Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation Lecture Series


Wendy van Duivenvoorde


January 2007


by Mark E. Polzer


After a resoundingly successful inaugural year, the CMAC Lecture Series got off to an early start in 2007 with a special presentation given by Ms. Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Assistant Curator of the Western Australia Maritime Museum (WAMM) in Fremantle and doctoral candidate in the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University (NAP). Ms. van Duivenvoorde is a veteran of several INA projects and is studying the hull remains from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Batavia for her Ph.D. dissertation on late 16th and early 17th century Dutch shipbuilding practices.

Batavia was blown off course on her maiden voyage to Indonesia in 1629 and wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos Reef off Australia's western coast. Archaeologists from the WAMM discovered the shipwreck in 1963 and raised the remains several years later. After a lengthy conservation process, a substantial part of the aft-most side of the hull was reconstructed and displayed along with other shipboard artifacts in the WAMM's Shipwreck Galleries. According to Ms. van Duivenvoorde, the Batavia timbers are the only surviving example of an early 17th-century Dutch East Indiaman to be raised and conserved, and thus represent a unique opportunity to investigate the building techniques and design concepts that made the Dutch the foremost shipbuilders in northern Europe of that period. In her lecture, "From Batavia Onwards: New Light on Dutch Shipbuilding Practices," Ms. van Duivenvoorde highlighted her ongoing research of Batavia's hull and some of the significant discoveries it has revealed.

WA Museum Maritime Archaeologist Wendy van Duivenvoorde with the remains of Batavia's hull in the Shipwreck Galleries. Courtesy the Western Australian Museum, photo: Norman Bailey.

Ms. van Duivenvoorde has been able to show that Batavia's hull was built using a bottom-based construction method that the Dutch had employed since the Medieval period. The evidence for this includes futtocks and floors that are not fastened to each other, and rows of plugged holes (spike plugs) in the planking strakes that indicate the use of temporary cleats.

The hull's shell consists of two layers of oak planking and a third, sacrificial layer of thinner pine planking nailed to the outside. Through careful study of this construction, along with relevant Dutch archival materials, Ms. van Duivenvoorde has demonstrated that the practice of "double-planking" large, ocean-going ships was standard for Dutch shipbuilders. She has also determined when in the construction process the second oak layer was applied.

Since returning to Australia, Ms. van Duivenvoorde has received the results of dendrochronology, or tree ring dating, of
Batavia's timbers, which revealed surprisingly that the ship was built from 200-year-old oaks harvested from forests in Poland. Intriguingly, the forests were the same ones from which renowned Flemish artists such as Rembrandt and Rubens sourced wood for panels on which they painted their 17th-century masterpieces. According to Ms. van Duivenvoorde, this is the first example of wood from this region being used in shipbuilding.

In concluding her talk, Ms. van Duivenvoorde announced that she will be leading a research project this summer at the WAMM to record the conserved Vergulde Draeck (1656) hull timbers for study and publication, and extended an invitation to NAP students to participate in the effort. The hull remains of this Dutch East Indiaman that, like
Batavia, ran aground off the coast of Western Australia, could provide important information about the transition from bottom-based to frame-based construction in Dutch shipyards and, together with Batavia's remains, reveal much more about this exciting period in Dutch naval history.