Excavations of a 18th-cent. ship reveal numerous artefacts

Excavations of the Dutch East India Company ship Rooswijk, which ran aground and sank in the Goodwin Sands off Kent, South-East United Kingdom in January 1740 revealed numerous artefact that might help to shed light on the last hours of the vessel’s voyage.

Excavations of the Rooswijk (by Zeeuws Maritiem museum)

The ship sank in 1740 will the loss of every life on board, including 250 sailors, soldiers, and passengers. Archaeologists managed to salvage a shoe still showing the dint of the sailor’s heel on the instep, glass bottles and a fancy wine glass with an air twist stem, possibly from the captain’s cabin, pewter jugs, an onion jar, tiles from the cooking stove scorched by the last meals, three wooden chests, one human thigh bone, and numerous Mexican silver dollars, minted just a few years before the wreck, and older, cruder chopped-up pieces of eight. Researchers report that several cannon and two huge sea anchors still lie in the silt on the seabed.

Coins found on-board of the Rooswijk (by Zeeuws Maritiem museum)

The ship was bound for Jakarta to buy spices and porcelain and was carrying silver bullion and ingots. In 1740 it was months before anyone wondered what had happened to the Rooswijk, and it was only when the ship failed to make landfall at the Cape of Good Hope, after what should have been months at sea, that the company began to worry. A chest of letters washed up on the English coast revealed the truth – the ship having left Amsterdam on 7 January, had been driven by a storm the next day on to the Goodwin. The evidence from the wreck site is that the heavily laden ship sank like a stone, with the loss of everyone on board. A wooden seaman’s chest has been recovered from the wreck and after months of conservation it will be opened by experts.

Pewter spoons from the shipwreck (by Lauren Hurley)

(after Zeeuws Maritiem museum, Lauren Hurley & The Guardian)

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