PhD candidate McCarthy stated, “Since their discovery in the 1960s and ‘70s, these shipwrecks have been studied intensively but there are still many gaps in our knowledge due to the fragmentary nature of the archaeological evidence. Less than 20 contemporary models of these ships are known to survive globally, mostly held in Dutch museums. Our aim is to survey as many of these beautiful models as possible and to apply cutting-edge techniques to do so with maximum detail and precision.”
Many secrets about the Dutch East India ships remain unknown, but McCarthy and van Duivenvoorde said the Ship Shapes program would help to uncover new information. Van Duivenvoorde wrote Dutch East India Company Shipbuilding, an award-winning book on the archaeological evidence for these ships, which provides information about 50 Dutch East India shipwrecks found in oceans around the world. Unfortunately for maritime archeologists, many of the remains have been destroyed by natural decay or through uncontrolled treasure hunting. An in-depth study and analysis of the scale models will help to provide valuable information on the intricate design and decoration of the ships.
Associate Professor van Duivenvoorde talks about the artistic significance of the scale models:
“The models are also fascinating in their own right as objects of art and incredible craftsmanship, originating from the same artistic period that gave us Rembrandt and Vermeer. Each one was built for different reasons and has its own story to tell.”
The Dutch East India Company was founded as a charter company in the Dutch Republic in 1602 and is also known as the United East India, Dutch Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC). Their purpose was to protect trade in the Indian Ocean and to assist in the Dutch war of independence from Spain. In addition, the Dutch government granted the company a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade.
Throughout most of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch East India Company controlled trade in the Indian Ocean and were the first to Europeans to discover the Australian coast in 1606. However, due to powerful trade winds, many ships traveled too far east toward dangerous reefs off the west coast of Australia, leading to many tragic shipwrecks. The shipwrecks have been a major focus among Australian maritime archaeologists and have provided insight into the early presence of Europeans on the Australian continent.
Not all of the known shipwrecks in Australian waters have been discovered, but four main wrecks include the Batavia (1629), the Vergulde Draak (1656), the Zuiddorp (1712) and the Zeewijk (1727). This has led to a signed agreement on joint management between the Netherlands and Australia, who will oversee the discovery and preservation of relics and other information found in the shipwrecks. Fieldwork of the Dutch shipwrecks Zeewijk and Batavia is currently in process by Dutch and Australian maritime archaeologists from the Western Australian Museum and Flinders University as part of the ‘Shipwrecks of the Roaring ’40s’ project.
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