In mid-July the current Rooswijk project began with diving on site. Two diving sessions were undertaken resulting in the raising and registration of over 6000 objects. In mid August a meeting was held between Mr Cowan, the Receiver of Wreck and representatives of the Dutch Ministry of Finance. It was agreed that the Government of the Netherlands were the rightful owners of the vessel, cargo and ships fittings, and that the contract between them and Mr Cowan was one of reuniting objects with their rightful owner. It was agreed that a copy of all of the artefact database and photographs would be made for the Receiver, and that in addition all of the items deemed to be personal would be listed separately, and that discussions regarding the reasons behind the selection process would be both open and negotiable. Regarding these, it was agreed that the Dutch Ministry of Finance would seek advice from their Cultural Heritage Board, and would endeavour to keep these together within a museum or museums chosen by that board. The potential for donating a small selection of objects for a local museum where the wreck could be seen in the context of the history of wrecks within the Goodwin Sands was discussed and promised, although a particular museum was not identified. The artefacts raised during 2004 were given to the project for archaeological registration and conservation by the project’s conservator, Ton van der Horst. These were shown to all parties, together with those raised in 2005.
This project highlights the intricacies between the rights of salvage (with two separate salvors, Mr Welling and Mr Cowan), the commercial interests and the cultural heritage of the States of the Netherlands and the wreck within the context of underwater cultural heritage of the Goodwins. It is compounded by the fact that much of the material visible on the seabed is in the form of specie. This wreck must be considered a vessel carrying substantial amounts of ‘treasure’, and indeed, had the vessel been put forward for designation under English legislation, as so little is known of the portage of silver ingots specifically cast to be shipped to the Indies to be re-smelted into local currency, it may well have been her cargo of ‘treasure’ which would be considered as at least one of the primary reasons for designation. Structurally there are isolated elements of structure visible on the surface, some large coherent elements consisting of outer hull planking, frames and inner planking, but all isolated elements, with worn edges. Although certain elements include timbers relating to the lower gun deck, amongst these are many structural indicators suggest that erosion at least in the west is well below orlop deck level, these include three large (lower) rudder pintles, and elements of thin outer hull sheathing. More complete examples of VOC vessels of this period are already scheduled. As with many wrecks carrying bullion, often the financial considerations of reuniting a cargo of specie with its rightful owner (salvage) overrides the cultural heritage desire to leave a site untouched. Unlike many sites, the exposure of this particular site and its location (within a well dived area easily accessed by English, Belgian and French divers) puts it in the category of being under threat both naturally and due to the potential of diver interference. To control this, even if the site was protected, would be physically impossible.
Identification of the vessel as that of the Rooswijk is circumstantial. Of the three Dutch vessels known to have foundered within this overall area, Rooswijk is the only one that could have sunk during an easterly and ended up in this particular location. She is also the only one listed with a large amount of both silver ingots and coinage, together with cut stone blocks and iron bars. The range of dates found on the coins all fit in with the sinking date of early 1740, as does evidence of the alteration of old side plates on the Company muskets for re- use on newer stocks
The Rooswijk was a ‘retour’ ship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) belonging to the Chamber of Amsterdam. It was on her second voyage to the Indies. The monogram for this chamber and the company is illustrated on the silver ingot below. The Rooswijk departed from Texel on 8th January 1740 and was wrecked on the Goodwin Sands on the 9th.
The vessel carried a general cargo similar to many outward-bound vessels and was armed with 30 large guns. Unfortunately, the full inventory has not yet been found within the Dutch archives, however, it is known that the cargo included a number of cut stone blocks, iron bars and trading monies for the Indies. As is often the case, there is more information regarding the trading monies. This included 30 chests of silver bars with 50 bars in each chest and 10 chests containing four bags each of ‘Mexicans’ or reales. This term was used generally (but not exclusively) to describe coins minted in Mexico City, and particularly, those machine pressed coins known as pillar dollars.
The vessel would have been loaded in December 1739, and would have included coins minted in the New World up to 1739, although the majority would probably be earlier than this. A similar skew of dates around the date of loading has been found on all VOC shipwrecks discovered all over the world. English newspapers contained news of the wreck, describing it as a complete loss, with all passengers and crew having gone down with the vessel. Furthermore, there are no records of any salvage attempts, including contemporary diving, having taken place. The position of the wreck is given as ‘the South-East part of the North-sands Head on the Goodwin Sands’. There are records of cargo and debris coming ashore at various places near the wreck site.
The location of the wreck found in the described area. Cut stone blocks have been noted on the seabed, together with iron bars, guns and anchors. A number of chests have been seen. Two complete chests recovered contain 50 silver bars all bearing the VOC Amsterdam chamber mark. Bars of silver from other shipwrecks including the Slot der Hoge confirm that bars aboard retour ships carried the monogram of the particular chamber of origin – in this case – Amsterdam.
The VOC marked some (but by no means all of its cargo stores and apparel etc) with its monogram, this has been found on a number of artefacts.
Each one of the 553 silver bars recovered to date carries the monogram of the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC (see photograph above). Some of them are marked with the silver fineness in 1000th parts. The first digit i.e. 9 is not included, but the latter indicates its purity e.g. ‘50’. In the Hague archives of the VOC evidence has been found that in August 1739 it was ordained that two assayers should evaluate the silver fineness. Several bars contain two assayer marks – this indicates the wreck must have taken place after that date.
One Pillar Dollar has been recovered and this is part of the consignment described as ‘Mexicans’. This coin is dated 1735 and was minted in Mexico.
A relatively complete musket has been recovered with a side plate bearing the VOC monogram with the Chamber of Amsterdam, ‘A’. The particular importance of this object for dating purpose is that the musket side plate was an adapted design with the left screw hole off cut at an oblique angle to fit the new design of musket. Several of these have been found on the wreck of the Hollandia 1743.
Of the four other VOC ships known to have been wrecked on the Goodwin Sands, none corresponds either with indications of the position of this wreck or the cargo of silver bars and cut stone. Furthermore, the detailed description of the packaging of the silver bars for the Rooswijk is similar to the archaeological evidence.
The contemporary account of the wreck places it in the position of the current site – and that account names the wreck and the Chamber. This is confirmed by numerous archaeological recoveries to date.
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