Jansz and Ariaantjie Jacobs, who had married in The Cape in 1688. The Zuytdorp had arrived at the Cape in March 1712 where it took on more than 100 new crew. It was thought that one of the Jansz' sons could have boarded the ship at this time and thus become the carrier of the disease into the Australian Aboriginal population. In 2002, a DNA investigation into the hypothesis of a variegate porphyria mutation having been introduced into the aboriginal population by shipwrecked sailors was undertaken at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre in Nedlands, Western Australia and the Stellenbosch University in South Africa.[5] The conclusion was that the mutations were not inherited from shipwrecked sailors. The SS Xantho and other late 19th century vessels brought hundreds of pearl divers to Western Australia from the islands occupied by the Dutch East India Company, where diseases (including genetic diseases) were introduced by the Dutch to the local population. Many of those pearl divers are known to have intermarried with Aboriginal people, so it is equally likely that any genetic links between Australian Aborigines and the Dutch can be traced to those sources and not to the Zuytdorp, despite the ship pictured on Walga Rock.

The ship were again pointed out to the local legend and Tamala Station head stockman, Tom Pepper. He had got the information from his Aboriginal wife Lurlie and her family. He pointed out the exact location to Phillip Playford. Tom Pepper and his son, Tom Pepper JR, were also involved in the process of saving goods from the ship, in several dangerous operations due to the shifting weather. Phillip Playford's subsequent book, Carpet Of Silver: The Wreck Of The Zuytdorp, won awards and has run into many editions. It in turn was followed by radio personality Bill Bunbury reviewing the issues of the wreck and consequences in the chapter A Lost Ship-Lost People - The Zuytdorp story in his work Caught in Time - Talking Australia History. The site, one of the few restricted zones under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, remains under regular surveillance. The Western Australian Museum in both Fremantle and at Geraldton has produced exhibitions on the wreck, a website, and many reports. Due to the logistical difficulties and the advent of Health and Safety legislation prohibiting the taking of risk in an occupational environment, the Zuytdorp program was again shelved in 2002, though work remains to be done.[6][7] Recently there has been renewed interest in the authenticity of an inscription reading "Zuytdorp 1711" that was once visible on a rock-face adjacent to the reef platform at the site. Post-dating Phillip Playford's first visits in 1954/5, when photographs of the same area show no inscription, this is a modern artefact.

Commemorative plaque[edit]

In June 2012, the Shire of Northampton unveiled a commemorative plaque in Kalbarri commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Zuytdorp's wrecking.[8] The plaque also mentions two other Dutch East India Company ships that were wrecked in the area: the Batavia and the Zeewijk.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ zuytdorp.html Archived 17 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Select Committee on Ancient Shipwrecks" (PDF). Western Australian Legislative Assembly. 1994-08-17. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  3. ^ Playford, 1959, op. cit & Playford, P.E., 1996. Carpet of Silver. The Wreck of the Zuytdorp. UWA Press Nedlands.
  4. ^ "Zuiddorp (Zuytdorp)". Western Australian Museum. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  5. ^ Rossi, E; Chin, CY; Beilby, JP; Waso, HF; Warnich, L (September 2002). "Variegate porphyria in Western Australian Aboriginal patients". Internal Medicine Journal. 32 (9-10): 445–450. doi:10.1046/j.1445-5994.2002.00274.x. PMID 12380696. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  6. ^ McCarthy, M., 2006. The Dutch on Australian Shores: the Zuytdorp tragedy—unfinished business. In Shaw, L., and Wilkins, W., (eds.) Dutch Connections—400 years of Australian-Dutch maritime links. 1606-2006: 94-109.
  7. ^ Reproduced as Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Museum, report No. 256 Zuytdorp: Unfinished business[permanent dead link][permanent dead link], M. McCarthy, 2009.
  8. ^ "Official Unveiling of the Zuytdorp Commemorative Plaque". Kalbarri Development Association. Retrieved 2012-06-28. 


  • Playford, Phillip: Carpet Of Silver: The Wreck Of The Zuytdorp 1996, University Of Western Australia Press ISBN 1-875560-85-8
  • Bunbury, Bill: Caught in Time - Talking Australian History 2006, Fremantle Arts Centre Press ISBN 1-921064-84-6
  • Rupert Gerritsen, And their Ghosts May Be Heard 1994, Fremantle Arts Centre Press ISBN 1-86368-063-2
  • McCarthy, M. (comp), 2002 Chronological Precis of events occurring in Stage 3 of the WA Museum at the Zuytdorp site(s). For the ANCODS meeting December 2002. Stage 1 – The Bingham/Kimpton era: 1969-71; Stage 2 – The Green era: 1971-1985; Stage 3 – The McCarthy/Kimpton era. With assistance from many expert practitioners and volunteers, including Prof Sandra Bowdler, Dr Richard Cassells, Mr Stanley Hewitt, Dr Kate Morse, Dr Phillip Playford, Mr Bob Sheppard, Staff of the Department of Land Administration, Mr Ross White, Ms Fiona Weaver. 1986-2002. Report – Department of Maritime Archaeology. Western Australian Maritime Museum, No. 173
  • McCarthy, M., 2004: Zuytdorp. In J. Green, M. Gainsford and M. Stanbury, (Eds.) Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum: A compendium of projects, programs and publications. Australian National Centre of Excellence for Maritime Archaeology. Special Publication No.9: 65.
  • McCarthy, M., 2006. The Dutch on Australian Shores: the Zuytdorp tragedy—unfinished business. In Shaw, L., and Wilkins, W., (eds.) Dutch Connections—400 years of Australian-Dutch maritime links. 1606-2006: 94-109. Reproduced as Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Museum, report No. 256 Zuytdorp: Unfinished business[permanent dead link], M. McCarthy, 2009.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 27°11′10″S 113°56′13″E / 27.18611°S 113.93694°E / -27.18611; 113.93694