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stepping stones of maritime history

History

The Amsterdam was an 80-gun warship built in Amsterdam in 1806. It was originally called Leeuw but was refit in 1814 and renamed Amsterdam. The Amsterdam was on a return journey from Batavia to the Netherlands in 1817 when its sails were ripped apart and its masts broken in a violent storm. This resulted in damage to the hull and the Amsterdam started to leak badly. On reaching Algoa Bay, a small boat was used to land the women and children on board, as well as the ship’s papers.

To prevent foundering, the captain ran the ship ashore just before nightfall. Only three men were lost, and 217 reached the shore safely. The vessel subsequently broke up during the night of 19-20 December. The survivors were then assisted by the Uitenhage magistrate and officers from Fort Frederick.

The nearby region of Amsterdam Hoek was named after the wrecking of the Amsterdam. It is also reported that a table made from the wood of the Amsterdam is housed at Cuyler Manor Museum in Uitenhage. Sources also identify the captain as the son of the founder of the Hofmeyr family in the Cape, and an uncle of "Onze Jan" Hofmeyr, the famous Cape Statesman.

Description

The ship was initially given the name Leeuw, then Commerce van Amsterdam under the Kingdom of Holland; then Commerce d' Amsterdam after its annexation to France; before it was given the name Amsterdam in 1814.

MasterHermanus Hofmeijer
People on board220
Length194.9 feet (59.4 m)
Width50.9 feet (15.5 m)

Status

In May 1985, a large wreck washed open at Bluewater Bay in Algoa Bay after a high spring tide and strong winds. The Port Elizabeth Museum (now the Bayworld Museum), along with local divers. Due to the instability of the site and rapid site vandalization, the wreckage was excavated and transported to the museum. Further remains were noted further up in the sand dunes, but these have not been seen since.

The hull section was lifted by crane onto a truck where it was covered in foam to keep it wet. The wreck was initially stored and sprayed with water for seven years but eventually was allowed to gradually dry out and was put on display at the museum.

Jenny Bennie, who oversaw the excavation and conservation of the wreck, suspects that most of the ship was salvaged at the time of wreckage. Some flotsams, including porcelain sherds, occasionally still washes up from the beach. An octant was also found on the beach around 2012 in the area where the Amsterdam washed open. Research shows that it is of the same time period of the Amsterdam so it might be associated with the wreck.

Three iron cannons were recovered at the time of the Amsterdam excavation. One is in Uitenhage and was nearly stolen in 2016. The other two came up on auction in Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) in the 1990s. The museum tried to buy the cannons for R1 000 but the cannons sold for R69 000 to a buyer who apparently intended to put them on the gate at his house in Johannesburg.

Teak on the outer hull indicates that the section on display in the Bayworld Museum was indeed from the Amsterdam, as the records show that the ship was fitted out with a layer of teak planking to help protect the hull from marine boring worms common to warmer waters.

Section of the hull of the Amsterdam

References

  • Koek, F.B. (KNMI); KNM.
    Amsterdam 1817 : Reis van Indonesie naar Nederland.
  • Lesa la Grange, Martijn Manders, Briege Williams, John Gribble and Leon Derksen (2024).
    Dutch Shipwrecks in South African Waters: A Brief History of Sites, Stores and Archives [Unpublished].

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