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stepping stones of maritime history


During its two centuries of existence, the VOC probably built around 1,600 ships. Some fifty VOC wrecks have been located and excavated in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. For the Dutch East India Company (VOC), Galle was a key trading hub, second only to Batavia. The warehouses were packed with trade items from all parts of Asia. Fleets of ships came to Galle each year for trade, supplies, and repairs. Evidence of the complex organization behind these maritime activities is to be found in the many surviving Dutch buildings in Galle, the extensive historical archives in Colombo and the Netherlands, and the wrecks of five Dutch East Indiamen in the Bay of Galle.


Location of Hercules Site (Maritime Archaeological Impact Assessment 2007).

Sinking of the Hercules

In the early morning of 22 May 1661, a small fleet of four ships was ready to sail to Batavia. Two officers were persuaded by the fine weather to take the ships out of harbour before any adverse change. There are several reefs in the area which lie hidden just below the surface, inviting disaster for ships entering or leaving the harbour without a pilot at the helm. After the flute Elburg and the yacht Tholen were guided out of the bay, the pilot returned and prepared to take the yachts Hercules and Angelier out of the bay together. An eyewitness aboard the Angelier gave an account of what went wrong after the ships weighed anchor:

"When the crew of the Angelier had weighed anchor and were busy pulling up the sails, quite suddenly a strong cross-wind struck the ship. We managed to fasten the sails again and to throw the anchor. On the Hercules however, half a pistol shot from us, things went wrong. I saw that the anchor rope was broken. This seemed strange to me, since this rope wasnt bad and no other ship in the bay at that moment had the same problem. Still they tried to throw the second anchor, but in this case the end of the rope wasnt secured to the mast so they lost the second anchor too. Without anchors the ship was now a playing ball of the elements. The bow of the ship turned in the direction of the land and was breaking to pieces on the cliffs a few moments later."


In Galle harbour 25 sites of great archaeological interest were located between 1992 and 1995. Among them are 11 iron wrecks from the 19th century, and 5 from the 17th century. De Avondster, De Dolfijn, De Molen, De Hercules, De Landsman, De Vlissingen and de Barbestijn are all VOC ships from the 17th and 18th century.


Three masted fast merchant ship. Yacht, 140 foot, built in Zaandam, the Netherlands in 1655 especially for trade in Asia.

The Hercules weighed 540 tons. This is rather large for a yacht because theynormally weighbetween 50 and 300 tons. Yachts were fast small ships originally designed for the shallow waters in The Netherlands. But very suitable for intra asian trade. It was built by the Dutch East Inda Company (VOC). Another Yacht was de Avondster also sunken in the Galle harbour.

Image of VOC Ship in Galle Harbour (Galle Harbour Maritime Archaeology Project 1992).


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