In September 1746 the Directors of the Zeeland Chamber decide on the construction of six new ships. For one of these cargo vessels the Zeeland Director, Jan van Borssele, who holds many important functions in Middelburg, may think up a name. This does not require much imagination, for in this period a new VOC ship is usually named after a country-seat or estate. Van Borssele does not deviate from this tradition and he names this East Indiaman after the manor Geldermalsen, owned by his family.
Construction begins in October 1746 under the direction of boss Hendrik Raas. The measurements of the ship are impressive: 42 feet wide, 150 feet long (appr. 12 by 42 meters) and a capacity of 1.150 metric tons (500 'last'). Nine months later delivery takes place, on 10 July 1747.
It will be more than a year before the GELDERMALSEN leaves for the Indies on her maiden voyage, but on 16 August 1748, captain Willem Mareeuw van den Hoek can cast off. The crew will have to load and unload many times. First in Batavia, where the GELDERMALSEN puts into port on 31 March 1749. After that she leaves for Japan on 21 June, where she arrives on 2 August. Once again new cargo is taken on board. On 31 October the ship embarks on the voyage back to Batavia, where she arrives on 10 January 1750.
Via Cheribon (March 1750) and Bantam (April) the GELDERMALSEN is now directed to Canton to take in goods for Surat. That, again, is quite a voyage and in China it takes months to collect the proper merchandise. Finally, the GELDERMALSEN leaves for Gujarat where she arrives on 8 March 1751, after having successfully warded off an attack by pirates off the coast of Goa. Once more loading and unloading, departure on 15 April. Via Cochin and Malacca the ship now sails back to Canton, where on 21 July 1751, the GELDERMALSEN can join the other ships of the VOC who are waiting there to be loaded.
The GELDERMALSEN's new destination is the Netherlands. A new crew comes on board; mostly they have come along on the STANDVASTIGHEID from Batavia. The new captain is Jan Diederik Morel, who finds many failures in the GELDERMALSEN, in spite of the fact that she is still quite new. He sends for spare parts from the VRIJBURG and the STANDVASTIGHEID, for compasses and maps, while a message is sent to Batavia that the cruiser who will tranship the gold in the Sunda Straits should also take on twenty barrels of drinking water, since many of the water vessels on board the GELDERMALSEN are found to be mouldy.
Batavia has not sent along any foodstuffs for the return voyage, and as much 'ordinary' food as possible is collected from other ships. All in all, this is sufficient for five months. In that time the ship can reach the Cape and stock up on fresh provisions. The daily menu from now on will consist mainly of rice and beans. For the ship's cabin and the sick-bay there are some extra supplies: rice and wheat, 20 live pigs and 4 oxen, 370 pounds of powdered sugar, 5 pounds of spices, 10 pounds of mustardseed, 153 litres of brandy and 270 litres of white wine.
Prior to departure, the clerks in Canton are compiling inventories. Thus the ship is armed with 24 iron cannons and 2 cannons of bronze, 36 rifles and pistols, 100 hand grenades, 25 broadswords, 27 pikes, 3.000 pounds of gunpowder and anything else needed to maintain and use such an arsenal. For troublesome seamen 18 shackles and 24 manacles are taken along.
In the ship's cabin, where apart from the captain a paying passenger also has his quarters, there are 4 dishes, 1 salt cellar, 1 mustardpot, a chamber pot, one cup for jenever, one beaker and a pint-bottle for beer, all this made of pewter, a copper candlestick, a table cloth, 4 pillows, a bell and a small clock, a Bible, a cathechism, a New Testament, a book of psalms, a house-book and the 'Practicq der Godsaligheyt', another devotional book. Also taken along for the ship's cabin and sick-bay are 50 extra porcelain plates, dishes and bowls. A chest with 165 rixdollars is intended for unexpected expenses.
The paying passenger is an Englishman, one Richard Bagge, an independent merchant who can reach Batavia quickly in this way, by transferring onto the waiting ship with the gold. There are more Englishmen on board, namely 16 deserting seamen, who have been taken on by Morel in Canton. This is highly unusual, for as a rule the various European companies adhere to the agreement not to take away each other's crews.
On 31 October, between 9 and 1O o'clock at night, Englishmen climb on board the STANDVASTIGHEID. According to the VOC, they behaved so badly that 'satisfaction' by their superiors is called for. However, the merchants of the English company refuse to consider this and by way of revenge the VOC engages 36 Englishmen, who are only too willing since this will bring them back to Europe sooner. Sixteen seamen are taken on board the GELDERMALSEN.
On 18 December 1751, three weeks later than the AMSTELVEEN who will reach home safely in July 1752, the GELDERMALSEN leaves Canton. There are 112 people on board.
It is Monday 3 January 1752. After 16 days' sailing the GELDERMALSEN is near the 55th minute latitude, just above the equator. At half past three in the afternoon captain Morel emerges from his cabin. There is no reason whatsoever to think of a catastrophe: the weather is fine and there is a calm northerly wind. Morel asks the boatswain and third watch Christoffel van Dijk, who is on duty at the moment, how the situation is with regard to the orientation point 'Het Ruyge Eiland'. The boatswain answers that the island is visible to the north-west of the ship. The captain says that at this point of the route Geldria's (or Gelderse) Droogte has been passed and he gives instructions to set a southerly course.
At six o'clock, just before dark, third watchman Jan Delia and two cadets, Arie van Dijk and Anthony van Grauw, climb up for a lookout. There is no land in sight. One hour later boatswain Urbanus Urbani is at work with the anchors.
It is now dark, but just in front of the ship he suddenly observes breakers. He manages to shout that the helm should be hard over, but it is already too late, for with a loud noise the GELDERMALSEN crashes onto a reef.
The captain shouts his orders: give way on the mizzen sheet, haul on the main sheet, haul on the starboard main sheet! The ship luffs from south to east and manages to get loose from the reef. In the confusion Morel gives instructions to haul on the starboard foresheet, but because of this faulty manoeuvre the ship once more pays off towards the south and runs aground again. Because of the enormous shock the main topmast falls down, the rudder gets out of the braces and the tiller breaks off. From one moment to the next the ship is making 14 feet of water.
Yet she manages to loosen herself a second time. A first attempt to cast the big anchor fails. It breaks off and the 'thuy' anchor is cast. The sea here is 25 fathoms deep. The GELDERMALSEN stays afloat but water is still pouring in, for the fore-part of the ship has completely cracked.
At the hind part 'barge and boat' are lowered, but this is apparently done rather carelessly, for the boat is seriously damaged by this action. Captain Morel has the sick brought on board the barge and orders some members of the crew, among whom Christoffel van Dijk, to take place in the other lifeboat. At half past twelve in the night the damaged ship capsizes. Some of the crew members who have jumped overboard manage to reach the lifeboat, but in 1752 most seamen are unable to swim. Attempts to pick up more seamen are of no avail, due to darkness.
The next morning nothing of the ship or her remaining crew can be seen. The 32 castaways set sail.
On 10 January, after a week of hardship, the two open boats reach the island of Edam and the next day they arrive in Batavia. Boatswain Christoffel van Dijk, the highest in rank of the survivors, is not given a very warm welcome. In Batavia his account causes quite astir, as well as suspicion. Why haven 't more men been saved? Why has the captain at the last moment passed along papers and two writing-drawers full of rixdollars, but not the chest of gold? Perhaps the survivors stole the gold and keep it hidden somewhere? Time and time again Christoffel van Dijk has to tell exactly what happened, and on 17 January he and the other third watch Urbanus Urbani are sharply questioned by the Judge Advocate General.
The Hoge Regering has every reason for wanting a thorough investigation into the mysterious accident. How is it possible to run aground in such familiar waters with so much traffic? The location of the reefs and sandbanks is known. The seamaps of this area are quite detailed, there are complete drawings of the coastal profiles. What can possibly have happened?
As usual at noon sun's height is measured and the latitude is calculated to be 55 minutes northern latitude, just above the equator. The entire afternoon, exactly on the hour, a depth of 20 to 25 fathoms is logged when heaving the lead. Christoffel van Dijk states that he observes to the North-West the coastline of 'Het Ruyge Eiland', a fixed orientation point. Was the boatswain sufficiently experienced? He may have made a simple mistake. Perhaps he was deceived by the clear sky and was it not even 'Het Ruyge Eiland' at all. Seamaps of that period are known to deviate considerably compared with modern maps. Moreover, it was no easy task to determine exactly the distance travelled and to plot this on a map. Though the instruments available to the 18th century captain enabled him to measure the latitude fairly accurately, the longitude was much harder to determine.
Merely on the basis of Van Dijk's observation the captain concludes at half past three that Geldria's Droogte has already been passed. Too soon he sets the new southerly course and after 3 1/2 hours the disaster takes place. Or should even that part of Van Dijk's tale be doubted and was it not the captain but he himself who decided on the change of course ? We will never know. The reports show that none of the crew members knows exactly where the ship has sunk. It seems logical to think of Geldria 's Droogte, because that is the part of the normal sailing route where dangerous cliffs are located.
The interrogation of Christoffel Van Dijk is very thorough. He describes how the GELDERMALSEN ran aground twice, with the forepart of the ship breaking during the second collision, and how the captain then ordered the sick to be brought on board the barge and Christoffel Van Dijk and a few others to take to the other lifeboat . The captain himself, together with the main body of seamen remained on the poop, because (according to the report) the lifeboat was leaking. It is dark and the GELDERMALSEN continues to take water. Morel does not give any maps or compasses to the men in the leaking lifeboat, but instead Company papers and two writing-drawers containing rixdollars. And a barrel of ship's biscuits. On second thought a pair of compasses is lowered on a sounding-line. Does he still believe at that moment that the GELDERMALSEN will not sink ? The barge, with 22 people on board, among whom a quartermaster who does have maps with him, drifts away from the GELDERMALSEN. At half past twelve at night they see the big ship capsize. Crew members jump overboard, but hardly anybody can swim. Only a handful manage to reach the lifeboat. The barge is too far away. Soon only the mizzen-mast of the GELDERMALSEN remains above water.
At daybreak the survivors set sail and leave. On board the barge there are a quartermaster, a constable's mate, 19 seamen and third watch Urbanus Urbani. In the leaking boat there are Christoffel Van Dijk, seven seamen, a carpenter and another quartermaster. Fortunately, they have four waterbuckets for bailing. The provisions on board consist only of a barrel of ship's biscuits and a Chinese piglet which they had managed to grab out of the sea, one of the twenty live pigs on board. There is no drinking-water and it takes them four days to reach the coast of South-East Sumatra. There they fill the now empty biscuit-barrel with drinkingwater and sail on to Batavia, where they reach the island of Edam on 10 January.
Why did the castaways take along papers and rixdollars, but not the valuable chest of gold? Christoffel van Dijk declares that they never even saw it . Hatcher found the gold not in the wreck, but beside it. That fits in with the story of one of the survivors, the steward of Morel, a seaman by the name of Arnold. He tells how he, together with someone else, was ordered by Morel to get a chest from the cabin. The two men lugged the heavy chest on deck, and according to Arnold this must have contained gold because of its weight. They take their burden as far as the side-rope and what happens then is anybody's guess, for at that moment the GELDERMALSEN begins to capsize and Arnold jumps overboard.
Degradation Batavia thinks this an unlikely story. They wonder to what extent the witnesses are telling the truth. Besides, the survivors have acted against the rules by sailing away without making any further rescue attempts. Christoffel Van Dijk is severely reprimanded on this point. Batavia writes to the Dutch Directors that the lifeboat has left the GELDERMALSEN far too soon; by doing so, Van Dijk failed to save any of the officers or 'the most virtuous crew who stayed on board with the captain'. Batavia really thinks that Van Dijk deserves severe punishment, at least if there is sufficient proof of his guilt. As for now, the boatswain is degraded and it is as an ordinary seaman, without payor goods, that he sails to the Netherlands in 1752 on the return ship the PASGELD. Obviously there his account is sufficiently convincing, for shortly afterwards his name appears once more on the Company's muster-roll, although he then earns only 14 guilders a month as third master, whereas as boatswain on the GELDERMALSEN he earned a salary of fl. 26. As regards the gold, his name has now been cleared, 233 years after the event.
Of the crew members, 32 survived the shipwreck; the other 80 went down with the ship. There is no complete list of crew members of the GELDERMALSEN, though there is a ship's list of the STANDVASTIGHEID, part of whose crew transferred onto the GELDERMALSEN in Canton. On this list those who drowned in the shipwreck have later been noted. There are also data from other records. Although the AMSTELVEEN, due to the sudden halving of the annual supply made a record profit, the VOC naturally suffered a loss from the wreck. The entire cargo, valued at fl. 714.963, was lost, plus the gold at a value of fl. 68.135. The ship's hull is recorded as worth fl. 100.000. A total loss of nearly nine hundred thousand guilders.
The discovery by Captain Michael Hatcher.
When a ship has lain in water for 233 years, not much is left of it. Only objects of durable material, such as gold, bronze and of course porcelain can survive such a period. Nevertheless, Hatcher and his men, while digging up these treasures, have swum around in a gigantic teapot. It is worth dwelling on this, and to remind ourselves of the important fact that this VOC ship carried tea as her most important cargo. At present attention is naturally focused on the porcelain and gold, but for the Chamber of Zeeland, which was the GELDERMALSEN's destination, the tea, 686.997 pounds, meant the prospect of a profit of about four hundred thousand guilders.
Not much has remained of the packing material, the wooden chests and the bales but the tea itself, originally a several meters' thick layer, has thickened and thickened again, thus forming a soft protective layer for the rich cargo underneath. For the time to come Hatcher will probably sicken at the mere thought of tea...
What is it the divers have brought to the surface? We can distinguish three categories: objects belonging to the ship's inventory, gold and the collection of porcelain.
I can not discuss the first category in detail. The interpretation of these objects is a specialism by itself, but it is clear that they form a special component in the whole story of the GELDERMALSEN. It is a pity, therefore, that Hatcher has paid little attention to a detailed registration of his finds: where exactly was the bronze ship's
bell lying, were the copper candlestick and the remains of the wineglass lying close together? Every underwater archaeologist might ask numerous questions with regard to one small find, for it is precisely these kind of details that tell us more about life on board, the organization, the use of the object in question, the crewin short, it helps us to gain more insight into all these matters about which so very little is known. Every minute and seemingly insignificant object may be 'a historical time capsule'. By lifting a find out of its context something of its tale is irrevocably lost and this detracts from its value. A good example of this is the candlestick recovered by Hatcher. It is a heavily encrusted, but still easily recognisable model with a drip-catcher in the middle and a probably detachable upper part. The green oxidation testifies to the copper used in the alloy. In the list of cabin's goods such a candlestick is mentioned. But have captain Morel and his passenger sipped their brandy by the light of this candle ? We will never know, because we have no information on the location of the find. Perhaps there were more candlesticks of this kind on board. The same applies to the pewter wine jug, the remains of a wineglass and the mounting of a ship's chest. Outside their context they are isolated objects which do have a certain general historical value because of the precise dating, but are unable to tell us more about the people who owned them or the situation in which they were used.
Hatcher has further recovered two bronze cannons, the only two on board, according to the inventory. There were also 24 iron cannons, but they have suffered far more from the sea water. One of the cannons bears the VOC monogram of the Amsterdam Chamber and the inscription: MN---- NOORDENE LANDGRAVE (?) AMSTELODAMI A 1702. The digit 1656 indicates the weight in pounds.
The other cannon, with the VOC monogram and the R of the Rotterdam Chamber, has a more legible inscription, which says: ME FECIT QUIRIN DE VISSER ROTERODAMI 1705. The weight indicated is 1702 pounds. Both cannons have two handles in the shape of a curving leaping dolphin. The dates indicate that they were not especially made for the GELDERMALSEN. It is even doubtful whether they were on board at all when the ship first sailed for Asia. In Batavia and on the way the armament of a ship was frequently changed.
The ship's bell, however, is an integral part of the ship and during the voyage determines the rhythm on board. The ship's communications system revolves around it and everyone on board knows its specific sound. Hatcher has recovered the 47 cm high bell of the GELDERMALSEN and it is obvious that this bell was cast specifically for this ship. It bears the inscription: ME FECIT CIPRIANUS CRANS JANSZ ANNO 1747, and is decorated with birds, acanthus leaves and vinescrolls in bands below and above the text. It will be displayed in the Zeeuws museum in Middelburg, as a gift from Hatcher and his crew.
Finally, there is the crockery on board the ship. Tens of 'baardman' jugs of German stoneware in various sizes, some indeed with the well-known bearded face in relief, but most of them undecorated with a somewhat spotty brown glaze. High jugs with a small handle, glazed bluish-grey, also German stoneware, some with a letter or digit in blue. A series of wine bottles, the well-known bulging model with a high kick. The salt has caused many of them to crack, but others still have their contents. The four Delftware gallipots, a big wide one and three smaller high ones, may have belonged to the inventory of the sick-bay.
For the history of Asiatic ceramics the many martavans are interesting: storage jars for water, oil, preserved vegetables and other items. They are made of thick, brown-glazed stoneware and were traditionally manufactured in South-Chinese kilns. There are various types in Hatcher's find: the low, bulging model with a wide shoulder and tapering at the bottom, the higher pear-shaped model and a small martavan with a clearly pronounced shoulder and a slightly outward-curving wall which only narrows at the bottom. The study of martavans has lately become a subject of renewed interest. They have been used throughout South-East Asia for many centuries as storage jars, and sometimes, as handed-down family heirlooms, they were even believed to have magical powers. Dated pieces, such as these of the GELDERMALSEN are rare and very welcome for further study.
The second category of Hatcher's find is, of course, the most spectacular: the gold. As Hatcher himself tells in an interview: this is the dream of every diver, the classical children's story of shipwrecks and hidden treasures. It is already an adventure in itself to see such a fairytale come true.
As a matter of fact, Hatcher was lucky. The period during which the return ships carried gold on part of their route was relatively brief: from 1735 until 1760. And of all these ships 'only' two were shipwrecked: the ENKHUIZEN in 1741 and the GELDERMALSEN in 1752. The AMSTELVEEN, for instance, who sailed for the Netherlands three weeks before the GELDERMALSEN, did not have any gold on board at all.
In all, the GELDERMALSEN carried 147 pieces of gold. Hatcher has found 125 of them. There are 107 rectangular bars and 18 so-called shoes or boats of a more or less oval shape with upright ends. The shoes measure 5.5 x 3 x 3 cm, the bars 8 x 2.5 x 1.5 cm. Bars and shoes each weigh approximately 370 grams or 10 Chinese thaels. All the gold is extremely pure, about 20 to 22 carats, and stamped with Chinese quality seals. On the shoes we see one or two round seals with the character 'ji', which means 'luck' . The bars have two square seals bearing the character 'yuan' and a gourd-shaped seal with the signs 'yuan ji bao' , meaning 'gold block' or 'valuable' .63 In letters in which the buying-in of gold is mentioned, we read that most of it was bought through the Hong merchant Tsja Hongqua, who got it from Nanking. In those days this was already an important trading centre. Raw silk and Nanking linen are manufactured there and the Chinese merchants in Canton have intensive contacts with this place.
Of greater historical significance than the gold is the immense quantity of porcelain recovered by Hatcher: more than 150.000 pieces. The stylistic characteristics support a mid-18th century dating. The nature and composition of the goods, when we compare them with the shipping invoice of the GELDERMALSEN and other archival documents, are proof beyond doubt that what we see here before us is indeed the porcelain from the GELDERMALSEN. (see porcelain)
We have a short but complete shipping invoice, thanks to the custom of that time to make several copies of nearly every written document. The VOC after all, had a great many pennisten or clerks in its service. This list is a copy of the letter which was on its way to the Zeeland Chamber with the GELDERMALSEN. The Honourable Gentlemen receive, thus the letter, the usual survey of the cargo. The GELDERMALSEN has 203 chests with porcelain on board with the
following assortment (the original Dutch names are added between brackets): 171 dinner services (tafelserviesen), 63.623 tea cups and saucers (theegoed), 19.535 coffee cups and saucers (kofflegoed), 9.735 chocolate cups and saucers (chocoladegoed), 578 tea pots (trekpotten), 548 milk jugs (melkkommen), 14.315 flat dinner plates (tafelborden), 1.452 soup plates (soepborden), 299 cuspidors (quispedoren), 606 vomit pots (spuijgpoijes), 75 fish bowls (viskommen), 447 single dishes (enkele schalen), 1.000 nests round dishes (nest ronde schalen), 195 butter dishes (botervlooijes), 2.563 bowls with saucers (kommeijes en pieringen), 821 mugs or English beer tankards (mugs of Engelse bierkannen), 25.921 slop bowls (spoelkommen).
The 'Nanking Cargo' auction at Christie's in Amsterdam in 1986.
As the auction drew near and the news of the extent and variety of the 150.OOO-piece cargo of GELDERMALSEN spread through Europe's universities and museums, academic fury against Hatcher began to mount. A bigger threat to the success of the sale had been the strong opposition mounted towards it by the (Netherlands) Rijksmuseum and its curator of marine archaeology, Mr Bas Kist. He considered that the GELDERMALSEN had been salvaged too quickly with all the concentration on bringing up the saleable cargo at the expense of serious historical investigation of the site.He called a press conference to publicise what he called the inadequate funding of
marine archaeology by the Dutch Government. '...We fear that in the rush of romantic excitement part of the national heritage will be lost,' said Kist. But when Mike Hatcher attempted to put his point of view (at the press conference) he was refused entry. The Rijksmuseum refused to take any part in the bidding. But in the event the Rijksmuseum's disapproval had no effect on the auction.
The auction was six months in the planning and was the biggest porcelain sale ever attempted by Christies. All involved knew that a successful publicity and marketing campaign could mean the difference between success and failure. Hatcher had learned a few lessons from the junk. With the GELDERMALSEN recovery he took photographer John Bremner along to take still photographs and video footage of the operation.
Christies appointed Mark Wrey to handle publicity. 'Nanking Cargo' was decided as the title for the sale, the name coming from 18th century auctions which advertised the porcelain as 'Nanking Ware'. It was the inspiration of Christie's Chinese Department Director Colin Sheaf who would later write a book of his own, 'The Hatcher Porcelain Cargoes'. One of Wrey's first moves was the compiling of a video of Bremner's footage. Four hundred advance copies were made and sent to dealers and to Christie's salerooms in London, New York, Amsterdam and Paris. A major press conference was held in Amsterdam for international newspaper and television journalists, with Mike Hatcher on show together with a range of artefacts from the GELDERMALSEN.
In March there was another conference with the bell and the two bronze cannon to announce the positive identification of the vessel. During this time Mike Hatcher also gave a series of lectures and television appearances which kept the names GELDERMALSEN and Nanking Cargo in the public eye. The publicity machine was extremely effective. In the week before the auction 20.000 people queued in the rain to file through Christie's Amsterdam salesroom to view the Nanking Cargo.
But Christies were still nervous about the coming sale. They estimated the potential sale at about $US6 million. Hatcher, always the optimist, thought the figure would be higher. 'I had a gut feeling that it would be good,' he said later. 'There was no particular reason. Just instinct and a feeling from the response I'd had that the public were really going to go for it.'
At 10.30 am on 28 April 1986 the real test came. Christies' Amsterdam manager took the rostrum in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel, suitably decked out in blue-and-white decorationsand banged down his gavel. The sale was on. There were 2.746 lots to be sold in 11 sessions over five days.
Mike Hatcher got the auction off to a good start, bidding for a 1750 German stoneware jug. Christies had estimated that it would probably fetch about 1.000 guilders or $US500. Hatcher took the bidding to 11.000 guilders before the jug was finally knocked down to him. 'I found it on the wreck myself,' he said afterwards. 'It was the first thing I brought up and I badly wanted to keep it. But we'd told all the divers that everything was to go in the auction and if they wanted something they could bid for it. I had to set the example, though I didn't imagine it was going to cost me over 5000 bucks.'
There followed five days of intense excitement. Every lot sold, on average, at prices of four or five times its estimate. Hatcher, Max de Rham, Soo Hin Ong and his wife, and the divers sat in the front row, AW Rahim amongst them with his wife. Ong and the crew bid successfully for a number of items. Everyone else was dressed in their best and wearing ties. Mike Hatcher had a smart casual jacket with an open-necked shirt. No tie. 'I'm the same man with or without one,' he said with a grin. 'If it worries anyone that's their problem not mine.'
By Friday, 1 May 1986, Christies had sold almost 160.000 pieces of porcelain and 126 gold ingots for a grand total of 37 million guilders. That translated into £10 million sterling, or $US20 million. An extraordinary sum and beyond the wildest expectations of Christie's and Max de Rham. A record for any similar sale in Holland, the second highest total from any Christie's auction to that time.
Izak J H Hough
Member of The Nautical Research Guild