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The Zuytdorp, also Zuiddorp (meaning "South Village," after Zuiddorpe, an extant village in the South of Zeeland in the Netherlands, near the Belgian border) was an 18th-century trading ship of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, commonly abbreviated VOC.)

Flag of the Dutch East India Company.svgDutch Republic
Name: Zuytdorp
Owner: Dutch East India Company
Fate: Wrecked at the Zuytdorp Cliffs in 1712
Recovered coins struck in 1711

On 1 August 1711[1] the Zuytdorp 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 travelled a "fast route" using the strong Roaring Forties winds to carry them across the Indian Ocean to within sight of the west coast of Australia, (then called New Holland) whence they would turn north towards Batavia.

The Zuytdorp never arrived at its destination and was never heard from again. No search was undertaken, presumably because the VOC did not know whether or where the ship wrecked or if taken by pirates. Previous expensive, but fruitless, attempts were made to search for other missing ships, even when an approximate wreck location was known. In the mid-20th century, the Zuytdorp's wreck site was identified on a remote part of the Western Australian coast between Kalbarri and Shark Bay, approximately 40 km (25 mi) north of the Murchison River. This rugged section of coastline, subsequently named the Zuytdorp Cliffs, was the preserve of Indigenous inhabitants and one of the last wildernesses until sheep stations were established there in the late 19th century.

The location of the Zuytdorp off the coast of Western Australia.

Perhaps a violent storm occurred causing the Zuytdorp to wreck on a desolate section of the West Australian coast. Survivors scrambled ashore and camped near the wreck site. With no European settlements on the coast the survivors built bonfires from the wreckage to signal passing trading ships. Fires seen in the vicinity tended to be dismissed as "native fires" as in the case of Vergulde Draeck in 1656.

It has been speculated that survivors may have traded with or intermarried with local Aboriginal communities between Kalbarri and Shark Bay.[2]

Intermarriage may have occurred in the case of the infamous VOC Batavia, wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos islands. After a mutiny, atrocities, massacres and trials, two of the mutineers were marooned on the Australian mainland, near the Murchison River (for details about these two mutineers see castaway).

News of an unidentified shipwreck on the shore surfaced in 1834 when Aborigines told a farmer near Perth about a wreck – the colonists presumed it was a recent wreck and sent rescue parties who failed to find the wreck or any survivors.

In 1927, wreckage was seen by an Indigenous-European family group (Ada and Ernest Drage, Tom and Lurleen Pepper and Charlie Mallard) from a clifftop near the border of Murchison house and Tamala Stations. Tamala Station head stockman, Tom Pepper reported the find to the authorities, with their first visit to the site occurring in 1941. In 1954 Pepper gave Phillip Playford directions to the wreckage. Playford identified the relics as from Zuytdorp.

The Western Australian Museum's workEdit

Investigations by the Western Australian Museum initially concentrated on recovering the silver deposits. When salvage work ceased in 1981, a watch-keeper was appointed to guard the site. Work recommenced in 1986 led by Dr M. (Mack) McCarthy (with the Museum's chief diver Geoff Kimpton). Soon after the program entered a multi-disciplinary phase. Phillip Playford joined the salvage work as did pre-historians including Kate Morse, terrestrial historical archaeologists, including Fiona Weaver, Tom Pepper Jr., surveyors, the Department of Land Administration, and artists. Oral histories were recorded with station identities, including relatives of the Pepper, Drage, Blood, Mallard and other Indigenous families involved with the wreck. Foremost in this new phase was the attention paid to the possibilities of European-Indigenous interaction and the movement of survivors away from the wreck. Phillip Playford's book, Carpet of Silver: The Wreck of the Zuytdorp was produced as part of the Museum's research. The book won awards with reprint editions.[3] Radio personality Bill Bunbury reviewed the wreck and consequences in the chapter A Lost Ship – Lost People: The Zuytdorp Story in the book Caught in Time: Talking Australia History. The Museums in both Fremantle and at Geraldton present exhibitions on the wreck, a website, and reports. An exhibition was also produced for the Kalbarri heritage centre. Due to the logistical difficulties and the advent of Health and Safety legislation, the Zuytdorp in-water program ceased in 2002, though work on land and in the laboratory remains active.[4][5] There is 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, the inscription is considered a modern artefact. Details appear on Museum's reports series and Zuytdorp website.[6]

Recently Ernie Dingo visited the site to learn more about the estranged father Tom Pepper Jr and his grandparents Tom Snr and Lurlie Pepper. This investigation appears in a 2018 edition of Who Do You Think You Are.

The site, one of the few restricted zones under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, requires a permit to visit and remains under regular surveillance.

Dutch-Aboriginal intermarriage theoryEdit

In 1988, an American woman who had married into the Mallard family 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 initially confined to Afrikaners and that all cases of the disease in South Africa were traceable to Gerrit Jansz and Ariaantjie Jacobs, who had married in The Cape in 1688.

The Zuytdorp arrived at the Cape in March 1712 where it took on more than 100 new crew. 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 was 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.[7] The research concluded the mutations were not inherited from shipwrecked sailors.

The presence of similar European genetic maladies in the Aboriginal population (such as Ellis–van Creveld syndrome) as from VOC shipwreck survivors is also doubtful. Dutch-Indigenous links, via the VOC wrecks are less plausible because of the importation of hundreds of divers for use in the West Australian pearling industry in the mid-to-late 19th century. Incorrectly called Malays, these indentured labourers came from the islands north of Australia, many via the port of Batavia. One vessel, the SS Xantho for example, brought 140 Malay boys aged 12–14 for use in the pearling industry. They boarded at Batavia where diseases (including genetic diseases) had been introduced by VOC personnel into the local population since 1600. In addition, many Malay pearlers remained on the coast and some intermarried with Aboriginal people at Shark Bay. Therefore it is equally possible that genetic links between Australian Aborigines and the Dutch can be traced to those sources. The possibility Aboriginal groups joined survivors from Zuytdorp or mutineers from the Batavia inspired the Walga Rock ship painting was a popular belief. This theory has been challenged as new evidence points to the image being a steamship, possibly SS Xantho.

Commemorative plaqueEdit

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ zuytdorp.html Archived 17 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Select Committee on Ancient Shipwrecks" (PDF). Western Australian Legislative Assembly. 17 August 1994. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 February 2008. Retrieved 21 February 2008.
  3. ^ Playford, 1959, op. cit & Playford, P.E., 1996. Carpet of Silver: The Wreck of the Zuytdorp. UWA Press Nedlands.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Reproduced as Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Museum, report No. 256 Zuytdorp: Unfinished business[permanent dead link][permanent dead link], M. McCarthy, 2009.
  6. ^ "Zuiddorp (Zuytdorp)". Western Australian Museum. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  7. ^ 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 21 February 2008.
  8. ^ "Official Unveiling of the Zuytdorp Commemorative Plaque". Kalbarri Development Association. Archived from the original on 11 April 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012.


  • 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 linksEdit

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