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stepping stones of maritime history


The Dolfijn was built in the Netherlands by the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch East India Company, in 1654, and made one successful voyage to the Dutch East Indies and back to the Netherlands.

On 15 May 1663, the ship was wrecked in the harbor of Galle, on a voyage from Surat to Batavia. The wreck was recently rediscovered.

This vessel sailed from Sualijs (Surat) for Batavia on 29 April 1663, after loading packets of yam and letters. Shortly afterwards, the crew found that the ship was leaking badly; even with two pumps they were not able to keep her dry. So they returned to port and examined the ship. After sending the skipper, the high boatswain and the constable's mate below they found the leak in the powder magazine on the port side. The powder was unloaded and the carpenter was able to repair the leak. On 30 April the Dolfijn sailed for the second time. When they were passing het Hoogelant van St. Jan the ship was strained by heavy sea conditions. Again the crew had to pump day and night to keep her dry. On 3 May the skipper discussed the difficult situation in the scheepsraad (the council of officers). They arrived at a VOC post along the coast of India and asked the merchant Zandtvliet onshore for assistance. They asked for 20 to 25 locals to pump the vessel in case of emergency. This request was unsuccessful because the locals asked too high a price: one pagood (local currency) per month, free water, firewood, and rice. They even asked for a galley and for six months' pay in advance. So the vessel left without assistance but with 32 packets of amphiaen for Coetegin [Cochin]. The Dolfijn arrived there on 10 May lek maar behouden (leaking but safe). Once again a request for assistance was turned down. The ship was told to sail on to Galle. It was on this part of the voyage that things went really wrong. On 14 May the ship was at 6° 10' North in bad weather when the leak became worse. The skipper decided to anchor in 13 fathoms of water in order not to miss the Bay of Galle. To keep the ship dry, the crew had to install a fourth and an fifth pump. They were so exhausted after constant pumping that they were not able to lift the anchor. After cutting the anchor rope, the Dolfijn sailed along the coast to the Bay of Galle. In the entrance of the bay they anchored and fired several guns as distress signals. The situation became untenable, since even five pumps were not enough to keep the ship afloat and buckets were also needed. The only sensible thing to do was to sail the ship into the bay as quickly as possible in order to save the crew, money and cargo. Again the problem was to lift the anchor because the crew were either fully occupied with pumping or were completely exhausted. Another problem arose when the pilot came on board. He explained that it was impossible to enter the bay because the ship was lying directly in front of a shallow reef and the wind was not favourable. Aware of the seriousness of the situation, the VOC sent assistance from the shore, but by the evening the only thing they could do was abandon ship since the galleries at the side of the cabin were already striking the water.

An eye-witness account of the disaster was found in the dairy of Adriaan van der Meijden, who was a high VOC official in Galle at that time.

Shortly after the afternoon a ship came sailing in the direction of the bay. Because it was firing its guns constantly we assumed it was in distress. Originally we thought that is was the Archilles sailing from Persia. We gave the pilot Bastiaen the order to go to the ship so far possible because the wind was strong and showery. After several attempts the skipper and former pilot of this Bay, Daniel Harthouwer, succeeded on getting aboard. Eventually the costly ship the Dolfijn was pitiful wrecked in the dark evening [ ... ] The Thonij (pilot vessel) brought the under merchant Meijndert Janssen ashore. He went back on board after handing over the letters from Suratte [ ... ] (SLNA, Dutch Records: 1/ 2712)

According to the letters the Dolfijn carried a rich cargo. To protect the cargo in expectation of salvage the guards on the klip bij d'vlaggespil enaen 't nieuwe puntje [. .. ]received the order to stop ships nearing the place of the wreck.


Built: 1654 for the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

Chamber: Amsterdam.

Tonnage: 520 tons.

Complement: 214 on het last departure from Amsterdam in 1655.

Replica of Duyfken.


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