Report of the excavations of previously disturbed land sites associated with the VOC ship Zuytdorp, wrecked 1712, Zuytdorp Cliffs, Western Australia
Author/s F. Weaver
Year of publication 1994
Report Number: 90
Introduction - Background
The VOC (de Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or United East India Company) ship Zuytdorp, is one of several which have been lost in waters off the West Australian coast (Henderson, 1986; Playford, 1959). The Zuytdorp differs from the other Dutch wrecks (Drake-Brockman, 1963; Henderson, 1980, 1986; Ingelman-Sundberg, 1977), because it lies at the base of cliffs and that there is no record of the people aboard the ship, and their fate.
The Zuytdorp disappeared after 22 April , 1712 when it left the Cape of Good Hope bound for Batavia. It was a journey made by more than 30 other VOC ships per year.
During the lifetime of the company (1602-1799) seven ships disappeared on this route. From the Cape of Good Hope, the ships ran down their eastings until they sighted the West Australian coast and then turn north to Batavia. No survivors were sought from the Zuytdorp as there was no indication of where it might have disappeared during the three month voyage (Playford, 1959).
The Zuytdorp was wrecked at 27°11.10S, 113°36E, approximately 40 km north of the Murchison River (Figure 1). The site is at the base of limestone cliffs which run for 160km from the Murchison River to Dirk Hartog Island, and range in height from 30–250 m in height. Scree slopes offer routes to a wave-cut platform at the base of the cliffs. The platform is littered with limestone boulders.
The vegetation on top of the cliffs is stunted, salt tolerant coastal heath growing on windswept limestone and sand. Further inland, tea-tree scrub, patches of mallee, Acacia and Banksia thickets, can be found (Morse, 1988). Deep narrow gullies with limestone outcrops run toward the cliffs. These are a common feature of the Cliff Top area. They do not contain permanent water but may flow for short periods during winter. A number of soaks exist a few kilometres inland which were used by Aborigines (Morse, 1988) and native fauna (Lamara and McCarthy, pers. comm.).
The wreckage of the Zuytdorp was first reported by Tom Pepper, a stockman at Murchison House Station, who claims to have found it in April 1927. During the next 10 years artefacts were removed from the locality by Station people (Playford, 1959).