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stepping stones of maritime history


Originally a British ship named Blessing, Avondster was captured during the First Anglo Dutch War (1652-1654) near Persia, and refitted in the Netherlands for VOC use.

Blessing was bought by the English East India Company in 1641, and made journeys to and from Asia from England before her capture by the Dutch. After she was modified and rechristened Avondster, meaning Evening Star, which might refer to her old age at the time, she made journeys from the Dutch holdings in the East Indies to the Netherlands. On a return journey to the Netherlands from Batavia, she sprung a leak, and after repairs, was deemed too old to make the long, arduous journey between East and West, and was retired to smaller, inter-Asian shipping routes. This was often the fate for older ships that were thought to be not seaworthy in the face of such demanding voyages.

On July 2, 1659, Avondster was anchored near Black Fort in Ceylon, modern day Sri Lanka, and her crew was loading a cargo of areca nuts, when she sunk. Although the weather was fine, sometime during the night, she slipped her anchor and hit the shore, at which point she broke in two and was soon submerged in the soft sands of the beach. Dutch records show that a sailor on deck noticed that she was drifting, and tried to wake the captain. The captain was unfortunately too slow, and by the time he gave orders to throw out the warp anchor, it was too late, and Avondster was lost. The captain and first mate were arrested by the Dutch authorities, found at fault for the wreck, and made to pay for the losses of the ship and cargo.

De parel

Archaeological Description

The wreck site of Avondster was discovered and studied in the 1990's, although in depth research began after 2000 as a result of a large, shared-heritage program between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. She lies about 50 meters from the beach, under 4-7 meters of water, and has been the subject of continual excavation since the beginning of the project in 2000.

The wreck of Avondster provides information in many areas of historical research, including repairing customs of ships in Asia, the material culture of a maritime community, regional Asian trade, among others. The wreck site itself is quite well preserved, and it is unusual to find sites that are so complete in tropical waters. Among many other items, yellow bricks were found on the wreck, which is often the first identifier of a Dutch shipwreck. These bricks were used as ballast, and often recycled in buildings in Dutch colonies, where they can sometimes still be seen today. A human skull was also found on the wreck, even though there were no reported casualties at the time of the wreck. This may be the result of an early attempt at salvage. Much work has been done since the beginning of the project in 2000, and a great deal of the site was excavated. Unfortunately, this turned out to be damaging to the remains, as Sri Lanka was among the areas greatly affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. While the artifacts remaining on the ocean floor survived quite well, as they were covered by a protective layer of sand by the tsunami, the artifacts that had been transported to the nearby lab were lost, and the project had to begin again nearly from scratch.


Raising one of the cannons from the wreck of Avondster.


Built: Unknown, bought by English East India Company in 1641.

Length: 30-40 m (estimated from archaeological excavations).

Tonnage: English records list 250-260, although archaeological reports estimate 300-350.

Complement: 70.

Armament: 24.


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