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New evidence tells a tale of smuggling and reveals who was on board, during major shipwreck excavation.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 15:35

Coin collection from the Rooswijk wreckage


  • Dives start in Kent as excavation of the protected wreck site of the Rooswijk by Dutch and British maritime archaeologists continues
  • Recent discovery of silver coins with small holes deliberately made in them suggests they were sewn into the clothes of the crew to smuggle to the Dutch East Indies
  • Open weekend 11-12 August will allow the public to view extraordinary finds recovered from the wreck that disappeared in 1740 into the ‘great ship swallower’
  • Researchers have identified 19 of the Rooswijk’s crew from documents held in Amsterdam archives
  • Images:

New research has revealed insights into the cargo and crew of the 18th-century Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship the Rooswijk, wrecked off the Kent coast. Maritime archaeologists are diving the site, continuing the excavations started last summer, with the aim of revealing more of the Rooswijk’s story.

The Rooswijk sank on the treacherous Goodwin Sands in January 1740 with all 237 crew lost. Thousands of vessels are known to have been wrecked in this area, dubbed ‘the great ship swallower’.

As a protected wreck site the Rooswijk's remains are owned by the Dutch Government, and managed by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The #Rooswijk1740 project is led by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, in collaboration with Historic England and contractor MSDS Marine. 

Coins tell a tale of smuggling

The Rooswijk set off on its last journey, from the Netherlands to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta), with a lot of silver on board - all of it destined for trade in Asia. The precious metal was in high demand and was exchanged for asian spices and porcelain. The value of the Rooswijk’s known cargo is thought to have been more than 300,000 guilders. The cargo was in the form of silver ingots and ‘pieces of eight’ - Mexican reals – these were minted to a recognised standard weight, making them perfect for international trade.

However, archaeologists have uncovered lots of other, older coins at the wreck site including ducatons from the Republic and the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium) that were not part of the sanctioned cargo. This suggests that the Rooswijk’s passengers and crew were carrying extra silver to trade illegally.

Other coins found during the dives have small holes deliberately made in them, an indication that the crew sewed them into their clothes to smuggle to the Dutch East Indies. Concealing the coins in this way also kept them safely hidden from others on board. At this time we know that people were smuggling silver in their shoes and belts, such was the demand overseas.

Smuggling silver was officially prohibited by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) although it seems to have been common practice by many VOC personnel. It’s thought that by the time the Rooswijk went down, up to half of the money being transported on these ships was illegal. It has been estimated that a total of 20 to 40 million ducatons were illegally shipped to Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Martijn Manders, project leader of #Rooswijk1740, said:

“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. We therefore work closely with our counterpart Historic England.“Our British colleagues are now mainly working on the conservation of the finds in Portsmouth, which is a very important part of the project. The finds help us tell the story of the people on board, we can relate specific personal objects to what they did in general: how they lived, what the circumstances were on board of the ship.

 Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said:

“It’s extraordinary that after more than 270 years we now know the names of some of the people likely to have gone down with the Rooswijk. 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.”

2018 dives

Archaeologists are continuing to investigate the wreck. They are finding more personal items alongside boxes and barrels in the galley behind the main mast. A ‘knee’ - a huge piece of angled wood used to support the deck – has been uncovered and will be investigated and recorded to illustrate the enormous size of the ship. The team is working towards where the stern of the ship should be with dives continuing until mid-August.

A nit comb, lead cheese container, pewter vessels and a chest full of thimbles are some of the personal items that have been conserved since their recovery from the wreck site.

Open weekend 11-12 August 2018

Over the weekend 11-12 August the public will be able to see extraordinary finds from the Rooswijk and explore the techniques and technology the archaeologists are using. Project specialists from conservators and archaeobotanists to zooarchaeologists and material scientists will be on hand to answer questions. Further information:

Material recovered from the wreck site is being taken ashore to a warehouse in Ramsgate where first-aid conservation will be carried out and the items fully recorded. From here finds will be taken to a Historic England storage facility where work to assess, analyse and  conserve them will take place. The finds will be returned to The Netherlands and in future some material may be made available for display in Ramsgate.

The #Rooswijk1740 project contributes to Ramsgate's Heritage Action Zone initiative by providing a focus for community pride, a sense of shared history, and a sense of belonging.

Crew members identified

Researchers in the Netherlands have been able to postively identify and name 19 of the 237 members of the Rooswijk’s crew from documents held in Amsterdam archives. Until now it was only clear that the Rooswijk was under the authority of skipper Daniël Ronzieres, as all other records of the crew and passengers were lost in the shipwreck. Two tibia (leg bones) from two individuals have been recovered from the wreck and there is potential for more human remains to be found.

Dutch genealogists carried out new archive-based research and have been able to identify several more crew members for the first time, and a little more about their lives before tragedy struck. Those identified include a senior surgeon who travelled to the East and back several times (Gerrit Hendrik Huffelman), a 19-year-old on his first VOC voyage (Thomas Huijdekoper) and a sailor who had previously survived a shipwreck (The Westerwijk) at the Cape of Good Hope (Pieter Calmer). We know that the men on board the Rooswijk were born in the Netherlands as well as some coming from German, Swedish and Norwegian backgrounds.

Several crew members of the Rooswijk have been identified thanks to transport letters in the Amsterdam City Archives. Transport letters authorised someone to collect a part of a crew member’s salary from the VOC. It is known that VOC personnel used these letters because of a lack of cash or credit - they used them to pay for accommodation, buy supplies for the trip to Asia or exchange them for cash.

Other indivduals were found because they visited a civil-law notary before setting sail, for example to draft a will. These deeds contain the name of the ship on which the voyage was to take place, linking person and place.

Crew bios (translated from Dutch)

Daniël Ronzieres
Daniël Ronzieres is from Amsterdam, where he was born in 1705 as the son of a button maker. When he is 23 years old, he performs the function of quartermaster on the VOC ship Prattenburg (rank between boatman and sailor). It is possible that Ronzieres has already gained experience at sea in the years before. After his first voyage for the VOC, he is constable (weapon superintendent), understeer and supreme officer on several ships of the Company, before joining in 1740 as skipper on the Rooswijk .

Barend Lont
Barend Lont is supreme officer on the Rooswijk and with that the chief mate on the side of skipper Ronzieres. When he was signed on the ship, the Rotterdam-born in 1706 already had a nice career with the VOC behind him. Already at the age of ten he sailed as a ship's boy with the ship Rotterdam, where his own father as captain is in charge. In the years that followed, he was first a hopper (helper of the sailors) and sailor, and then a third guard (third mate), understeer and supreme officer on various VOC ships.

Michiel Sanders
Michiel Sanders, born in 1715 in Amsterdam, is the son of a sailmaker who works for the VOC, among others. He himself joined the Company at the age of 12 as a ship's boy on the ship Elisabeth. After that experience, travels follow as sailor, third guard and understeer, after which Sanders joins the Rooswijk as understeer .

Laurens Hansen
Third watchman Laurens Hansen is the highest in rank on the Rooswijk with a foreign background. Around 1696 he is born in the Norwegian coastal town of Kristiansand. When Hansen enters into employment with the VOC in 1725, he gets the rank of bosschieter (gunner) on the ship Heesburg. After his return to the Republic, it takes until 1736 before he returns to a VOC ship as a bosschieter, followed by a trip as schiemansmaat (assistant of the schieman). Then he embarks on the Rooswijk .

Antoni Wijland
In addition to Laurens Hansen, Antoni Wijland is also third watchman on the Rooswijk . He was born in Amsterdam in 1713 and started in 1732 as a sailor on the ship Gaasperdam on his first voyage to the VOC. He then stays in Asia for a number of years before returning to the Republic. On his second trip to the East, Wijland has already risen to third watchman, a function that he fulfills again at the Rooswijk .

Cornelis Mazier
Cornelis Mazier is also from Amsterdam, where he was born in 1706. He works as a schieman at the Rooswijk, where he is entrusted with the care for the foremost mast on the ship. His travel experience with the VOC dates back to 1722, when he is part of the crew of the ship Stad Leiden. In the following years, Mazier makes journeys as a sailor and a bosschieter, followed by a period in which he does not work on VOC ships and then a journey as a schieman that starts in 1738.

Pieter Beekman
It is not known which grade Pieter Beekman had on the Rooswijk. Willem-Jan van Grondelle and Els Vermij suspect that he was a quartermaster and otherwise a boatswain (responsible for the supervision of and around the big mast). Beekman, born in 1713, comes from the German city of Flensburg, and in 1733 sails aboard the VOC ship Van Alsum as a sailor. After a few years in Asia he sails back to the Republic.

David Roet
This Swedish crew member of the Rooswijk is born on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. In 1735 he began his career with the VOC as a shooter on the ship Hillegonda. After a second trip in the same position, he boarded the Rooswijk as a boatman's mate.

Martinus van Geldrop
Born in Amsterdam around 1700, Martinus van Geldrop arrives in 1724 as a sailor on the VOC ship Berkenrode . After a long stay in Asia, he sailed back to the Republic, then as a bosschieter again to the East to leave. On his return, Van Geldrop will not sail for the VOC for a few years. His embarkation on the Rooswijk only means his next voyage, after which he retires his old job as a sailor.

Thomas Huijdekoper
Thomas Huijdekoper was born in 1721 and makes his first voyage for the VOC on the Rooswijk, probably as a young sailor. He comes from the Frisian village of Ferwerd and moves to Amsterdam in his youth. His father runs a cloth shop there, but goes bankrupt in 1739.

Hendrik Haas
The background of sailor Hendrik Haas is still largely unclear. It is known that he comes from the German city of Bremen, and that the Rooswijk is probably the first VOC ship he is working on.

Jan Rauw
Jan Rauw is also of German origin. Born in the city of Lübeck in 1737, sailing as a sailor on the ship Oostrust was his first experience with the VOC. On board of the Rooswijk he makes his second trip, again in the position of sailor.

Pieter Calmer
Pieter Calmer is originally from Norway and comes from the city of Drammen near Oslo. In 1733 he joined the VOC as a sailor on the ship Delfland . After arriving in Asia, Calmer stays there a few years before returning to Europe. In the meantime, he survives a shipwreck on the ship Westerwijk at the Cape of Good Hope. Back in the Republic, he again chooses to be a sailor on the Rooswijk.

Matthijs Castermans
Matthijs Castermans is from Maastricht and is present as a corporal at the Rooswijk . For him it is probably the first trip with the VOC. Castermans, born in 1706, is part of the military on board. In rank, for example, he stands above the midshipmen and soldiers, but at the same time also under the sergeant.

Johann Friderich Walter
Soldier Johann Friderich Walter has a German background, because he comes from the city of Hanover. The trip with the Rooswijk is his first for the VOC.

Gerrit Hendrik Huffelman
As a senior surgeon, Gerrit Hendrik Huffelman is responsible for medical care on board the Rooswijk. He is assisted by two helpers: the second and third master. All three have a German background. Huffelman himself possibly comes from the city of Hamm, and in 1726 he joins the VOC. He then sails as third master on the ship Karsenhof and stays in Asia for a few years. After his return to the Republic, he leaves for the East five more times, first as a second master and then as a super surgeon, including on the Rooswijk.

Pieter Mulder
Pieter Mulder is the second master on the ship and probably comes from the German town of Soest near Hamm. Prior to his signing on the Rooswijk , he made two trips with the VOC. He starts in 1734 as third master on the Gaasperdam and fulfills that function on his second journey.

Daniël Georg Groothuijsen
Third master at the Rooswijk is Daniël Georg Groothuijsen. He was born in the German town of Otterndorf at the mouth of the Elbe, and began his first voyage in the service of the VOC. Willem-Jan van Grondelle and Els Vermij found out during their research on Groothuijsen that he had already been the second master, and on a Dutch merchant ship on a trip to the Mediterranean.

Jacobus du Toict
Jacobus du Toict is on board as a sub-merchant and thus belongs to the high ranks on the Rooswijk. Probably he is responsible in that role for the administration of the cargo, the food present and the salaries of the crew. It will also have been his intention to work on a trading post of the VOC after arrival in Asia. Born in Leiden in 1714 it is his first trip in the service of the Company.

Virtual exhibition

In 2018, a virtual exhibition was made for the #Rooswijk1740 project, on behalf of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands in collaboration with Huygens ING, IISG and Maritiem Portal, see