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stepping stones of maritime history


The gale of 17 June 1722 saw 10 vessels being wrecked during a severe north-westerly gale in Table Bay, with 8 of these vessels belonging to Dutch authorities. This event saw one of the highest losses of life in the history of the Cape in a single event, with 660 casualties. Over £250,000 of goods were lost, which is a vast amount in today’s figures!


The Rotterdam was an outward-bound vessel anchored in Table Bay with nine others. This vessel reportedly had 200 000 guilders worth of cargo onboard, probably consisting mostly of precious metals and currencies. The Rotterdam also carried a contingency of 90 soldiers.

The vessel broke adrift on the night of 16-17 June in the violent north-westerly gale. Subsequently, the Rotterdam, Standvastigheid and Schotsche Lorrendraaier all smashed into each other. By morning, only the shattered remains of the three vessels were visible on the beach between the castle and the Salt River.

Tragically, there were only 45 survivors from the combined crews of the three vessels of 505. Only 13 of these survivors were from the Rotterdam.

MasterGerrit Fiers
People on board225
Tonnage800 ton (400 last)


Great measures were taken to salvage as much of the goods as possible. The surviving sailors were instructed to dive and retrieve as much of the cargo as could be managed. The remains of the ship that had washed up on the beach were burnt later that year.

Later, an English salvor by the name of John Lethbridge was engaged in 1727 to try and recoup some of the losses experienced by the VOC. He was a former wool merchant who had invented a ‘diving machine’ which was essentially an airtight wooden barrel with a glass window and armholes which enabled a brave person to be sealed inside and lowered underwater for up to 30 minutes at a time. He had some limited success in the Cape and managed to recover some coins and ingot from the Rotterdam, as well as the Dageraad and Merestein, though it was noted that most of the success came from the wrecks in the calmer waters of the bay.


  • DAS 2494.3.
  • Dorst, E. (2018).
    The Rotterdam, 1716-1722. [Unpublished paper].
    Leiden University.
  • Leon Derksen, John Gribble, Lesa la Grange, Martijn Manders and Briege Williams (2023).
    Dutch Shipwrecks in South African Waters: A Brief History of Sites, Stores and Archives [Unpublished].

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