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In April 1963, divers found the remains of a shipwreck on a reef south of Ledge Point off the coast of Western Australia. A range of artefacts including coins, ballast bricks, elephant tusks and ceramics, were recovered and helped identify the wreck as the Dutch East Indiaman VERGULDE DRAECK. It was the first of four Dutch East India Company wrecks found along the West Australian Coast.
The VERGULDE DRAECK set sail from Texel in the Netherlands in October 1655. It was the second voyage for the ship, having only recently returned from her maiden voyage to the East Indies. Commanded by skipper Pieter Albertsz, the VERGULDE DRAECK carried a cargo of trade goods and eight chests of silver coins bound for Batavia.
Early in the morning of 28th April 1656 the VERGULDE DRAECK struck the reef off Ledge Point and immediately began to break up. Of the 193 crew and passengers aboard, 75 survivors made it to the shore in two of the ship’s boats. Low on supplies and in need of fresh water, a decision was made to send a small group to Batavia to get help, and the understeersman and six crew accordingly set off on the 3000 kilometre journey in one of the boats.
They reached Batavia in June, some forty days after leaving Ledge Point. In July they returned to the survivor camp with two vessels but found the site deserted. Despite a search, no trace of the survivors was found.
A few months after the discovery of VEGULDE DRAECK in 1963, a second Dutch shipwreck, the BATAVIA, was found. Recognising the historical significance of these sites the Western Australian government enacted legislation to protect the sites from unauthorised intervention. In 1972 the VERGULDE DRAECK became the site of the first major underwater archaeological excavation in Australia. The work carried out on the site by the Western Australian Museum was instrumental in the development of maritime archaeology in Australia.