Thursday, 14 November 2013

Goodwin Sands Silver

By David Chamberlain

Over the centuries there have been reports of treasure being discovered on the Goodwin Sands. However, it was not until 2005 that these rumours became fact. when the contents of the Dutch East Indiaman Rooswijk’s cargo of a thousand bars of silver and 36,000 pieces of eight were recovered.

The Rooswijk had set sail with a full cargo from the port of Texel on the 8th of January, 1740. Her destination was the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) headquarters in Batavia (now Jakarta). A few days later and at night in a snow storm, which was being whipped up by a severe north-east gale, she ran aground on the Goodwin Sands. The surf was so great, the vessel was instantly swamped and the crew’s actions were rendered powerless.

The ship was quickly pounded to pieces and all the crew, plus 250 of the companies solders, perished.  Such was the ferocity of the storm there was nobody about to witness the mariners plight. The following day, wreckage was found washed-up on the beach. A Deal longshoreman found a chest that contained letters written in a foreign language; being an honest fellow he retuned it to the customs officials.  It was from these letters that the tragedy was realised and the name of the shipwreck known, however, at that time, her remains were never found.

The shape of the Goodwin Sands is changing constantly, as one year there might be an area where the sand has scoured away … then only to be filled the following year. Therefore, if a shipwreck is exposed on the Goodwins, there could be a good chance that it will disappear just as quickly as it was found.

In 2002, a diver discovered the remains of the richly laden Dutch East Indiaman Rooswijk close to the Kellet Gut on the Goodwins. He then arranged that the dive support vessel Terschelling assist in his quest to recover her cargo. Although this was done in strict secrecy the Dutch Government, as owners of the wreck and cargo, was also involved in the venture.

In the summer of 2005, the Terschelling anchored over the wreck and recovered the boxes of silver bullion. Onboard were archaeologists to record and recover artefacts for the Dutch museums. The immense value of these finds, academically as well as financial, have not yet been totalled. Nevertheless, they would have lain unnoticed, possibly forever, on the Goodwin Sands if it had not been for the dedication of the lone diver that discovered the wreck.

The Rooswijk was made a protected wreck site on 18th January, 2007 by the government and English Heritage to enable no unauthorised diving to take place. It is now one of the five historic and protected shipwrecks on the Goodwins.

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