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stepping stones of maritime history


The Risdam sailed as a merchant vessel for the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Risdam is one of the few discovered examples of a Dutch fluyt, which was a ship type characterized by a pear-shaped hull, and a flat bottom. The sloping sides made it difficult for attackers to board and increased available cargo space. Fluyts were used mostly in the Baltic trade, and the design was intended to lower the toll for trade levied by the King of Denmark which was calculated by the width of the upper deck midship.

The shape of the fluyt resulted in a lower centre of gravity, which meant higher masts, more sail, and fewer required sailors. The VOC used about 350 fluyts throughout its years of operation.

Risdam was lost on New Year's Day of 1727 when her captain beached her on Elephant Rock near the coast of Mersing Johor in Malaysia. Risdam was en route to Batavia from Siam but was leaking too badly to continue her journey. There was only one casualty from Risdam's loss, an old man who refused to leave the ship.

Model of Risdam (source: gemeentehuis Hoorn).

Model ship of the Risdam (source: Muzium Negara Malaysia).


The Risdam was built in 1713 in Hoorn and belonged to the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC. It had a crew of 125-180.

Picture of fluyt ships by Wenzel Hollar, 1647.

MasterCornelis Dam
Length129.9 feet (39.6 m)
Tonnage520 ton (260 last)


The wreck of Risdam was discovered in 1984 by Mike Hatcher and was incredibly well-preserved due to her location encased in the muddy sediment of the beach where she was lost. It has even been claimed to be the best-preserved shipwreck together with the wreck of the Amsterdam. Archaeological research was done in the form of a survey by Jeremy Green, an Australian archaeologist working with the Western Australian Maritime Museum, who later published his findings. During the course of the excavation, storage jars, tin and lead ingots, bricks, porcelain, and ivory were found, some of which have been incorporated into the museum collection at Muzium Negara in Malaysia.

The ship, and not just her cargo, was extremely well preserved when she was found, making her a find of incredible historical value. Unfortunately, her location was sold by the cook of the ship conducting the excavation to a group of looters from Singapore, who then used dynamite to blast through and destroy parts of the ship to get at her cargo. Hatcher attempted to raise protection efforts from the Netherlands but was foiled due to the complex bureaucracy involved in the international situation since the Malaysian government did not recognize any claims of ownership by the government of the Netherlands regarding the wreck of the Risdam.

The efforts to form a society for the preservation of the wreck of Risdam failed, and today the condition of the wreck is unknown since no preservation efforts have been undertaken. Unfortunately, the condition of the wreck of Risdam would be much better today if she had never been discovered.


  • Malaysia website.
  • Gegevens VOC-schip Risdam.
    De VOCsite.
  • Green, J. (1986).
    The Survey of the Flute Risdam (1927), Malaysia.
    International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. Vol 15 (2), pp. 93-104.
  • NA-, [s.a]. Lijst van alle zoodanige Schepen in soorten als bij de Generale Oostindische Compagnie zijn gemaekt oft gekocht als gehuurt alsmede waer oft de zelfde zijn agter gebleven ofte verongelukt als genoomen en verbrand, vermist of.
  • RGP-GS166, 1979. Dutch-Asiatic Shipping in the 17th and 18th centuries, Volume II, Outward-bound voyages from the Netherlands to Asia and the Cape (1595-1794). - Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1979. - 765 p., [en] - ISBN 90-247-2270-5.
  • RGP-GS167, 1979. Dutch-Asiatic Shipping in the 17th and 18th centuries, Volume III, Homeward-bound voyages from Asia and the Cape to the Netherlands (1597-1795). - Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1979. - 626 p., [en] - ISBN 90-247-228.
  • Velde, Paul van der, 1989. The Deshima dagregisters : their original tables of contents : Vol. IV 1710-1720 . - Leiden: Center for the History of European Expansion, 1989. - 217 p., [en].

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