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stepping stones of maritime history


Historical description

The oldest known wreck of the Dutch East India Company, and one of the first ships in use since the company was formed in 1602. The Nassau was lost in the battle of Cape Rachado during the Dutch-Portuguese war on the trading route to the East Indies. The Nassau was on its second voyage to the east. During the battle the ship formed part of a fleet with eleven other Dutch ships under the command Cornelis Matelief.

After a fierce battle on land for control of the city of Malacca, which lasted over four months and during which the Portuguese were victorious. The Dutch forces retreated to their ships, anchored beyond Malacca, and the naval battle of Cape Rachado commenced.

The Dutch force of eleven ships fought the Portuguese armada of a force of seventy. It was a fierce battle, evidenced by the fact that only a few unused bullets have been recovered from the wreck sites of the ships involved.  The Nassau was set on fire on 18  august 1606, and sunk four days later. The Dutch ship Middelburg was lost a few days earlier during the same battle. The battle was won by the Dutch, and with it they took control of the strait of Malacca, thus signaling the end of Portuguese dominance of the spice route to the East Indies.

Battle of Cape Rachado.


Battle of Rachado. (Source: Atlas of Mutual Heritage).


Battle of Rachado. (Source: Atlas of Mutual Heritage).

Archaeological Description

The wrecks were found by Nigel Pickford in 1995, about 8 miles out of the Malay town of Port Dickson. The ship was salvaged by the firm Transea Malaysia in cooperation with the University Kebangsaan Malaysia in the period 1995-1997.

According to the divers working on the project, it was quite a challenge to recover the ship. The strait of Malacca has a strong current and the seabed was full of mud, leading to very poor visibility underwater. It was all worth it in the end, however, as the the remains and artifacts recovered are of great historic value telling the story of a battle between the Dutch and the Portuguese. The cannons and ammo alone that have been found give a clear picture of the massive battle. Shipwrecks have always been seen as time capsules telling stories about the time that they sank, and wrecks like Nassau are the perfect example.


Exhibition of finds, Muzium Negara Malaysia.


Type: Dutch East Indiaman (spiegelretourschip)

Built: 1602

Yard: Amsterdam

VOC Chamber: Amsterdam

Tonnage: 320, 160 last

Master: Abraham Mathijsz (or Wouter Jacobz according to some sources)

Dutch East Indiaman.



View on Malacca. Source: Atlas of Mutual Heritage.


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