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HandWiki. Zuytdorp. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 23 April 2024).
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The VOC Zuytdorp also Zuiddorp (meaning "South Village", after Zuiddorpe, a still existing village in the South of Zeeland, near the Belgian border) was an 18th-century trading ship of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, commonly abbreviated VOC). On 1 August 1711 it was dispatched from the Netherlands to the trading port of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) bearing a load of freshly minted silver coins. Many trading ships of the time travelled a "fast route" using the strong Roaring Forties winds to carry them across the Indian Ocean to within sight of the west coast of Australia, (then called New Holland) whence they would make a turn north towards Batavia. The Zuytdorp never arrived at its destination. No search was undertaken, presumably because the VOC had no idea whether and where the ship had been wrecked or taken by pirates and possibly due to prior expensive but fruitless attempts to search for other missing ships, even when an approximate wreck location was known. As a result Zuytdorp and its entire complement were never heard from again. Their fate was unknown until the mid-20th century when the wreck site was identified on a remote part of the Western Australian coast between Kalbarri and Shark Bay, approximately 40 km north of the Murchison River. This rugged section of coastline was subsequently named the Zuytdorp Cliffs, was the preserve of the Indigenous inhabitants and one of the last great wildernesses until the advent of the sheep stations established there in the late 19th century. Something, perhaps a violent storm, occurred and the Zuytdorp was wrecked on a desolate section of the West Australian coast. Survivors scrambled ashore and camped near the wreck site. With no European settlements anywhere on the coast they built bonfires from the wreckage to signal fellow trading ships that would pass within sight of the coast. But fires seen in the vicinity tended to be dismissed as "native fires" as appears to have happened in the case of Vergulde Draeck in 1656. It has been speculated that survivors may have traded with or may have intermarried with the local Aboriginal communities between present-day Kalbarri and Shark Bay. It is also possible that intermarriage occurred in the case of a predecessor to the Zuytdorp, the infamous VOC Batavia, wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos islands offshore. After a mutiny, atrocities, massacres and trials, two of the mutineers were marooned on the Australian mainland, near the Murchison River (for details about these two mutineers see castaway). News of an unidentified shipwreck on the shore surfaced in 1834 when Aborigines told a farmer near the recently colonised Perth about a wreck the colonists presumed it was a recent wreck and sent rescue parties who failed to find the wreck or any survivors. The details provided (90 days walk, and coins on the beach), tend to point to the Zuytdorp; however. In 1927, wreckage was seen by an Indigenous-European family group (comprising Ada and Ernest Drage, Tom and Lurleen Pepper and the women's father Charlie Mallard) on a clifftop near the border of Murchison house and Tamala Stations where they all worked. Tamala Station head stockman, Tom Pepper later reported the find to the authorities, their first expedition to the site occurring in 1941. In 1954 Pepper gave Phillip Playford directions and it was he who subsequently identified the relics as from Zuytdorp.

zuytdorp zuiddorp zuiddorpe

1. The Western Australian Museum's Work

Investigations by the Western Australian Museum initially concentrated on recovering the vast silver deposits, and when work ceased in 1981 due to the dangers in water and on the land, a watch-keeper was appointed to guard the site. Work recommenced in 1986 led by Dr M. (Mack) McCarthy (with the Museum's chief diver Geoff Kimpton central to all the in-water phases). Soon after the program entered a multi-disciplinary phase. Phillip Playford subsequently joined as did pre-historians including Kate Morse, terrestrial historical archaeologists, including Fiona Weaver, station identities including Tom Pepper Jr., surveyors, the Department of Land Administration, artists and many others. Oral histories were recorded with station identities, including relatives of the Pepper, Drage, Blood, Mallard and other Indigenous families who were involved with the wreck after it was found. Foremost in this new phase was the attention paid to the possibilities of European-Indigenous interaction and the movement of survivors away from the wreck. Phillip Playford's subsequent book, Carpet of Silver: The Wreck of the Zuytdorp. Produced as part of the Museum's team, it won awards and has run into many editions. [1] This in turn was followed by radio personality Bill Bunbury reviewing the issues of the wreck and consequences in the chapter A Lost Ship – Lost People: The Zuytdorp Story in his work Caught in Time: Talking Australia History. The Museum's work of its own accord and in facilitating that of others continues. The Museum in both Fremantle and at Geraldton present exhibitions on the wreck, a website, and many reports. An exhibition was also produced for the Kalbarri heritage centre. Due to the logistical difficulties and the advent of Health and Safety legislation prohibiting the taking of risk in an occupational environment, the Zuytdorp in-water program was again shelved in 2002, though work on land, in the laboratory and elsewhere remains in progress.[2][3] Recently there has been renewed interest in the authenticity of an inscription reading "Zuytdorp 1711" that was once visible on a rock-face adjacent to the reef platform at the site. Post-dating Phillip Playford's first visits in 1954/5, when photographs of the same area show no inscription, this is a modern artefact. Details appear on Museum's reports series and Zuytdorp website.[4]

Recently Australian Living Legend Ernie Dingo went to the site to learn more of his estranged father Tom Pepper Jr and of his grandparents Tom Snr and Lurlie Pepper. This and vision of the land site appear in a 2018 edition of Who Do You Think You Are.

The site, one of the few restricted zones under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, requires a permit for visitation and remains under regular surveillance.

2. Theory of Intermarriage Between Survivors and Indigenous Population: The Possibility of Dutch-Aboriginal Genetic Links Examined

In 1988, an American woman who had married into the Mallard family contacted Dr Playford and described how her husband had died some years before from a disease called variegate porphyria. Playford found that the disease was genetically linked and initially confined to Afrikaners and that all cases of the disease in South Africa were traceable back to Gerrit Jansz and Ariaantjie Jacobs, who had married in The Cape in 1688.

The Zuytdorp had arrived at the Cape in March 1712 where it took on more than 100 new crew. It was thought that one of the Jansz' sons could have boarded the ship at this time and thus become the carrier of the disease into the Australian Aboriginal population. In 2002, a DNA investigation into the hypothesis of a variegate porphyria mutation having been introduced into the Aboriginal population by shipwrecked sailors was undertaken at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre in Nedlands, Western Australia and the Stellenbosch University in South Africa.[5] Their conclusion was that the mutations were not inherited from shipwrecked sailors.

The presence of similar European genetic maladies in the Aboriginal population (such as Ellis–van Creveld syndrome) necessarily coming from VOC shipwreck survivors has also been rendered similarly doubtful. Dutch-Indigenous links, via the VOC wrecks are rendered the more unprovable by the importation of hundreds of divers in many vessels for use in the West Australian pearling industry in the mid-to-late 19th century. Generally but incorrectly called "Malays", these indentured labourers usually came from the islands north of Australia, many via the port of Batavia. One vessel, the SS Xantho for example, brought 140 "Malay" boys aged 12-14 for use in the pearling industry. They boarded at Batavia where diseases (including genetic diseases) had been introduced by VOC personnel into the local population ever since they commenced operations there around 1600. In addition, many "Malay" pearlers remained on the coast and some are known to have intermarried with Aboriginal people at Shark Bay. As a result is equally (if not more likely) that any genetic links between Australian Aborigines and the Dutch can be traced to those sources. The possibility that in perhaps joining Aboriginal groups, survivors from Zuytdorp or mutineers from the Batavia were the inspiration for the Walga Rock ship painting was a popular belief until recent years. This theory has been challenged as new evidence points to the image being a steamship, possibly SS Xantho.

3. Commemorative Plaque

In June 2012, the Shire of Northampton unveiled a commemorative plaque in Kalbarri commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Zuytdorp's wrecking.[6] The plaque also mentions two other Dutch East India Company ships that were wrecked in the area: the Batavia and the Zeewijk.


  1. Playford, 1959, op. cit & Playford, P.E., 1996. Carpet of Silver: The Wreck of the Zuytdorp. UWA Press Nedlands.
  2. McCarthy, M., 2006. The Dutch on Australian Shores: the Zuytdorp tragedy—unfinished business. In Shaw, L., and Wilkins, W., (eds.) Dutch Connections—400 years of Australian-Dutch maritime links. 1606-2006: 94-109.
  3. Reproduced as Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Museum, report No. 256 Zuytdorp: Unfinished business, M. McCarthy, 2009.
  4. "Zuiddorp (Zuytdorp)". Western Australian Museum. 
  5. Rossi, E; Chin, CY; Beilby, JP; Waso, HF; Warnich, L (September 2002). "Variegate porphyria in Western Australian Aboriginal patients". Internal Medicine Journal 32 (9-10): 445–450. doi:10.1046/j.1445-5994.2002.00274.x. PMID 12380696. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  6. "Official Unveiling of the Zuytdorp Commemorative Plaque". Kalbarri Development Association. Retrieved 2012-06-28. 
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