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Zeewijk was a ship (spiegel retourschip) built for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the first half of the 18th century. On her maiden voyage to Batavia she met with disaster before the coast of Western Australia.

The captain of Zeewijk was Jan Steyns. Steyns made the decision after the ship passed the Cape of Good Hope to try and steer ENE in order to call at Eendracht land in Western Australia. This decision went against strict sailing orders of the VOC and the advice of the officers under him. The VOC orders against this course of action were meant to warn captains away from the dangerous reefs and sandbanks of the Western Australian coast. His decision proved to be a fatal one, as Zeewijk struck a reef at full force on June 9th 1727.

The surviving crew members stranded. The survivor managed to launch a longboat, and 96 of the original around 200 reached nearby Gun Island. While the ship did not break up immediately, and thus rested on the reef for a time, the crew knew she had sustained too much damage to be salvaged.

Eleven crew members took out in the longboat in search of rescue, but were never heard from again.The survivors salvaged materials from Zeewijk and created a small ship, Sloepie, and sailed, along with the salvaged cargo, to Batavia. 82 of the original crew members were on board Sloepie when she arrived in Batavia after a month at sea. Steyns was immediately summoned before the High Court of Justice in Batavia, and was blamed for the wreckage. He was also accused of trying to deceive the Governor General and High Council of the Dutch East Indies with altered journals in an attempt to cover up his role in the wreckage. He was put under arrest and sued, his property and cash were confiscated, he was deprived of office and salary, declared forever unable to serve the VOC, and banned for his lifetime from all the territories under VOC jurisdiction.

Archaeological description

Items from the wreck have been recovered consistently since the HMS Beagle recovered items from the stranded crew in 1840. The main underwater wreck site was found by Hugh Edwards in 1968, and the Western Australian Museum has conducted several expeditions to survey the site and recover artifacts. Between 1974 and 1977 the Western Australian Maritime Museum (WAMM) conducted land and underwater surveys and excavations. The most notable in 1976 by Catharina Ingleman-Sundberg, who also completed a catalog of all the finds from the site.


Example of artefact record Zeewijk. Source: WA Maritme Museum shipwreck database.

Zeewijk on an early VOC Chart

The wrecksite of the Zeewijk is mentioned on a VOC chart made in 1730. 


VOC vellum chart.


Built: 1725, Yard: Rammekens
Owner: Dutch East India Company (VOC) Chamber Zeeland
Tonnage: 850
Length: 145 ft
Draft: 5.53 m
Armament: 36 iron and bronze guns, 6 small breech-lloading swivel guns
Master: Jan Steyns

Source: WA Maritime Museum.

Map of Australia. Source:



Location Houtman Abrolhos.

Wreckage is scattered over the inside and outside of Half Moon Reef. And a lot of thefinds on land due to transferring goods from the wreck site to Gun Island. The complete cargo of the ship made it back to Batavia, leaving none of it on the wrecksite itself. The site is federal protected through a contract with Commonwealth (1972). The owner of thecollection is the Western Australian Maritime Museum (WAMM).

Source: WA Maritime Museum.


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