‘A rare and historical find’ archaeologist discovers 17th-century shipwreck in Tobago

Old map of Tobago

From The Guardian

A rare and historical find. That’s how Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz has described the recent discovery of the remains of a 17th-century Dutch ship, the Huis de Kreuningen, in Tobago.

The find, believed to be the ruins of the 1677 ship, was discovered during the July-August period in the Scarborough Harbour by University of Connecticut professor and maritime archaeologist Kroum Batchvarov. The Huis Kreuningen went to her watery grave on March 3, 1677.

Batchvarov, assistant professor of maritime archaeology in UConn’s Department of Anthropology, is an internationally known researcher specialising in 17th-century ship building and maritime archaeology. He is leading a multi-phased investigation to find and study the remains of 16 vessels that were sunk in a fierce battle that took place between the invading French and the Dutch in the harbour.

The sea battle, which was for control of the island, resulted in the loss of 2,000 people, including 250 Dutch women and children, and 300 African slaves. The story was published on October 21, this year, Batchvarov and his team began a remote sensing survey in the harbour and picked up some promising signals. 

Batchvarov said although his team did not find the ship’s hull structure intact, they found cultural material that dates to the third quarter of the 17th century,  including seven or eight canons, delft and bellarmine pottery jars, lead shot that was never fired, dozens of Dutch tobacco pipes, and bricks that perfectly match the standard dimensions for bricks made in the Dutch city of Leiden in 1647.

“To find what we believe to be the Huis de Kreuningen — almost by accident, as she was outside the boundaries where we expected to find her—undiscovered and untouched for over 300 years was an exciting moment,” Batchvarov said.

The find is a significant source of information for the maritime history of the period. “Although we have some written records of the battle itself, we possess no detailed plans of 17th-century warships.

So our only sources of information about the ships of the day are the wrecks themselves. It isn’t an overstatement to say that what has been discovered is a treasure trove for archaeological researchers,” Batchvarov said. 

The Huis de Kreuningen, though the largest in the Dutch fleet at 39.6 metres long and 9.62 metres in breadth, was only about three quarters of the size of her French foe, the much newer and better armed Glorieux.

In addition to the Huis de Kreuningen, which was the largest ship in the Dutch fleet, the Glorieux, the flagship of French Vice Admiral Comte D’Estrée, was also sunk and all but 80 of the 450 men aboard were lost.

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