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stepping stones of maritime history


The Stavenisse was a large flute not so much intended for intra-Asian trade, like most flutes used by the VOC, but for transport between the Netherlands and Asia.

The East-Indiaman Zutphen admiral of the return fleet of 1648 flanked by the flutes King of Poland and Noordmunster.

In December 1685, the Stavenisse left Bengal with destiny the Netherlands with a rich cargo (450,000 guilders). Because the ship was already fully loaded, it did not have to make a call at Ceylon, as many return ships from Bengal did. They set sail for Cape Town where a stopover was required.

After more than 2 months of sailing across the Indian Ocean, one of the helmsmen estimated that they were still 1,000 kilometers from the African coast, but another helmsman warned that they might encounter that coast sooner than expected.

Until the late 18th century, there was no method to determine the ship's position in terms of longitude. The estimate of the first-mentioned helmsman was therefore based exclusively on dead reckoning (the sum of the courses sailed and distances covered during approximately 70 days). The latter helmsman based his suspicion on the observed magnetic variation. This varies from place to place and if there are sufficiently reliable observations, this can provide an indication of the position.

Map of south Africa with the wreck of Stavenisse (enlarge the map)

However, this warning and the observations of the lookout were not taken into account enough and the ship ended up in the surf off the rocky coast of Natal on 16-2-1686.

It soon became apparent that the ship could no longer be saved. The barge of the Stavenisse in which a number of passengers tried to get to land capsized and most of them drowned. About 60 people on board managed to reach the coast by swimming or floating on driftwood. However, virtually nothing useful of the cargo or supplies washed ashore.

It was decided to try to get to the Cape Colony overland. However, skipper Knijf, the mates and some others returned to the wreck site after just a few days in the wilderness.

With [paid] help from the local Xhosa, a new ship was built from wreckage, first called the Natal vessel, later the Centaurus. Eleven Dutchmen from the Stavenisse and 8 Englishmen from two different stranded yachts.* reached the Cape with this yacht on March 1, 1687. There they brought the first news about the stranding of the Stavenisse.

Land route fails
The other group, led by boatswain Kind, plodded along the inhospitable land route. Some succumbed to hardship, fell prey to wild animals or lost their lives during raids by enemy tribes. The survivors were forced to return to the coast.

Terra Natal
During various subsequent expeditions from the Cape to this area, a total of approximately 20 of the survivors of the Stavenisse were picked up. Their favorable reports about the riches of the area prompted the Company to investigate whether there were trade opportunities.

Galjoot de Noord
The last (rescue) expedition was undertaken in 1689 with the galleon de Noord. The skipper had power of attorney to purchase land in the Bay of Natal. He made an agreement with the local Xhosa. Unfortunately, De Noord had an accident on the way back and the ownership papers were lost.

The three last found survivors of the Stavenisse were on board. Probably only one of them survived this second shipwreck. There are therefore no reports of possible actions taken later to recover cargo and inventory from the Stavenisse in addition to the people.


* The English yachts were stranded in the same area. During this period, an intensive shipping industry developed for the purchase of enslaved people in Madagascar with the aim of selling them in America. They had more or less settled in what the Portuguese called Terra de Natal, a good distance from the wreck site of the Stavenisse. 11 surviving Dutch people also went there.


Built: yard Middelburg, 1681

MasterKnijf, Willem
Length130 feet (39.6 m)
Width31 feet (9.4 m)
Draft13.5 feet (4.1 m)


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