Built in 1653 by the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India
Company (VOC), the Vergulde Draeck was a 260-tonne, 42-metre 'jacht'.
On 4 October 1655 the Vergulde Draeck sailed from Texel in the
Netherlands on only her second voyage, bound for the East Indies (now
Indonesia). She was carrying, apart from passengers and crew, cargo,
trade goods and silver coins worth 185,000 guilders. She reached the
Cape of Good Hope on 9 March 1656 and four days later set sail for
Batavia. She never reached her destination.
Having adopted the Brouwer route, ie. followed the Roaring Forties
east from the Cape, but obviously miscalculating his easting and
possibly the latitude, Captain Pieter Albertszoon drove her onto a reef
off the western coast of the Southland between the present day towns of
Seabird and Ledge Point in Western Australia on 28 April 1656.
On board was a crew of 193 and eight chests of silver coin to be
used in the purchase of spices. On striking the reef the Vergulde
Draeck burst open and only a few provisions were saved. When the 75
survivors had gathered ashore Albertszoon decided to send a party of
sailors to Batavia, in the one schuyt (small boat) which had been saved
from the wreck, to report the tragedy and ask for a rescue vessel to be
sent. Albertszoon decided to stay with the survivors and to appoint his
under steersman (second officer) Abraham Leeman to lead the party of
He was probably influenced in his decision by the events following
the wrecking of the Batavia on the Abrolhos Islands some 27 years
earlier. On that occasion senior officers abandoned the survivors to
sail to Batavia, leaving many survivors to be killed by mutineers.
The experiences of the rescue ships with inclement weather along the
coast of the Southland, convinced Governor-General Maetsuijker in
Batavia, that June and July were not the best months for rescue
missions. Still concerned about the fate of the survivors, the next
expedition was mounted during the summer.
On New Year's Day 1658 the fluit Waeckende Boei and the galjoort
Emmeloort, under the command of Captains Samuel Volkersen and Aucke
Pieters Jonck respectively, left Batavia in search of survivors of the
Vergulde Draeck and the lost 11 crew from the Goede Hoop. They were
instructed to rescue survivors and to salvage as much merchandise -
especially coins - as possible and to chart the coast carefully.
Furthermore, they were to find out if the land was inhabited and, if
so, to try and establish trade with the inhabitants. They were also
instructed to take formal possession of all the places they discovered.
Volkerson and Jonck were unequal to the task. Not long into the
voyage Volkerson complained that the Emmeloort was too slow and he was
having difficulty keeping the vessels together. On February 14 they
separated and acted independently although they met up on several
occasions on the coast of the Southland.
The Emmeloort sighted the Southland on 24 February 1658 at 33°
12' S - at about Bunbury - and then sailed north charting the coast. On
March 8 at about 30° 25' S fires were seen on the shore. Next day a
boat was sent ashore late in the day to discover that the fires had
been extinguished. Next day another search party was dispatched and
they met up with a group of aborigines who had been responsible for the
fires. The party also reported seeing crops of grain growing and land
under cultivation. However, no traces of survivors and wreckage of
ships was found. The Emmeloort slowly sailed north and reached Batavia
on 18 March 1658.
Volkerson sighted the Southland at 31° 40' S (near present-day
Two Rocks) on 23 February 1658. Sailing past Rottnest Island and noting
the submerged reefs between it and the mainland Volkerson lowered a
boat which sailed between it and the mainland. The following day they
saw fires and a party was sent to investigate. When they returned after
two days - due to bad weather - they reported that the beach was
littered with wreckage from the Vergulde Draeck. There were also signs
that survivors had been there as they found a circle of planks with
their ends planted in the sand. Some sort of signal perhaps?
Sailing north Volkerson made further landings at 31° 14' S and
30° 40' S but no wreckage was sighted. After fifteen days of bad
weather during which time the Waeckende Boei stayed well out to sea,
they returned and anchored at the north-east corner of Rottnest Island.
A party was sent ashore and upon its return the helmsman had reported
that navigation and landing was difficult due to the abundance of stone
reefs. The island was well wooded, it was reported, and the party had
seen two seals, and a 'wild cat'. That information did not encourage
Volkerson to explore the island again.
In a truly epic journey, Leeman and his crew reached Batavia on 7
June 1656 - 6 weeks later. A most remarkable and impressive feat of
seamanship and endurance!
Almost immediately after hearing the news of the wrecking from
Abraham Leeman, the Commander of the Council of the VOC dispatched the
yacht Goede Hope and the flute Witte Valk to the Southland to search
for the wreck and survivors. Both ships failed miserably. The Witte
Valk could not approach land due to furious storms and rough seas. The
Goede Hoop was more persistent and managed to land a search party at
the appropriate latitude.
Three members of the party got lost in the bush whilst going inland
and were never seen again. Subsequently, a longboat with 8 searchers
was smashed on inshore reefs by pounding surf and were also never seen
again. The Goede Hoop returned to Batavia soon after this event leaving
the 11 men, possibly stranded and marooned, having found no trace of
the Vergulde Draeck or its survivors. She reached Batavia on 14 October
In April 1657 another vessel, the flute Vink, sailed from the Cape
to Batavia with instructions to call at the Southland and search for
survivors. Once again there was no success, primarily due to bad
weather and high seas. The Vink reached Batavia on 27 June 1657.
Sailing north a search party made another landing at 31° 09' S
on March 20 and found a beam from the Vergulde Draeck. A second landing
was made and more wreckage was found.
Having been ashore many times and having found wreckage Leeman set
out once again with thirteen other men only to return to the Waeckende
Boei when he noticed the weather turning bad. On returning to the ship
Volkerson disputed Leeman's concerns and send him back. By nightfall
the storm had broken and the sea rissen so high that Leeman and his men
were unable to land and were forced to ride out the storm in the
darkness of night. The storm worsened the next day and the boat lost a
rudder and steering had to be managed by using the oars. Eventually
Leeman sighted a small inlet between two rocks and with little control
over the boat made for the beach. They landed with considerable damage
to the boat.
Meanwhile, the Waeckende Boei had headed out to sea to ride out the
storm. After 4 days Volkerson returned to the site where the boat was
last seen. He fired cannons but there was no response. He concluded
that the boat and crew were lost, presumably drowned and decided to
sail back to Batavia. However that evening, March 28, they saw a fire
on the land. He discharged a cannon again and immediately another fire
was seen close to the first.
Not having another boat onboard and convinced that Leeman and his
crew had perished, he could not go ashore to investigate. He decided to
stay in the vicinity and wait for daybreak. By then the ship had
drifted further north and although Volkerson records that he sailed
past the shore and that he got close in to the coast, nothing further
happened that prevented him from sailing north to Batavia, which he
reached on 10 April 1658.
During the 4 days the Waeckende Boei was riding out the storm,
Leeman and his crew were doing all they could to repair their damaged
boat. Keeping a lookout for the Waeckende Boei they survived by killing
seals and gulls and drinking brackish water found in the rocks. They
returned to the mainland near where wreckage of the Vergulde Draeck
littered the beach fearing that they would be stranded there. Then, on
the 28th in the evening, sails were sighted and Leeman ordered a fire
to be lit.
Shortly afterwards, the Waeckende Boei reduced sail and fired a gun
to which Leeman responded with a second fire. They could have sailed
their boat to the ship but the sea was rough, it was getting dark and
the surrounding reefs were of concern. Instead they decided to wait
But when dawn broke (29 March 1658) the Waeckende Boei was nowhere
to be seen. They sailed their boat out to sea trying to find her, but
to no avail. They were now marooned . . . . . . With their spirits low,
Leeman had to work hard to convince his men that there was only one
solution for their plight and that was to sail to Batavia. For a week
they worked to outfit the boat for the long voyage on the open sea.
On the morning of the April 8, 1658 began one of the more heroic sea
voyages of all time. In a remarkable feat of courage, seamanship and
endurance, Leeman sailed a leaky craft with fourteen men on board, for
21 days along the barren Western Australian coast and across the Timor
Sea to Java.
And incredibly, he was making this journey for the second time!
Truly a remarkable man! When Leeman finally reached Batavia and
reported his experience to the Governor-General and his councillors,
they decided not to mount anymore expeditions to search for the
survivors of the Vergulde Draeck.
Meanwhile, 68 people had to survive in this foreign land. What happened to them remains a mystery to this day.
While Dutch and English ships were relatively frequent visitors to
the coasts of Western Australia in the years that followed, as far as
is known for certain no other ship foundered on these coasts again
until 1712. This was the Zuytdorp which had departed the Cape of Good
Hope on 22 April 1712 with at least 200 people on board.