Search and survival: Abraham Leeman and the Vergulde Draeck

The power of nature wrought wild on the high seas. Ships in a storm on a rocky coast, Jan Porcellis, 1614–18. Courtesy Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm.

The power of nature wrought wild on the high seas. Ships in a storm on a rocky coast, Jan Porcellis, 1614–18. Courtesy Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm.

Bad luck and bravery

Dutch explorers and traders in the 17th century knew to their cost the dangers of sailing near the Great South Land. A humble and tenacious sailor named Abraham Leeman experienced the worst that these treacherous coasts had to offer – not once but twice.

In the hours before dawn on 28 April 1656, a Dutch East India (VOC) ship called the Vergulde Draeck struck an uncharted reef on her way to Batavia (now Jakarta) and sank off the coast of what is now called Western Australia, but was then an enigmatic landmass scarcely known to Europeans – the fabled Great South Land. In an era when the calculation of longitude was fraught with difficulty and error, this was a tragic event yet not a shocking one. The VOC had lost some 168 ships in the previous decade to various misfortunes, and this latest wreck was further proof of the occupational hazards for those who made their living by the sea.

The disappearance of the Vergulde Draeck could have remained an unsolved mystery for Joan Maetsuycker, the newly appointed Governor General of Batavia, and yet another loss for him to explain to the company council back in Amsterdam. But on 7 June 1656 a small boat carrying seven starving, dehydrated and exhausted men arrived to tell an incredible tale. The leader of this bedraggled group is believed to have been Abraham Leeman, who had been the Vergulde Draeck’s under-steersman, or second officer.*

Leeman explained how the ship had been wrecked upon a reef and that he and his men had managed to sail a small open boat to Batavia, spending over a month at sea. What was more, they were not the only survivors. They had left 68 other men and women, including the ship’s captain, alive on a shore on the Southland.

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Reflections on a piece of pewter: The Hartog plate

Dirk Hartog plate, 1600–1616

Dirk Hartog plate, 1600–1616. Tin alloy (metal), 36.5 cm (diameter). Reproduced courtesy Rijksmuseum

This week a very special piece of pewter is coming to the museum … the Hartog plate, on loan from the Rijksmuseum to mark 400 years since Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog made the first recorded European landing on the west coast of Australia in October 1616. As a testimony of his visit, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate that is recognised as the oldest European artefact found on Australian soil.

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Illuminating Dirk Hartog

Dirk Hartog's plate envelops the ANMM rooftop in A chance encounter roof projection, 2016. Photographer Andrew Frolows/ANMM

Dirk Hartog’s plate envelops the museum’s rooftop in ‘A chance encounter’ roof projection, 2016. Photographer Andrew Frolows/ANMM.

Last Thursday night saw the launch of the museum’s latest roof projection, A chance encounter, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog’s landing on the west coast of Australia in the VOC ship Eendracht. To mark his landfall on 25 October 1616, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate in Shark Bay, Western Australia, which provides tangible evidence of one of the earliest European encounters with Australia.

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Commemorating Dirk Hartog’s chance encounter

Dirk Hartog plate, 1616. Tin (metal), 36.5 cm (diameter). Reproduced courtesy Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Dirk Hartog plate, 1616. Tin (metal), 36.5 cm (diameter). Reproduced courtesy Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Four hundred years ago, Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog (1580–1621) sailed into history when, on 25 October 1616, he made the first documented European landing on the west coast of Australia in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Eendracht (‘Concord’ or ‘Unity’). Today his name is synonymous with the inscribed ‘Hartog plate’ that marked his landfall at Cape Inscription on Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay, Western Australia. This evocative pewter relic, now held in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, provides tangible evidence of one of the earliest European encounters with the mysterious Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown southern land.
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Maritime landscapes

If you have a minute, take a look at this shot with me. It’s a maritime scene – and not a cross between a really bad accident on the Persian rug or a promising entry for the Sulman Prize! It’s been cropped a bit and I’ve fiddled the contrast and colours to give it more impact, but the rest is what the camera and I saw.

Photo taken from plane shows red dessert coastline of Western Australia

5 pm 13 July. Photographer D Payne

This was taken in mid July, 35000 feet up, window seat 41K in a Boeing 777, three hours or so from Singapore, on the way home from holidays, with pleasant memories of European landscapes recorded in 300 or so snaps of idyllic scenery, all as promised in the travel brochures. But no one mentioned this scene, and it seems to top them all. What’s going on down there?

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Western Australian vessels tell their stories

A Seminar on Western Australia’s maritime industries, their craft and their people

Fishing, pearling, sailing and trading … the boats listed on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels from Western Australia have done all of this and more, and on 15th November an ARHV seminar on this theme, held in in Fremantle in association with the Western Australian Museum and the Australian Association for Maritime History will bring the stories onto the stage as people associated with them speak from personal experience.

Meanwhile the vessels can talk too, and the Australian Register of Historic Vessels is one way they can put a voice to their background, along with their related designers, builders and events.

Trixen and Intombi are both pearling luggers, each with two lives to tell. Both were first built in the very early 1900s and served their time up north on the Broome pearling fields. Intombi was there from 1903 through to 1931 and during various changes in ownership it belonged to the well known firm Streeter and Male. Meanwhile Trixen was built for pearling master Penn Blick who had come from South Africa.

Intombi off Cable Beach 2009

Intombi off Cable Beach 2009

Intombi was originally built by Chamberlain and Cooper while Trixen’s first builder is unknown. Both were then built a second time under the guise of being a “repair”, a euphemism by which indentured Japanese shipwrights could build a new vessel. Intombi grew nearly 5 metres during the work, which was carried out using Japanese indentured labour on the Roebuck Bay foreshore at Broome in 1929, and became 15 metres long.  Later on in 1940 Trixen’s then owner Louis Goldie commenced a similar ‘repair’ on his vessel.  Unfortunately the Japanese entry into World War II saw the Japanese shipwrights interned and the reborn Trixen sat out the war as a part built skeleton on the foreshore of Roebuck Bay. Oral histories suggest that Trixen‘s frames still carry the marks of shrapnel from the Japanese air raid on Broome in February 1942.

After the war the unfinished lugger was bought and completed by the firm of Streeter and Male, making Trixen the penultimate Broome lugger built with locally grown kadjebut frames rather than laminates. In the process the length had grown to over 15m and the registered tonnage almost doubled.

Streeter and Male come up regularly with the story of pearling.  George Streeter and Arthur Male formed the firm Streeter and Male Ltd. George Streeter came out to WA as an agent for his father, EW Streeter, a London based jeweller and gem merchant. When he returned to London in 1898 he left Arthur Male to manage the company’s interests and by then they were pastoralists and owned cattle properties including Dampier Downs, and Roebuck Plains as well as working in the pearl shell and fishing.

Streeter’s vessels had been on the west coast since 1884.  Streeter’s jetty was built across the tidal mudflats of Dampier Creek in the late 1880s next to the company’s camp and shell shed. This jetty was used by the pearling industry from the 1920s when there were around 400 pearling luggers in Broome until the 1980s when the fleet had dropped to the last dozen or so craft that worked under sail. In 1989 Streeter and Male Pty Ltd was purchased by Paspaley Pearls Pty Ltd.

Bingarra in the 1950s

Bingarra in the 1950s

Bingarra is a fast motor launch and reminds us that WA was far enough away from the east coast, with the Nullarbor as a physical barrier that they became self-sufficient rather than relying on outside resources. Bingarra’s designer Len Randell is a great example; his early amateur design work was done in spare time away from his job in the Public Works Department of WA. There was no place he could study to become a naval architect in WA, so he submitted examples of his work and a thesis to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects in London. In 1952, he was accredited, becoming an Associate of the RINA and a qualified professional Naval Architect. Randell became one of WA’s most accomplished designers, developing home-grown designs for new materials and new types of craft.  Bingarra was a departure from the planked construction that was normal for motor cruisers in the mid-1950s. The plywood hull is about 10 metres long and the builder was Stewart Ward the father of Steve Ward, builder of the America’s Cup winner Australia II, one of the country’s most recognisable yachts and on display at the Western Australia Maritime Museum.

Kalwa raft WAM

Kalwa raft WAM

The original boats of Western Australia are Aboriginal Kalwa double rafts, used for fishing, hunting and transport in the extreme tidal areas of the Kimberley coastline. Western Australia Museum‘s example E3834 was collected by Henry C Prinscep Chief Protector for the Department of Native Affairs in WA in the early 1900s. The raft is a typical fan of seven logs attached to each other with pegs, and probably made from mangrove wood. It is about 3 metres long but only one fan exists, raising the possibility it is in fact an example of the single fan version documented and featured prominently in W Saville-Kent’s book ‘The Naturalist in Australia’ (1897).  It is the only raft he describes and the image shows a pen at the wider end, with the raft paddled while standing up. It is understood the museum’s craft came from Yampi Sound on the Kimberley coastline of WA.

All of these craft represent different ages of design and construction along the West Australian coastline, and tell fascinating stories of how they were built and how they were used.  Come to the seminar and you will hear more…...

For more information and bookings see HERE

RSVP essential – by Wednesday 13 November

Object of the week: Batavia – Mutiny, madness and murder

Jan Hendrycks confesses that one day he had been called by Jeronimus into his tent and that he gave him to know that at night time he must help him with the murder of the Predikant’s family. At night, Zeevonk has called outside Wiebrecht Clausen, a young girl, whom Jan Hendrycks stabbed with a dagger, and inside, all people – the mother with her six children – had their heads battered in with axes…He said, certainly, I have a knife. So without any objection, Andreas has gone to Myken Soers who was heavily pregnant and threw her underfoot and cut her throat….
~Henrietta DrakeBrockman, Voyage to Disaster, 2006

These words, which appeared in The Disastrous Voyage of the Ship Batavia (1647), are believed to have been written by Commander Francis Pelsaert. The text details the tragic fate that befell the survivors of the wreck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) cargo vessel, Batavia.

In 1628, Batavia departed Texel in Holland for Batavia, carrying a cargo of trade goods, chests of coins and around 332 crew, soldiers and passengers. Francis Pelsaert was in overall command. The captain was the embittered Ariaen Jacobsz who, during the voyage, plotted with a merchant, Jeronimus Cornelisz, to usurp Pelsaert’s command. Before this plan was realised, however, Batavia hit Morning Reef at the Houtman Abrolhos islands, off the Western Australian coast on 4 June 1629.

Approaching the Islands, 1647
ANMM Collection

The crew, passengers and a few supplies were ferried to nearby islands. Despite some loss of life, all the women and children reached land safely. Realising the dire situation, Pelsaert launched a reconnaissance voyage to the mainland in search of fresh water. After this failed, Pelsaert, Jacobsz and 46 crew and passengers sailed for Batavia in a long boat.

Cornelisz seized the moment and took command of the supplies, weapons and survivors on the island later christened Batavia’s Graveyard. It is estimated that over 200 people remained on the island; at least 100 were soldiers and sailors of the VOC and some 25 were youths and children. Cornelisz set his plan in motion. First he dispersed the survivors, ordering about 40 men, women and children to Seal’s Island and about 15 men to Traitor’s Island. Promising he would be back with more supplies, he sent a further 20 men to another island, West Wallabi.

The killings on Batavia’s Graveyard began in the early days of July. In the weeks that followed, Cornelisz and his men brutally raped and murdered around 125 men, women and children. Ghastly accounts have survived, of sick people having their throats cut while they slept and a little girl strangled while her parents dined with Cornelisz.

Wreck of the Batavia – Massacre, 1647
ANMM Collection

Meanwhile, on West Wallabi a leader, Wiebbe Hayes, emerged. Though they were unaware of the killings on Batavia’s Graveyard, a few survivors managed to escape Cornelisz and his gang to seek refuge on West Wallabi. Hayes prepared for a confrontation with Cornelisz by building a fort and making weapons out of the ship’s debris. Several battles ensued in which Hayes and his men emerged the victors and captured Cornelisz as a prisoner. In the meantime, Pelsaert arrived to learn of the events that had occurred on Batavia’s Graveyard and declared, ‘the pack of all disasters has moulded together and fallen on my neck.’

So began the trials and confessions of the murderers. Though Cornelisz adamantly denied all responsibility, he was tortured and confessed to his crimes. Cornelisz and the perpetrators had their hands cut off and were ‘punished with the cord at the gallows’ on Seal’s Island.

Beardman jug, excavated from the wrecksite of the Batavia, c 1629
ANMM Collection

The object of the week is a beardman jugon display in the museum, which was one of several thousand objects salvaged from the wreck of Batavia. The jug features a rose medallion on the body with a bearded man on the neck. This style stoneware, also known as a Bellarmine jug, emerged in Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries. This jug probably contained alcohol and is one of several items in the museum’s collection of coins, armour and musket balls retrieved from the wreck. Though an ornate drinking pitcher, it’s the stories behind this jug that convey the historical significance of the Batavia. The artefacts recovered are more than just remnants from past; they contain whispers of what transpired on that island of horrors – Batavia’s Graveyard.

Nicole Cama, curatorial assistant

Nawi news: Display of historic images

From Wednesday 4 April the full exhibition of Nawi – Exploring Australia’s Indigenous Watercraft will be opened for viewing in the lead up to the conference on indigenous watercraft in late May. The exhibition features Saltwater Freshwater bark paintings, technical drawings of a raft and a dugout canoe, and historic images from a 1929 mining company visit to Cockatoo and Koolan islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago off the Kimberley coast in WA.

The images on display are sourced from a photo album acquired by the museum several years ago at an auction in the United Sates. Considered important for the images of Aboriginal people it held, the album was compiled by an Australian mining company during a series of mining survey expeditions to the Kimberley in 1929 and 1930. The company photographed potential iron ore deposits – for which the Kimberley have since become renowned – and carefully placed the photographs into an album, with handwritten labels.

But the photographers lens quickly turned from the rocky outcrops of ore to the local people who were guiding them. Most of the album is taken up with shots of Dambimangari and Mayala people. Like many European Australians in Australia’s north and west in the early 20th century, the photographer was obviously fascinated with the traditional lifestyles of Aboriginal people.

Two kalwas loaded for a sea journey

The album is full of images of people hunting, fishing, and catching turtle and dugong. Importantly for the Nawi conference, there are several photographs of people in canoes and rafts. With the permission of the Traditional Owners of Cockatoo and Koolan islands, these images of watercraft will be on public display for the first time.

Farewell Fremantle

Tomorrow (6 January) Endeavour will depart Fremantle at 11 am with a new voyage crew onboard, destined for Albany. If you are in the area, please feel free to come down and bid us farewell!

We are due to arrive at Albany Waterfront Marina, Princess Royal Harbour on 12 January and will be open to the public from 14 – 18 January.

Anyone interested in volunteering as a guide or overnight shipkeeper during our Albany port visit, please get in touch. All of the information can be found on our website.

Fair winds!

Bunbury! Last school group port for 2011

The students from Manjimup Education Support Centre were among the lucky 803 students to visit HMB Endeavour while she was in port at Bunbury from 9 – 13 November. As you can see from the photos they loved it! Several of these students had fathers and grandfathers who worked in the timber industry at the time the replica was being built in Fremantle. It really goes to show that this voyage is all about living history.

Manjimup Education Suppport Centre

Manjimup Education Suppport Centre arrive at Endeavour

Manjimup Education Suppport Centre

Manjimup Education Suppport Centre boarding Endeavour

Manjimup Education Suppport Centre

Manjimup Education Suppport Centre onboard Endeavour

The next port where we’ll be open to the public is Albany from 14 – 18 January 2012,  during school holidays. We are now taking school bookings for our visit in Port Lincoln at the start of February 2012. Anyone looking to book in a school visit, please get in touch.

We look forward to seeing you onboard!

The return to Fremantle – be a part of it

Tomorrow, Endeavour returns to Fremantle, the place where this magnificent replica was built. It’s going to be a great day!

Here’s our schedule – we hope you can join us in the welcoming flotilla or at the wharf…

6.30 am – Leave our overnight anchorage at Rottnest Island
10 am – Enter Fremantle inner harbour and be accompanied by a welcoming flotilla – All Welcome
11 am – Arrival at C Shed at Victoria Quay – All welcome
1 pm – Welcome to country alongside vessel

If you can’t make it in person, we’ve extended our live webcam stream for tomorrow, tune in between 9 am-12 pm WA time (12 pm – 3 pm AEDT) at

Volunteer callout: Western Australia

We are in need of additional volunteer visitor guides and overnight shipkeepers  for our upcoming port visits in Western Australia.  No experience is necessary and full training is provided. If you are interested, we’d love to hear from you.

Port dates
Fremantle: 14 Oct – 1 Nov 2011
Bunbury: 9 – 13 Nov 2011
Albany: 14 – 18 Jan 2012

As a guide you will share the history of this great vessel with the visitors onboard Endeavour. Don’t worry – you will be provided information packs and training! You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn after a day onboard Endeavour!

If sleeping in a hammock is more your style, you may like to take on the role of overnight shipkeeper. In a small team you will be responsible for keeping Endeavour safe while in port. Previous maritime experience not necessary and training is provided.

Here’s a piece of advice from a Shane Trimby,  Endeavour volunteer in Cairns:

Just do it. You will love it, the crew will help you with your knowledge of the Endeavour and it will be something that you will never regret doing.”

Read a full interview with Shane and also Kit Edwards, who volunteered as a guide and shipkeeper in Darwin.

Complete an online volunteer application today or contact the museum’s volunteer office for more information on email or fax (02) 9298 3729 or phone (02) 9298 3777.