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History and Archaeology

Sea Routes and Exploration

  Problem of longitude in relation to the discovery of Australia 
In 1611 Dutch captain Hendrik Brouwer made a calculated venture across the southern Indian Ocean with the Roaring Forties winds before turning north, and in doing so cut the voyage to six months. Brouwer’s journey became known as the Brouwer Route.


The first Dutch vessel known to have visited part of the Australian coast was the DUYFKEN (i.e. the Little Dove), despatched to examine the coasts and islands of New Guinea. 

  Maritime Exploration of Australia 

Timeline of Dutch explorers and exploration through Guinea and Australia.

  VOC ships and other visitors to the west coast

VOC ships—followed by vessels of the French and British navies—played major roles in the European discovery and exploration of Western Australia. 

  Early sailing ships

In the last quarter of the 18th century, large European vessels were being classified into types based on their hull configuration, e.g. frigate, hagboat, pink, cat, flute, and bark. 

  Captains and commanders

The names of explorers and seafarers or their ships are still used today. Dirk Hartog is one of them—Western Australia’s biggest island near Shark Bay is named after the Dutch skipper who is the first to set foot there in 1616. 

  Dirk Hartog

This website provides background on the exploration by Europeans, Dirk Hartog's journey to Western Australia and impacts.

  Dirk Hartog

Biography of Dirk Hartog.

  Willem de Vlamingh

Biographical information of Willem de Vlamingh.

  Vlamingh, Willem de

From the Australian dictionary of Biographies.

  Great Southern Land: The maritime exploration of Terra by Michael Pearson

A historical account of the mapping and exploration of Australia by Europeans.

  Shipwrecks 1656-1942: A guide to historic wreck sites of Perth by Sarah Kenderdine

A guide to historic shipwrecks along the coast of Western Australia


On 1 August 1711 Zuytdorp (meaning ‘South village’) was dispatched from the Netherlands to the trading port of Batavia. It never arrived at its destination. No search was undertaken, since there was no idea where the ship was lost. The crew were never heard from again.


Some time in June 1712, the 700 ton VOC ship  Zuytdorp, Captained by Marinus Wijsvliet, was wrecked on the Western Australian coast, called New Holland at that time, crashing onto rocks at the bottom of cliffs just south of Shark Bay. The cliffs are now called the Zuytdorp Cliffs.

  Zuytdorp shipwreck

The Zuytdorp was a Dutch East India Company ship travelling to Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia) in 1712. On board were about 200 passengers and crew and a rich cargo, including 248,000 silver coins. 


The Dutch East India Company's Zuytdorp came to a shuddering halt on Western Australia's remote Murchison coast between Kalbarri and Shark Bay, possibly sometime in June 1712. 

  Vergulde Draeck

Built in 1653 by the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), the Vergulde Draeck ('Gilt Dragon') was a 260-tonne, 42-metre 'jacht'. On its second voyage to the VOC's spice-trading headquarters at Batavia (Jakarta), it sailed too far east and struck a reef on 28 April 1656, just 5.6 kilometres off the coast of the mysterious Great South Land.

  Vergulde Draeck

On the night of the 28th of April 1656 the VOC ship Vergulde Draeck (also known as Gilt Dragon) under the command of Pieter Albertszoon ran onto a reef off the coast of Western Australia about mid-way between what are now the towns of Seabird and Ledge Point. The site is about 100 kms north of Perth.

  Search and survival: Abraham Leeman and the Vergulde Draeck

In the hours before dawn on 28 April 1656, a Dutch East India (VOC) ship called the Vergulde Draeck struck an uncharted reef on her way to Batavia (now Jakarta) and sank off the coast of what is now called Western Australia, but was then an enigmatic landmass scarcely known to Europeans – the fabled Great South Land. 

  'Vergulde Draeck' (Gilt Dragon) Shipwreck

In the early hours of 28 April 1656, the Dutch trading ship Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon) struck a reef five kilometres south of Ledge Point, 100 km north of Perth. Little is known of what actually happened, even less is known about the fate of the survivors.

  Eight Reales coin possibly from the 'Gilt Dragon' shipwreck

Associated with the oldest Dutch shipwreck discovered on the Australian coast this silver coin is representative of European presence near the Australian continent in the 17th century.

  Maritime Archaeology - Legal Requirements

From 1 July 2019 Australia's historic shipwrecks, sunken aircraft and their associated relics over 75 years old are automatically protected by the Commonwealth Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 (UCH Act). 

  Underwater cultural heritage

Australia protects its shipwrecks, sunken aircraft and other types of underwater heritage and their associated artefacts through the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018.

  Maritime heritage legislation

The Australian National Shipwreck Database (hosted by the Australian Government) includes details of all known shipwrecks in Australian waters. 

  Materials Conservation

The conservation and preservation of the Museum’s collection is accomplished through the use of preventive and remedial conservation techniques in accordance with international and national standards of best practice.

  'Zuytdorp' Shipwreck - 1712

The Zuytdorp wreck site is about 65 km north of Kalbarri. See where the ship lies here. Timbers, guns, anchors and a carpet of silver coins have been found strewn across the sea floor. In 1986 divers from the Western Australian Maritime Museum raised artefacts from the Zuytdorp.

  Sunken Treasure – 248,000 silver coins lost to the sea

Timbers, guns, anchors and a carpet of silver coins have been found strewn across the sea floor. In 1986 divers from the Western Australian Maritime Museum raised artefacts from the Zuytdorp.

Suggested Reading list

Compiled by Luciana Cavallaro March 2020 | Updated November 2022