VOC ship Zuytdorp

What happened to survivors of VOC ship Zuytdorp?

The Zuytdorp was one of four VOC ships that wrecked on the coast of New Holland in 1712.
Nothing was known about the circumstances for nobody reached Batavia to tell the tale.
She had 286 people on board and her disappearance was a great loss for the VOC for she carried a large treasure of silver coins and other valuables, used for trading.
Historians showed little interest even when it became known through an Aboriginal woman, Ada Drage, in 1927.


In 1955, a young geologist, Phillip Playford was shown the wreck site and was credited with its discovery. He managed to have the wreck identified by forwarding details to the National Archive in The Netherlands.
Although this clarified the loss of the ship, it gave no indication about what happened to the survivors.
It is quite conceivable that a hundred or more people survived the ordeal, based on the fate of the Batavia crew on the Houtman Abrolhos, ending up on land.

During my recent visit to the Murchison District I was able to look at the area like the survivors would have done 302 years ago. It was the beginning of winter the same as now. Daytime temperature around 240

The landscape was green and water could be found at various locations such as trapped in holes in the rocks. Further south is the Murchison River with potable water throughout the year. The sea provided lots of fish and the shelf at the bottom of the cliff provide good supplies of abalone.
There was adequate game although they had not seen anything like a kangaroo.

From a research viewpoint this became quite a challenge as the Murchison District was not settled until 21 years after the Swan River Colony in 1829.
The Nhunda tribe had occupied that land for near 6000 years. The Zuytdorp was part of their “Dreamtime” or oral history.

DNA Research

Many of the Nhunda elders and their families talked about the “Dutch” and many made a point of telling me that the Dutch should have stayed instead of the British. DNA would provide conclusive proof of whether or not there was a link with the Dutch ship. Leiden University Medical Centre took this on and funded the research - not the collecting of samples however.

The first report in 2010 showed that out of 45 males (Y chromosomes) three were pure Aboriginal and 42 had European profiles, including some from the Mediterranean. This included people from the British Isles, there being no method to separate the British from the Continentals.

What is of significance is the Mediterranean DNA, for 30% of the crew were of a mixed variety and likely some could have Spanish or Italian origin.
The 80 years war with Spain, 1568 to 1648, may have caused some Spaniards to remain in Holland and created offspring that carried the Spanish DNA. In any case, this then shows a non British source and definitely Continental.

To date, 152 samples have been analysed with it being whittled down to three probables.
Once a profile match has been found with a living Hollander or German, the evidence will be conclusive (40% of the crew were Germans as soldiers).
In the meantime, a relationship based of trust was established between the Elders and me and that gave me insight into their family structure. A few of the Elders told of stories they had heard from their parents about the ship. Its presence was well known to the local natives.
Some of the current elderly have a catalogue of family members in their memory, and often checks out against genealogical data.
I have found them to be warm and hospitable, and tremendously proud of their heritage and the possibility of being Dutch.

Soon there will be an outcome of the DNA research. It may provide a perspective of a history that has embraced some 60,000 years while the Anglo inhabitants have largely concentrated on their own history, thereby ignoring that which happened beforehand.

Thomas Vanderveldt

Editor: New Holland Bulletin

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