Early Voyages to Terra Australis/Account of the Wreck of the Ship "De Vergulde Draeck" on the South Land

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Early Voyages to Terra Australis by Richard Henry Major
Account of the Wreck of the Ship "De Vergulde Draeck" on the South Land



Drawn up and Translated from Authentic MS. Copies of the Logbooks in the Royal Archives at the Hague.

The ship De Vergulde Draeck, equipped by the Chamber of Amsterdam, having sailed on the 4th of October, 1655, from Tessel to East India, with a rich cargo, including 78,600 guilders in cash, in eight boxes, was wrecked very suddenly on the 28th of April, at night, at the beginning of the first day-watch, on the coast of the Southland, on a reef stretching out to sea about one mile and a half, latitude 30 2/3°. Of one hundred and ninety-three souls only seventy-five, among whom were the skipper Pieter Aberts and the under-steersman, reached the shore alive. Nothing was saved from the ship, which foundered and sunk at once, except a small quantity of provisions washed on shore by the waves. The news was brought to Batavia by one of the ship's boats, with the above-mentioned steersman and six sailors, after beating about for a month, on the 7th of June, with the account that the sixty-eight persons who remained behind were exerting themselves to get their boat afloat again, which lay deeply embedded in the sand, that they might send it also with some of their number to Batavia. The General and Council resolved, for the rescue both of the above-mentioned unfortunate men, and also of the Company's specie and merchandise, to get ready without delay a quick-sailing fly-boat, the Witte Valck, provisioned for five months, with some further supplies for the above-mentioned men at the Southland; as also some expert divers, with hatchets and other necessary implements. This they ordered to join company with the yacht the Goede Hoop, then cruizing in the Straits of Sunda, with instructions that they should both proceed together without loss of time from the Straits southwards, as far as 32° to 33° latitude, or until they met a strong westerly trade-wind, in which case they would steer towards the coast of the Southland. They were, moreover, to explore the said coast with particular attention, near the part where the ship had been wrecked, further than it had been already known, and to lay it down on a map, with its capes, inlets, bays, rocks, sands, and shoals.

The Witte Valck set sail on the 8th of June, in order to join company with the yacht Goede Hoop, in the Sunda Straits. They sailed out together, but returned without having succeeded in their object; the former, on the 14th of September and the yacht a month afterwards, having been forced by a severe storm to part company on the 18th of July, on their way out. According to the captain's journals lying at Batavia, they had reached the coast just in the winter time, during which season the sea is so boisterous there, that an approach to the coast is a matter of extreme danger. Thus, as these documents inform us, they were compelled, after experiencing great danger and exhausting every effort, to put off from the coast and to return to Batavia, leaving behind them eleven men of the yacht Hoop, three of them having wandered too far into the woods and eight having been sent in search of them, but not one of the number returned. As the boat in which they had rowed to land was found dashed to pieces on the shore, the whole number most probably came to an untimely end. According to the reports which were made, some men or some signs of the wreck had been noticed, although the Goede Hoop which had been at the place where the ship was supposed to have been wrecked, gave a different statement.

Subsequently the commander at the Cape of Good Hope, according to instructions sent to him, gave orders in the year 1657 to the fly-boat Vinck bound thence to Batavia, to touch en passant at the same place where the above-mentioned disaster had occurred, that search might be made for the unfortunate men. But his vessel also having arrived at the unfavourable season; found no means of landing either with fly-boat or boat, so as to make 'a proper search. According to its reports, having, on the 8th of June; 1657 during the daytime, seen signs of land in 29@ 7' south latitude, and the weather being very favourable, they anchored at night in twenty-five fathoms water, the bottom being coarse sand mixed with coral. In the morning, when day dawned, they saw the surf breaking over the reef at, the foot of which they lay, and on One side of them the Southland, presenting a low sandy shore, on which their anchor, lifted. They continued their course along the coast in order to observe the land, which was still kept in sight the following day. The weather, however, became so boisterous, and the breakers roiled all along-the coast with such violence, that they were compelled to put out a little further to sea, yet, throughout the 10th and 11th of June, they still followed the coast line in forty or fifty fathoms water. However, the chance of landing grew gradually less as they proceeded, for the weather continued stormy with thunder and lightning, so that it became necessary to get clear of the coast. They allowed their ship to drive before the wind under bare poles until the 12th, when they loosened sail a little, the wind shifting between S., S.S.W., and S.S.E., and stood out towards Batavia, where they arrived on the 27th.

T Land Van Eendracht (Emeloort).jpg
T Land Van Eendracht (Waekende Boey).jpg

Notwithstanding all this, and although, as the statement of the General and Council shows, the rescue of these men seemed hopeless since it was evident that they must either have perished from hunger and misery, or been murdered by the barbarous natives; they resolved afterwards, as there might be still some hope left, however small, to despatch, for a third time, two galliots, the Waeckende Boey and Emeloort, the former with a crew of forty, the latter of twenty-five men, provisioned for six months. They set sail from Batavia on the 1st of January, 1658, with distinct orders both as to how to reach the Southland and as to their conduct during the voyage: amongst them these, that after passing the Straits of Sunda they should steer towards the S.W., and as much further south, as the wind would allow, so as to meet the S.E. trade winds, when they would proceed at once as far southwards as they could be crowding all sail until the west winds were encountered, when again they should immediately steer as much south as east, in that, without loss of time and before encountering land they might reach the latitude of 32° to 33, when directing their course eastwards, they should make the attempt to land at the Southland. It was enjoined that every possible precaution should be used, as the coast in that quarter was not much known or properly explored. It was added, that their arrival would be in summer or the most favourable season of the year; with other matters set forth in the instructions given to them by the General and Council on the last day of December, 1657. On the 19th of April they returned to Batavia, having each of them separately, after parting company by the way, sailed backwards and forwards again and again, and landed parties at several points along the coast. They had also continually fired signal guns night and day, without, however, discovering either any Dutchmen or the wreck of the vessel. The only things seen were some few planks and blocks, with a piece of the mast, a taffrail, fragments of barrels, and other objects scattered here and there along the coast, and supposed to be remnants of the wreck. The crew of the Emeloort also saw at different points five black men of extremely tall stature, without however daring to land there. Thus of this expedition again the only result was, that the crew of the Waeckende Boey abandoned a boat with fourteen of their comrades, including the upper steersman, and that in a manner but too reckless as it afterwards proved and as we shall presently show. The boat having been sent to land, and not returning within twenty-four hours, they concluded that it must have been dashed against the cliffs and all hands perished; the more so as, on returning to the same place five days afterwards, and firing several signal-guns landwards, no men or signs of men were seen. But from the report of four of their number who afterwards arrived at Japara by way of Mataram, it appeared that the unfortunate men, seeing themselves abandoned by their ship and finding no other resource left, resolved at last to steer for the coast of Java. Accordingly having repaired their boat, as best they might, with sealskins, and provided themselves with a little water and seals' flesh, they set out on the 10th of April and arrived on the 28th of the same month on the south side of that island. But of their number at that time eleven only remained, three having perished of thirst on the way, whilst four others in the first instance, and afterwards two, who had been made to swim ashore in search of water had not returned, either from obstinacy or because they were killed by the natives. On the following day, the boat was dashed to pieces on the beach by a heavy sea when the above four men, without having met either with the seven above-mentioned or any other men, took their way westward along the coast and continued to march for two months in a very weak and exhausted condition, until they at last met with men who brought them to Mataram.

Among the number of those who returned was the upper steersman, Abraham Leeman van Santwigh. Of the remaining seven nothing more was heard.

It afterwards appeared from the diaries of the before-mentioned galliots that, notwithstanding the strong injunctions to that effect laid down in their instructions, proper care had not been taken by them to keep together, so as to render assistance to each other in case of accident and to combine in using the most effectual means for landing and exploring the coast.

The Fiscal of India was ordered to consult further with the Council of Justice on the subject, but the General and Council were of opinion that the unfortunate men from the ship De Draeck must one and all have perished long ago, since no traces of them had been discovered throughout the whole length of the coast. Consequently all thoughts of any further special expeditions were given up, the more so as the two former ones had proved so disastrous. Orders, however, were given that any galliot or light fly-boat should seize any opportunity of touching there in favourable weather once more on their way from this country, to see if any clue to the missing men might perchance be found.

The log-books of the galliots were sent over, together with an extract from that of the fly-boat Elburgh, as far as related to the Southland, together with the small charts of the coast.

We shall now enter into a few further particulars with a view to the fuller elucidation of the subject. According to the journal of Aucke Pietersz Jonck, skipper of the galliot Emeloort, they sighted land while at a distance of four miles from the shore, on the 8th of March, at 300 25' south latitude, the south point lying E.S.E., and the north point N.E. by N. They also saw smoke rising towards the E.S.E., whereupon they fired three guns and hoisted a large flag on the mainmast. At night a fire was again seen at N.E. by E. On the 9th, a fire on shore was again seen and answered with a signal of three guns and the boat was launched with a crew of nine hardy men and the steersman, provisioned for eight days; on their approach the smoke or fire disappeared, whereupon they returned on board. This fire was at a distance of two miles from the former one. Nine signal-guns were then fired from the ship, and afterwards three at night. A light was also hung aloft during the night but no signs were observed on land.

On the 10th, the boat was again sent ashore and a large fire again seen on the beach, at the same place as on the previous day upon which a gun was fired every hour from the ship and a flag hoisted. About two hours elapsed before the boat could reach the shore. Fires at four different points were again seen from the ship during the night, one of which continued burning throughout the night, and several musket-shots were fired.

The boat's crew related that they had come across three huts, and had encountered five persons of tall stature and imposing appearance, who made signs to them to approach; this, however, from distrust of their intentions, they did not venture to do. On their returning again to the boat these people followed them down to the beach, but were afraid to enter the boat. Much brushwood was seen on shore by this party and in some places crops of growing grain which they set fire to, also portions of land under cultivation; no fruits, however, were noticed, but merely a few herbs of an agreeable smell. Further inland they saw neither fresh water nor trees, but numerous sandy downs; at night also many fires. After having gone three miles along the shore as well as inland without meeting any misadventure, they again proceeded with the ship under sail, but saw no signs of anything remarkable along the coast from latitude 33° 30' to 30° 25'. There they went again on shore with the same result. This prolonged investigation proved altogether fruitless with regard both to the lost ship and the crew. The natives they encountered were men of stalwart frame, naked, and very dark-skinned; they wore a headdress forming a kind of crown, but with no covering on any part of their bodies except their middle. They then returned, the crew beginning to suffer very much chiefly from sore eyes. They left the cliff Tortelduyf on the starboard side. On the 15th of March they saw many gulls, entirely black, but of small size, and on the 17th, several wag-tails. On the 26th, the point Wynkoopbergen lay to the W.N.W. of them, distant three miles. They continued to coast along at a distance of four, five, six or seven miles, and would have again touched land had the weather permitted.

On the 14th of April they made for the west point of Java, and there fell in again with the Waeckende Boey, which had lost its boat and schuyt and fourteen men, and had got some timber from the Vergulde Draeck at 31° 15' south latitude, without having perceived anything else.

Further, from the journal of the Waeckende Boey it appears, that having arrived on the 23rd of February 1658, at 31° 40', they saw land at a distance of eight miles from them, bore down upon it and found it to be an island about three miles distant from the mainland. On the 24th, they came to anchor in seventeen fathoms water and launched the boat, there being a bar between the ship and the shore. On the 25th, they still lay at 31° 20'.

On the 26th, on the return of the boat from the shore, the steersman reported many signs of the lost ship Draeck, but neither footpaths no any places where traces of human beings had been left were discovered, notwithstanding they had been in all directions both inland and along the coast. They further reported that wood and other objects, portions of boxes, etc., a barrel, and other things had been found; also a number of pieces of plank, standing upright in a circle. Having weighed anchor they sailed along the coast, and on that occasion their schuyt had capsized and lost.

On the 27th, when about two miles from the coast, latitude 31° 14 minutes, the boat was sent on shore, and returned with the report that nothing had been observed but a reef about 2/3 (of a mile?) off the coast seawards.

On the 28th, having arrived at 30° 40', and several fires having been seen on land, the boat was again sent out. The steersman reported that nothing had been observed but a great smoke, and that they had been unable to land with the boat owing to the violence of the surf. Having descried the Emeloort in the offing, they returned with her.

March 2nd, at 30° 6', the Emeloort was separated from them in the night and was lost sight of. On the 5th, they were driven by stormy weather round the south.

The weather continuing cold and wet, they resolved to serve out extra rations of rum to each man.

On the 8th, the weather grew grey and cold. They supposed themselves to be in 31° 47'. The 18th, saw land to the eastward, being about 31° 49'. At sunset they came to anchor under a north-easterly point of the island, half a mile from land.

On the 19th, a boat was put off in the direction of the island; the steersman reported its being well wooded, but that no good landing place had been met with, the coast being surrounded by rocky reefs.

Two seals were seen there also one wild cat, and the excrements of other animals. On the 20th, a boat was sent on shore well-manned; the following day several signal-guns were fired, and in the evening the boat returned to the ship bringing with it a piece of the mast of the Draeck, and again returning to land after taking in a supply of provisions, brought back a part of the round-top, a block, and other trifling objects.

On the 22nd, they again sent to shore. At night it blew hard, the waves running very high. A gun was fired and a light hung out as a guide to the boat on its return. They ran great risk of driving upon the rocks. At midnight, the cable parting, another anchor was dropped.

On the 23rd, the weather being still boisterous, and they themselves in great distress and nothing seen of the boat, fears were entertained that it might have capsized or been dashed against the rocks. They were afterwards compelled to cut their cable and run out to sea.

On the 27th, they sighted the island again, and ran so near the coast that they might have been seen by a man on the beach. Several guns were fired toward the place where the boat had last gone to land, but neither sign nor sound being observed, it was taken for certain that they had been lost, and resolved that they should sail along the coast toward Batavia. The fire was again seen at dusk close to the sea-line which they supposed to have been lighted by the crew of the Draeck or the Waeckende Boey, as no such fire had been seen before. A gun was fired, whereupon another fire close to the first became visible. But having neither boat nor schuyt, it was impossible to land and equally so to come to anchor the bottom being coral-rock.

On the 29th, they found themselves at some distance to the north of the point where the fire was seen. The coast became more level as they proceeded, and they sailed along the shore till sunset, when they again ran further out to sea; in the course of the second watch they passed the Tortelduyf cliff, the surf breaking on it being plainly visible.

On the 30th, the weather not permitting them to run close in, they remained at some distance off shore. On the 31st, they were distant five miles from the Dirck Hertogs Reede, and on April 10th arrived at Java.*

* From another extract from these MS. logbooks at the Hague, which was made at the editor's request, there was an additional observation of importance which is here omitted. Three times Captain Jonck speaks of a southern current running along the coast, which struck his attention in these seas. Among other passages he speaks of it in these terms: "We had deviated from our course fifteen minutes to the south, and this we attributed to a southern current, which we have observed several times on this coast, which is a strange thing, the [ship?] being drawn by the current in spite of the wind and the waves." Elsewhere he estimates the force of this current at ten miles in the twenty-four hours.]

From the journal of the above-mentioned Abraham Leeman, steersman of the Waeckende Boey, it appears that they first sighted the Southland on the 22nd of Jebruary, 1656, went several times on shore with the boat, and on one occasion, on the 20th of March, having again landed, they went inland in a northerly direction and in searching along the beach found there pieces of plank, lids of boxes, staves of water-barrels and butter-casks, and other objects of trifling importance The heat on that day was excessive, so much so that one of the men fainted. They also found similar planks, staves, etc., in an enclosure. They then encountered a heavy sea; which prevented their returning on board their vessel, and were obliged to sail along the cliffs in the utmost peril. Owing to the dangerous nature of the coast they were obliged to keep themselves alive by eating seals' flesh, gulls, etc., and from want of fresh water, they were compelled to supply its place by sea-water and their own urine. At last they were compelled to undertake a perilous voyage across the ocean in their little shallop, and at length reached Batavia by way of Mataram and Japara.

Moreover the General and Council recount, in their general letter of the 14th of December, 1658, that the fly-boat Elburg, when on its way hence, had come upon the Southland in 31½° latitude, and had been obliged, on account of wind and the heavy sea, to anchor about two miles and a half off the coast in twentytwo fathoms water, not without great danger. Twelve days afterwards they again got into open sea; and in latitude 33° 14' found a commodious anchorage under a projecting corner of the island in twenty fathoms water. The skipper, steersman, with the sergeant and six soldiers went ashore and found three black men round a fire, dressed in skins, like the native of the Cape of Good Hope. They could not however get to speak to them. Three small hammers were also found there, with wooden handles and heads of hard stone fastened to the stem by a sort of gum-lack, strong enough to break a man's skull. A little further inland stood some huts but no more men were seen. In several places they found fresh water, and here and there a great quantity of this gum. The small hammer brought here was found, when rubbed, to be of an agreeable odour and of a reddish colour.

Lastly we have to notice that according to certain printed accounts, the ship Batavia, having sailed hence to Batavia, ran very unexpectedly, on the 4th of June of the following year, 1659 in the morning hours, latitude 281/3, on the dangerous shoals of the Abrolhos, commonly called with us Frederick Houtman's Cliffs, and was wrecked. The crew however reached in safety some small islands which lay near. No fresh water was found there, but the boat with some men having left the island, say in 24° latitude, smoke rising and observed black men on the shore.