The Dutch V.O.C Vliegenthart
The Treasure of the Vliegenthart
The Netherlands in the late 1500s was one of the most powerful and wealthy nations in the world. While the Spanish exploited vast regions of the New World and became the largest imperial power on the globe, the Dutch built their own trading empire by tapping into the lucrative silk and spice markets of the East Indies (known as Indonesia today).
The route to the East Indies was long and treacherous. In an era before overland travel was possible, the only way to the markets was by setting out on a nine-month sea journey around Africa and across the Indian Ocean. Like the Portuguese and English, the Dutch had a long tradition of skilled sailors and ship-builders, so they were able to establish themselves as an important player in the Oriental markets.
Dutch East India Company Established in 1602
In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was awarded a monopoly to trade in the East Indies. The company was also granted the right to establish colonies and to protect its extensive fleet of the worlds finest merchant sailing ships. As a result, the Dutch East India Company was remarkably powerful and very profitable. It also established Dutch colonies along the route, especially in western Africa, South Africa, and at various locations in the East Indies including the strategic island of Java.<
Naturally, the Portuguese and English resented the powerful Dutch company dominating trade, and they often tried to destroy the competing ships. Because of this threat, merchant sailing ships also had to double as warships. The specially designed East Indiaman sailing ships were equipped with cannons and guns, and they were manned by experienced sailors and soldiers who were eager to fight off foreign foes. What’s more, the Dutch built and painted their merchant ships to look like warships in the hope that enemies might be frightened off before attacking or preying on the valuable treasure.
The Treasure Ship Vliegenthart
On May 5, 1730, the Vliegenthart (Flying Heart) was launched as the newest addition to the impressive fleet of the Dutch East India Company. She was about 145 feet long and 36 feet wide — fairly small by modern shipping standards, but about the average size for merchant ships of the 1700s. The ship had three masts, with the high central mast reaching a height of about 145 feet. Like other ships in the fleet, the Vliegenthart was designed for the long and dangerous journey to the other side of the world. She was able to handle the extremely rough seas as she rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and the full set of sails allowed her to catch the favorable trade winds across the Indian Ocean. Due to the threat of attack, the Vliegenthart was heavily armed with 42 guns. The Vliegenthart made her first journey to the East Indies in late 1731, returning to the Dutch port of Rammekens in the province of Zeeland in August 1734.
February 3, 1735
Disaster Strikes the Vliegenthart
After being refitted over the winter months, the Vliegenthart left the Netherlands once again for the East Indies on February 3, 1735. On board were 167 seamen, 83 soldiers, and six passengers plus a small treasure hoard of gold and silver coins that would be used to trade for silk, spices, and precious gems in the East Indies. However, the Vliegenthart and her smaller companion ship Anna Catharina never left Dutch waters. With a strong gale blowing as they left shore, first the Anna Catharina and then the Vliegenthart were driven onto a sandbar and severely damaged. The Vliegenthart slipped off the sandbar, but it already had gaping holes and quickly sank in 10 fathoms (60 feet) of water. All men on board were lost.
The Dutch East India Company immediately organized a salvage operation to recover the lost treasure from the Vliegenthart but only a few guns, some bottles of wine, and four silver coins were found. Visibility was only a few inches in the murky depths. In addition, the waters were too hazardous and the shifting sands too dangerous to risk continued salvage attempts, so the wreck was abandoned for almost 250 years.
Gold and Silver
Treasure Discovered in the Wreck of the Vliegenthart
In 1977, researchers discovered the secret map made by the Dutch East India Company that pinpointed the location of the wreck. For three years, divers battled near disasters in the treacherous seas but the following year, they finally discovered the wreck of the Vliegenthart. A team of expert divers and archaeologists spent over a decade carefully bringing the ships treasure of gold and silver coins to the surface.
The gold coins were stored in three chests, two of which remained completely intact through the years. They were the official trade coins to be used in the East Indies and were recorded in the ships log. However, the silver ducatoons known as Silver Riders because they feature a knight on horseback were not recorded anywhere. They were most likely smuggled on board by a senior officer or official to be sold in the East Indies, where they were worth considerably more than back home in the Netherlands. Although export of Silver Riders was forbidden at the time, it was thought to be a widespread practice, in part because it was so profitable. Until the Vliegenthart coins came to light, though, there was little actual evidence of smuggling. These coins are the most significant evidence of smuggling ever found.
The gold coins were the legendary Dutch Ducats. These coins were struck to help the Dutch East India Company establish trade markets in the East Indies and soon became one of the worlds most respected trade coins. Featuring a knight in armor on one side surrounded by the motto 'Through harmony small things increase' and an inscription on the other side which reads 'Gold money of the United Provinces of the Netherlands and their imperial law', the design remained unchanged from ruler to ruler. Some of the gold Ducats aboard the Vliegenthart were machine-made coins of the era, manufactured from hand-cut planchets on a screw press. Others, made by the ancient method of hand-hammering, have somewhat less detail in the stroke and are more erratic in shape as is typical of a hand made coin.All gold Ducats recovered from the Vliegenthart are dated 1729. They never entered circulation, and because gold does not corrode, they appear almost exactly the same as the day they were struck even after 250 years in sea water. Most gold Ducats and Silver Riders that arrived in the East Indies were eventually melted for their precious metal, and the few that escaped melting bear the tell-tale marks of having been in circulation for many years. The coins from the Vliegenthart, on the other hand, are rarely-seen coins that never circulated.
Vliegenthart Gold - Ducats are Displayed in Museums Around the World
All gold Ducats and Silver Riders salvaged from the wreck of the Vliegenthart have been cataloged, studied, and conserved by experts. As part of the agreement that allowed the salvage operation to take place, museums were allowed to select coins for their own collections before any were made available to the public. Today, some of the worlds finest museums, such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, own and display gold Ducats and Silver Riders from the Vliegenthart.