Rescuing the Rooswijk

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Dutch and British archaeologists are working on the Rooswijk, a Dutch East India Company vessel that sank off the coast of Kent in 1740. (Image: Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency)

An international team of maritime archaeologists is working to excavate and record the remains of the Rooswijk, an at-risk Dutch wreck off the coast of Kent.

The vessel was built in Amsterdam for the Dutch East India Company in 1737, but sank on the treacherous Goodwin Sands in 1740 while sailing for Batavia (modern Jakarta).

Now a protected wreck site (its remains are owned by the Dutch government and managed by Historic England), the sunken ship is classed as ‘high risk’ on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register, due to the vulnerability of its exposed remains to local currents and shifting sands.

Now, Dutch and British archaeologists are documenting large areas of the wreck, in a project financed and managed by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands as part of the Ministry of Science, Culture, and Education. It is the first time a Dutch East India Company wreck has been scientifically studied on this scale.

The team has largely focused on excavating storage rooms and living quarters in the stern, recovering a wide range of artefacts, from large seaman’s chests and pewter jugs and spoons to glass bottles, ornately carved knife handles, and personal items like shoes.

Finds are being taken to a warehouse in Ramsgate where they can be fully recorded and initial action taken to preserve them. From there, they are being sent to a Historic England storage facility for further analysis and conservation, and will ultimately be returned to the Netherlands, although some material may be displayed in Ramsgate in the future.

Further details: and Follow the project on Twitter using #Rooswijk1740.

This article was published in CA 331.

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