THE UNDERWATER HERITAGE OF THE DUTCH EAST INDIA COMPANY (VOC). ASPECTS OF HISTORIC-ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDIES OF VOC-SHIPWRECKS.

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1 THE UNDERWATER HERITAGE OF THE DUTCH EAST INDIA COMPANY (VOC). ASPECTS OF HISTORIC-ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDIES OF VOC-SHIPWRECKS Introduction The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was a commercial and industrial organisation which for two centuries ( ) acted as an intercontinental trade and transport enterprise. During its two centuries of existence the VOC had built a probable total of 1,600 ships, half of which were produced in Amsterdam. With these vessels a bridge between Europe and Asia was created. The total number of shipping movements on the intercontinental route amounted to more than 8,000 voyages (4,789 outward bound and 3,401 inward bound), not taking into account the intensive traffic of VOC-ships in the intra-asiatic trade (BRUIJN et al. 1987). In 200 years time approximately 250 ships were lost, i.e. three percent of all voyages had a fatal end (105 outward bound and 141 inward bound vessels). Traditionally, our knowledge about the VOC and its ships has been based on written and iconographical sources. Only recently a new source of information has become available, namely the material remains of sunken VOC-ships. The research of VOC-wrecks is a fairly young discipline which evolved within the general framework of underwater archaeology. In view of the many different categories of material remains and research topics which are covered by underwater archaeology worldwide, VOC-ships represent a specific field of historic-archaeological research. Due to their particular historical background, being part of a bureaucratic trading company, archival references are available for archaeological research. The combination of archeological data and archival records leads not only to a more refined interpretation of different aspects of the individual shipwrecks, such as ship s structure, cargo and equipment, but also offers new approaches to our understanding of the functioning of the VOC and its place in Dutch society. Recent studies of two mid-18th-century VOC-ships the Hollandia (1743) and the Amsterdam (1749) focused on the personnel and supply of goods needed for the production of these particular ships. Both cases will be dis- 409

2 cussed here as an example of how archaeology, or more precisely, the historic-archaeological method of VOC-ship research, can provide new insights in the relation between the ships, the shipyard and the city of Amsterdam as the centre of the economic network of VOC-shipbuilding and shipping-activities. Archaeology of VOC-wrecks In the past 35 years some 40 sunken VOC-ships have been discovered (Fig. 1) (GAWRONSKI 1996). Most of these sites have been excavated, some completely, some partially, some scientifically, some commercially. The wrecks cover the entire VOC-period and date from 1606 (the Nassau and the Middelburg, Straits of Malacca) to 1795 (the Zeelelie, Scilly Isles). The number of discoveries is increasing annualy, particularly as a result of ongoing search and salvage activities in Asian and African waters which unfortunately in many cases lead to commercial exploitation rather than scientific research. The available material record shows inconsistencies due to differences in fieldwork methodology and even the lacking of systematic techniques in commercial salvage operations. Nevertheless, despite their attraction to salvors, a fair number of sites have been investigated in a sound archaeological manner. Another factor contributing to qualitative diversity among the archaeological finds is the natural environment of the sites in combination with the shipwrecking process. Wrecks are located in the most diverse conditions on the European, African, Asian and Australian coasts, varying from the cold Atlantic to the tropical Indian Ocean. Despite the qualitative and methodological variation in the archaeological record, awareness grew about the particular nature of the archaeological information of these VOC-wrecks. Such process was closely related to the development of underwater archaeology into a young scientific discipline. Initially, archaeologists were occupied mainly with the practical aspects of fieldwork. Although the feasibility to excavate underwater will continue to expand through technical innovations and new diving equipment, standardisation of underwater archaeological methods and techniques has been generally achieved. Subsequently, attention has shifted to problems regarding the interpretation of shipwreck sites. As a result interest focused on site formation processes and the relation between the state of an archaeological site and environmental and research conditions (Fig. 2) (MUCKELROY 1978). Gradually the notion evolved that a sunken VOC-ship should be considered more than just a collection of artefacts and material remains on the seabed. Now a point has been reached where the theoretical principles of research should be considered more seri- 410

3 Fig. 1 Sites of VOC-ships (GAWRONSKI 1996): 1. Naussau, Middelburg (1606) 2. Mauritius (1609) 3. Witte Leeuw (1613) 4. Banda (1615) 5. Geunieerde Provincien (1615) 6. Campen (1627) 7. Batavia (1629) 8. Rob (1640) 9. Lastdrager (1663) 10. Vergulde Draeck (1656) 11. Hercules (1661) 12. Kennemerland (1664) 13. Princesse Maria (1686) 14. Dageraad (1694) 15. Oosterland, Waddinxveen (1697) 16. Huis te Kraaienstein (1698) 17. Meresteyn (1702) 18. Liefde (1711) 19. Zuytdorp (1713) 20. Bennebroek (1713) 21. Slot ter Hooghe (1724) 22. Akerendam (1725) 23. Zeewyk (1727) 24. Risdam (1727) 25. Adelaar (1728) 26. Vliegent Hart (1735) 27. Boot (1738) 28. Vis (1740) 29. Hollandia (1743) 30. Reijgersdaal (1747) 31. Amsterdam (1749) 32. Geldermalsen (1752) 33. Bredenhof (1753) 34. Buitenzorg (1760) 35. Leimuiden (1770) 36. Nieuw Rhoon (1776) 37. Middelburg (1781) 38. Zeelelie (1795). ously. The basic question regards the value of a VOC-wreck as a source of information (MURPHY 1983). This value is established by the historical context in which the vessels functioned, being direct products of the organisation of the VOC. The individual wreck is not the subject of research, but rather the company itself, which originally designed, built, equipped and used the ship. Simultanously, the archaeologist is in the unique position of having access to a wide range of historical sources. Because of its bureaucratic nature, the company kept an extensive administration system. These sources deal with both the general management of the company and its material affairs, such as ships. Therefore, historical study plays an essential and crucial role in formulating the premises for archaeological research. From this point of view a VOC-wreck is a database with an archaeological and a historical component. The integrative historical and archaeological study of 411

4 Fig. 2 Flow diagram of the filtering processes of archaeological information about a shipwreck (MUCKELROY 1978). VOC-ships provides a theoretical and methodological framework to elaborate on one of the basic challenges in underwater archaeology today, namely how and to what extent sunken ships can inform us about the larger technological, socio-economical and cultural systems of the society from which they originate. The VOC-infrastructure The VOC was a private trading organisation with an intercontinental scope. During two centuries ( ) the company developed and maintained a shipping network between Europe and Asia and shipping links within the intra-asiatic trade. The VOC used its own ships and was shipbuilder, shipowner and shipper all in one. Due to its geographical range the company was structured in two main entities. The largest structure was the overseas empire, comprising parts of Africa, the Middle East and the Asian continent. Being authorized by the Dutch States-General to make treaties with foreign 412

5 sovereigns and to defend the State s interests, the overseas company was also government and military force. It had a network of some 300 settlements with the city of Batavia (Jakarta) as the governmental center. In the 18th century the number of personnel overseas amounted to 25,000, while 15,000 people worked on the ships sailing to and from Asia. The second entity was the home country where the VOC had establishments in six Dutch cities: Amsterdam, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Rotterdam, Delft and Middelburg. These six chambers were controlled by a central board of management which was based in Amsterdam. The Oostindisch Huis (East India house) in the city center was the main office with a number of different departments, such as the offices for the administration of goods and personnel, the hydrographic office, the medical department and the archive. Above all it was the decision making center with the office of the Heeren Zeventien. These seventeen chosen directors stood at the top of the centralised management system. At the base of this pyramid was a broadly organised system of independent departments, each with its own directors, foremen and workmen, specialised in a certain aspect of the total shipproduction process. Topographically and functionally, the most important facility in Amsterdam was the shipyard and its buildings on Oostenburg, one of three artificial islands in the eastern part of the harbour (Fig. 3). Here, in only five years, a large-scale and fully developed complex for the construction, supplying, equipping and reception of fleets was built during the 1660s. The yard s main features were a large-sized multifunctional warehouse which was 215 m long and six stories high, a 500 m long rope walk, three slipways and several utilitarian buildings and workshops. The yard had a high production rate of three to five ships per year, culminating in seven ships in 1746 (Fig. 4). Its infrastructure allowed to dispatch fleets of up to fifteen ships per year from Amsterdam to Asia. Such practice requested standardisation of equipment and supplies. However, concrete data on the material facilities and industrial organisation of the VOC are scarce. The Hollandia (1743) and the Amsterdam (1749) Two mid-18th-century VOC-ships, the Hollandia and the Amsterdam, have provided a case-study of historic-archaeological research regarding the company s shipproduction in the city of Amsterdam in the 1740s. Archaeologically, in terms of site formation processes, the Hollandia and the Amsterdam represent two extremes of a wide spectrum. The Hollandia is a basic example of a site with a high degree of mechanical disturbance. This vessel sunk in 1743 at the Scilly Isles, after hitting a rock and ripping its hull. The site consists partly of bare rocks and gulleys where a heavy swell and strong 413

6 Fig. 3 The VOC-shipyard in Amsterdam with the main warehouse on the background (engraving by J. Mulder, c. 1750). current occur. The wreck remains cover a large area. Ship s timbers are absent while organic and other delicate materials are poorly preserved and artifacts are highly fragmented and randomly distributed. Excavation activities during the 1970s resulted in an extensive collection of finds (GAWRONSKI et al. 1992). These offer only a limited representation of the original contents of the ship as they were mainly retrieved from a restricted area within the site where a particular section of the vessel was deposited. The Amsterdam on the other hand can be considered as the best preserved VOC-wreck known to date. Its good state of preservation is the direct result of the historical events which led to the loss of the vessel in 1749 on the southern English coast west of Hastings. After the Amsterdam had lost its rudder and could no longer be anchored in the severe weather, the captain apparently chose to beach the ship. He manoeuvred his ship to the most accessible location which was flat and without any rock formations. Here an almost fully silted up river used to flow into the sea. By putting the ship ashore the captain hoped to save ship, cargo and crew. He partially suc- 414

7 Fig. 4 A mid-18th-century (150ft) VOC-ship. ceeded. The vessel remained undammaged and the crew got safely on land. However, in just a few months the entire hull sunk under its own weight seven meters into the soft sands. Today the ends of the frames are the only parts of the wreck which protrude from the seabed and are exposed to the air during extreme low spring tides (Fig. 5). The first archaeological data on the general outline of the wreck became available through low-water-surveys in the early-1970s by Peter Marsden. Subsequently, three large-scale underwater archaeological exavations in by a combined Anglo-Dutch team of the University of Amsterdam, the Mary Rose Trust and the VOCship Amsterdam Foundation produced more insight in the hull structure, the stratigraphical conditions and the nature of the archaeological deposits (GAWRONSKI 1990; ROOIJ and GAWRONSKI 1989) (Fig. 6). The hull is ca. 50 m long and 12 m wide and is tilted at an angle of 20 to port side. Therefore, the superstructure has eroded in an oblique line, leaving the portside intact up to the level of the upper gun deck. The surviving ship s structure includes the entire lower gun deck (Fig. 7). Its contents became shielded off by layers of protective silts, reflecting a relatively high degree of spatial coherence. The stratigraphy within the stern area of the wreck consists of three main deposits (Fig. 8). The upper deposit of about 1.75 m is disturbed by seabed 415

8 Fig. 5 The wreck of the Amsterdam at low tide (photo VOC-ship Amsterdam Foundation). movement and consists of loose sand with fragmented and scattered artefacts. The finds in the second deposit still show some damage but their distribution pattern is more concentrated. The third level is an undisturbed deposit on the lower gun deck. This layer starts at about 2 m under seabed level and becomes thicker towards the port side because of the tilted attitude of the wreck. It consists of a compact mass of extremely varied artefacts, raw materials, environmental and non-artefactual remains (Fig. 9). Consequently, this wreck has a high information potential about the original material assemblage. Notwithstanding its varied and detailed nature, the present archaeological record should be considered a sample, since the excavation was limited to the stern section and upper part of the undisturbed deposit on the lower deck. The larger part of the wreck is still awaiting further research. The meaning of VOC-ships Although the Hollandia and the Amsterdam are two extremely diverse archaeological assemblages, they are closely linked historically, as both VOCships date from the 1740s. This historical background provides a common 416

9 Fig. 6 Excavation of the lower gun deck of the Amsterdam (photo C. Dobbs/VOC - ship Amsterdam Foundation). structure for the interpretation of their material record. Essentially, VOCships can be characterised as the multifunctional tool of the company to create and maintain a worldwide network of trade and industry. They were part of an intricate economic and political system which led to technological and cultural exchange on a global scale. Therefore, VOC-ships contain in a nutshell all the elements of the pre-industrial era of 17th- and 18th-century- Holland. They were complex assemblages composed of many thousands of artefacts and designed for many different purposes. These ships acted as military platforms with guns and soldiers; they carried cargo and provisions for the overseas settlements as part of an economic trade and supply system; they were floating villages accommodating a crew of over 300 men with a ranked social structure and differentiated labour; they were the post office and the bank of the company transporting archival documents and currency. In fact, they represent a microcosmos of the VOC, expressed in a material and three-dimensional way. From this point of view, the material remains of the Hollandia and the 417

10 Fig. 7 Section of the hull of the Amsterdam buried in seven meters of sand (drawing J. Adams). Fig. 8 The stratigraphy inside the Amsterdam at port side towards the stern (drawing J. 418 Gawronski).

11 Fig. 9 Winebottles on the lower gun deck of the Amsterdam (photo J. Lawrence/VOC - ship Amsterdam Foundation). Amsterdam offer information on three interrelated domaines. First of all, archaeology provides data on manifold aspects of the individual ships, for example regarding ship s construction, armament, composition of cargo and equipment and working and living conditions on board. Furthermore, through remains of personal belongings and ecofacts data becomes available on the individuals and the ecosystem on board, a level of material reality which is generally lacking in the archival record. Secondly, both ships originated from an identical phase in the history of the VOC and were products of the company in Amsterdam. They were newly designed and freshly built, in 1742 and 1748 respectively, on the same yard. They both perished on their maiden voyage shortly after departure. Therefore their material remains reflect the practice and procedures of the yard and its labour force in Amsterdam. On a third level of interpretation we find that the VOC and its shipyard 419

12 Fig. 10 Archaeological finds on the lower gun deck of the Amsterdam (photo J. Lawrence/ VOC - ship Amsterdam Foundation). were not closed entities, but made part of a larger system, in this case the city of Amsterdam. The VOC production centre functioned on the basis of an urban supply network and labour system. Although the company was mainly self-sufficient it employed a multitude of subcontractors for items which could be bought cheaper on the open market than produced. The yard relied on hundreds of artisan s workshops and merchantmen in the city for the materials and goods needed to manufacture and equip the ships. Their material remains are not only related to the activities of the VOC, but also provide us with information regarding urban trade and industry sectors. The historic-archaeological method These three criteria for interpretation of the archaeological record gave an impetus to further historical studies. One line of research focused on the functional classification of the archaeological finds (GAWRONSKI et al. 1992). To support their identification and ordering a historical reference system was developed on the basis of records in the company archive with a particularly heavy load of material information. Several documents dealing with 420

13 Fig. 11 Title page of the equipment inventory of a 18th-century VOC-ship. shipbuilding, equipment and functional arrangements on board, such as the equipagelijst (list of equipment issued to each VOC-ship), lijste van victualien (list of victuals) and the ordre en instructie voor de chirurgijns (orders and instructions for the ship s surgeon), were made accessible for archaeological use (Fig. 11). The historical records provided not only the nomenclature of the company, but also a model of the ship as a three-dimensional, material assemblage. The differences between the historical model and the real life data from the archaeological situation were further investigated to arrive at a more detailed and comprehensive reconstruction of ship and contents. 421

14 Another topic of study was the manufacturing and equipping processes of these two vessels (GAWRONSKI 1996). One of the main questions referred to the infrastructural and industrial organisation of the VOC and in particular to the relation between the company and the different sectors of urban trade and industry of the city of Amsterdam for the supply of all material facilities. In historiography, the economic development of the company has been well documented, but too little attention has been paid to practical aspects, such as structure of the work force, logistical means and technological facilities. Archaeology highlighted the need for a historical framework illustrating the material process of the equipagie constructing and equipping ships of the VOC. The 1740s brought a new stage of modernisation. As ship production intensified, the company reached its peak in the number of settlements overseas as well as of its personnel in the Republic and in Asia. Commercially the situation was less favourable: profits started to decrease and debts grew. There seems to be a discrepancy between the infrastructural organisation and the (lack of) commercial success. The complex relationships of the company with its suppliers as well as its work force became an important new subject for study. To confront archaeological data on the Hollandia and the Amsterdam historic information was extracted from the Amsterdam municipal archive and the VOC company archive on the scale and nature of personnel and the supply-system of goods and services during the very period these ships were constructed and prepared for their journey ( , ). A crucial archival source for these material culture studies is the bookkeeping journals. This type of document contains records of the actual purchases and provides the link between the production of ships and the urban supplysystem. Their accounts are ordered monthly in 41 alphabetical categories of materials and logistical costs which contain the names of suppliers and manufacturers, the number and nature of their products and all possible other kinds of data such as origin or quality of goods. Systematic analysis of these expenditures resulted in detailed information on the activities in the yard and on the purchase policy of the company. This data is the basis for further analysis of technological, socio-economical and industrial aspects of VOC-shipbuilding to support archaeological interpretation of the wrecksites. Conclusions A dual approach based on material culture and archival records is the basic feature of VOC-ships research. In historical archaeology it seldom occurs that archaeological and historical sources are so closely related as in the case of the VOC: both ships and documents have been produced within the 422

15 same context. This common origin offers ideal assumptions to interprete remains of material reality in close concordance with reflections about the past on paper. Due to the mutual discrepancy of both types of sources, in which each discipline behaves independently from the other and has its own methods, a critical interpretation is necessary to provide neutral conditions for successful integration. Archival information derived from, for example, instructions made it possible to fill in details of the material assemblage of VOC-ships, such as the kinds and quantities of tools on board or the composition of the apothecary s chest. Nevertheless, such particular historical sources do not have an absolute value in an archaeological context. Documents like instructions only partly reflect reality as they were issued to counteract processes which differ in practice. On a broader level this issue fits in the postprocessual archaeological discussion about meaning of material culture which started in the 1980s (HODDER 1986; SHANKS & TILLEY 1987; MORELAND 1991). Here the basic point is the definition of the symbolic value of material remains as carriers of socio-cultural data. With respect to the methodology of historical archaeology this discussion underlines the necessity of a broader documentation of material culture, dispelling as much as possible the restrictions of archaeological sources by means of historical information. The combined historic-archaeological analysis of specific infrastructural, technical and material facilities shed more light upon the scale and structure of the VOC-organisation in Amsterdam. This data is of relevant use for the current discussion on the modernity of the VOC as an industrial and commercial company in the pre-industrial period. This study also demonstrates that the confrontation of material culture and written sources continuously provides new approaches and criteria to the reconstruction of VOC-ships and the question of how the VOC functioned on a practical level in daily life. In this respect a useful methodological basis is given for future historic-archaeological research into VOC-wrecks and other ships from the postmedieval period. JERZY GAWRONSKI (*) References J.R. BRUIJN, F.S. GAASTRA, I. SCHÖFFER (eds.), 1987, Dutch-Asiatic Shipping in the 17th and 18th Centuries, vol. I, Martinus Nijhof, The Hague. J.H.G. GAWRONSKI, 1990, The Amsterdam Project, «International Journal of Nautical Archaeology», 19.1, pp (*) Institute for Pre-and Protohistorical Archaeology/VOC University of Amsterdam. 423

16 J. GAWRONSKI, 1996, De Equipagie van de Hollandia en de Amsterdam. Bedrijvigheid van de VOC in 18de-eeuws Amsterdam, De Bataafsche Leeuw, Amsterdam. J. GAWRONSKI, B. KIST, O. STOKVIS-VAN BOETZELAER (eds.), 1992, Hollandia Compendium. A Contribution to the History, Archaeology, Classification and Lexicography of a 150 ft. Dutch Eastindiaman ( ), Elsevier, Amsterdam/ New York. I. HODDER, 1986, Reading the Past. Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology, Cambridge. J. MORELAND, 1991, Method and Theory in Medieval Archaeology in the 1990s, «Archeologia Medievale», 16, pp K. MUCKELROY, 1978, Maritime Archaeology, Cambridge. L. MURPHY, 1983, Shipwrecks as Data Base for Human Behavioral Studies, in GOULD R.A. (ed.), Shipwreck Anthropology, School of American Research and University of New Mexico Press. H.H. VAN ROOIJ, J. GAWRONSKI, 1989, East Indiaman Amsterdam, Amsterdam. M. SHANKS, C. TILLEY, 1987, Re-Constructing Archaeology. Theory and Practice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 424

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