The Amsterdam. This Dutch East Indiaman came ashore at St Leonards-on-Sea on the afternoon of 26 January 1749 with all guns firing. She had broken her rudder off Pevensey and the gunfire was to warn people ashore of her plight. The value of her cargo was estimated at £200,000 and, in spite of the enthusiastic efforts of looters and wreckers nearly all her 28 chests of silver were brought ashore.
A letter from Thomas Smith, Custom House Officer, Eastbourne, to John Collier of Hastings, Agent for the Duke of Newcastle: “26 January 1749. There is a large Dutch ship ashore about half a mile to the east of Bullverhithe. Her name is the Amsterdam, of Amsterdam, bound to Batavia in the East Indies. Burden about 600 or 700 tons, 333 men, 54 guns, Captain Willem Klump commander, having on board 28 chest of silver, of which 27 are log’d in the Custom House. ”
The Amsterdam was a 18th century cargo ship of the Dutch East India Company. The ship started her maiden voyage from Texel to Batavia (now Jakarta) on 8 January 1749, but was wrecked in a storm on the English Channel on 26 January 1749. Conditions aboard such a craft were grim and the Dutch had great difficulty in persuading their own nationality to crew their ships. The crew on the Amsterdam (203 sailors, 127 soldiers and 5 passengers) were Germans, Norwegians, Italians, Danes, and Ceylonese. 18 days after starting her maiden voyage the ship hit a south westerly gale. Unable to run for cover, all the gun ports and ship’s hatches were closed. The crew struggled for days to keep the ship on course. Cold, wet and exhausted, the lack of air and sanitation made illness rampant. Captain Willem Klump, 33, tried to steer a course for Pevensey Bay. While doing so, the ship settled in a trough in the waves, hit the sea bed and lost her rudder. The Amsterdam, out of control, with fifty of her crew succumbing to illness and another fifty being taken the same way, was in danger of a mutiny. The crew had broken into the liquor store and were in an advanced state of intoxication.
So when the Amsterdam was run ashore on 26 January 1749 the crew was drunk. Captain Willem Klump wanted to sail to Portsmouth for repairs, but the loss of her rudder, the terrible gail and the crew dying of the plague ensured that crew only wanted to get ashore. The Dutch records do not describe the reasons for her loss, but Hastings records mention the conflict between the captain and his drunken crew, and the discovery of two fired musket balls near the bones of Captain Klump’s cabin boy, 15 years old Adriaan Welgevaren, all show that shooting had happened before ship was run ashore, and suggest that mutiny had occurred.
Two days later the Amsterdam had sunk into the sand where she had beached, without part of her cargo being unloaded. Captain Klump and most of the surviving crew were saved and managed to save most of the silver coins and bars (28 crates, worth 300.104,00 guilders). Professional smuggler Anthony Watson stole the most interesting part of what was left on the Amsterdam. Together with his mates he broke into the captain’s cabin and took the rest of the silver, worth 1200 pounds. English soldiers were needed to stop the plundering. The Dutch East India Company later tried in vain to remove the rest of the cargo, but all that was salvaged were silver treasure chests, three chests of merchandise and one ornate chest with silver facings.
The intended voyage of the Amsterdam was from Amsterdam city to the port of Batavia (now Jakarta) in Java, via the supply port now known as Cape Town, that was founded by the Dutch East India Company. She was exporting silver and supplies, and was to return to Europe wit spices, fine silk and porcelain.
What the crew of the Amsterdam ate and drank — Meats: salt pork (bacon), oxen; Fish: herring, cod and salmon; Dutch cheese; Bread; Butter from Holland and Ireland; Vegetables: blue, yellow and white peas, beans, red cabbage, carrots, onions; Grains: oats, barley; Beer: mostly from one Amsterdam supplier; Wines: Montbazillac from the Bergerac region, plus from the Bordeaux, Moselle and Rhine areas; Brandy from Cognac and Languedoc, Sherry from Spain and Holland, Genever (gin) supplied by Harmannus Bols.
There were three women on board, all were rescued and stayed at the Maidenhead Inn in Old Hastings. Two were ‘ladies’. They were Pieternella van Bockom-Schook, with her new husband Andries van Bockom, aged 25, and her sister Catharina. Andries was a VOC Company merchant taking up work in the Far East. Perhaps Catharina, aged 22, was going out to become betrothed.
Captain Willem Klump was born about 1715 of a Dutch family in Mittau, now known as Jelgava, in Latvia on the eastern Baltic. At the age of 31 he commanded the Dutch East Indiaman Eijndhoeff and in 1745 he sailed to Java, returning in 1747. The voyage of the Amsterdam was his second command. He had married Margareta Schade in Amsterdam in 1743, and lived on the Prinsengracht beside the tree-lined canal. By 1749 they had two young children — Elysabet (4) and Coenraad (6 months). Willem Klump was not charged with neglect for the loss of his ship, and in 1750 successfully sailed the East Indiaman Ruyskenstein to Java. Willem died in 1775 and, with Margareta, is buried in the Dutch Reformed Church at Huizen.
In August 1969 civil engineers William Press & Sons, contractors working on the new long-sea outfall at Bulverhythe, dug into the 220-year old wreck of the Dutch East Indiaman Amsterdam with heavy equipment, stealing large quantities of historic material. The first full-scale archaeological survey of the wreck was carried out in March 1970. The skeleton of this 150 foot, fifty-four gun ship of the Amsterdamis sometimes visible during very low tides. The wreck site is protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act since 1974.
A replica of the ship is on display in Amsterdam, next to the Amsterdam Nautical Museum. In 1996 I published my book Lexicon van de watersport, visserij, koopvaardij, marine en bruine vloot (Lexicon of Aquatics, Fisheries, Merchant Navy, Navy and Traditional Sailing Vessels), and Dutch national television wanted to interview me. So we did it on the afterdeck of the replica of the Amsterdam. And now, 15 years later, I live in St Leonards-on-Sea, about 3 miles from the wreck of the original Amsterdam.
Visiting the wreck of the Amsterdam
It’s 5.40pm and low tide. Somewhere out there is the wreck of the Amsterdam.
I park my car in Bridge Way, a cul-de-sac. Bridge Way is a sidestreet of Bexhill Road, the A259 between Bexhill and St Leonards-on-Sea.
Someone painted this on the shipping container you see on your left, just before you cross the foot bridge. VOCschip-Amsterdam.org, the name of their website.
We’re crossing the railway between Brighton and Hastings, looking towards St Leonards-on-Sea. You can easily see why tourism never became popular at this part of the beach — the railroad is a firm border between the beach and the neighborhood of Bulverhythe.
The stairway to the beach.
The wreck isn’t visible today. Only at very low tides the Amsterdam is exposed on the beach.