Bad things happen to innocent people all the time. People go missing or get into serious accidents every single day. Normally, it doesn’t take us long to figure out what went wrong.
In January 1740, 250 passengers set sail for the East Indies on a doomed voyage. They were never seen or heard from again until one man uncovered the secret to their mysterious disappearance 265 years later…
In 1737, a large merchant ship named the Rooswijk was built for the Dutch East India Company. Later that same year, the Rooswijk set sail for its maiden voyage to Batavia, the capital city of the Dutch East Indies that is now modern-day Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Second Voyage
The Dutch trading ship made it safely back to its home port after that first voyage and was then scheduled to set sail on its second voyage in 1740. In January 1740, the Rooswijk set sail for Jakarta with 250 sailors and passengers…
The 250 passengers on the boat included the ship’s crew, Dutch soldiers who were responsible for protecting the ship’s precious cargo that would be used for trading, wives, children, and even ‘guests of the lower decks’, which was a term used for prostitutes.
Like the Rooswijk’s first voyage, the ship was again bound for the East Indies where it was supposed to trade the cargo of silver and copper for things like pepper, nutmeg, and porcelain before making the trip back home to Europe…
The Doomed Journey
However, the Rooswijk’s second voyage to the East Indies wasn’t nearly as lucky as its first trip across the ocean since all 250 men, women, and children on board were never seen or heard from again after they left the ship’s home port in January.
The Last Trace
Not only were the passengers never heard from again, but the doomed 3-year-old ship would never make it to its destination. The only trace left of the ship was a chest that washed up on the shore in Kent, England that held letters identifying the captain of the ship as Daniel Rousiers and named about 12 members of the crew…
The 2-Day Trip
Generally, it took merchant ships with the Dutch East India Company about 8 months to get all the way to Jakarta. However, the Rooswijk didn’t even come close to lasting that long as disaster struck just 2 days after setting sail.
Captain Rousiers had planned to sail south through the English Channel. But before he could reach the open waters of the Atlantic ocean, he had to navigate through the Goodwin Sands, one of the most treacherous stretches of sand in Britain…
The Curse Of The Sands
The Goodwin Sands is a stretch of sand about 10 miles long and 3 miles wide in the middle of the narrow Straits of Dover. Usually, they’re completely submerged, but when the tide falls, the water becomes shallow enough to expose some of the sandbanks.
It’s believed that more than 2,000 ships have become shipwrecked in the dangerous stretch of sand. And as the tide rises, the sand turns to quicksand and engulfs the ship and any survivors, which is what happened to the Rooswijk after encountering bad weather while traveling through the Straights of Dover…
265 Years Later
Tragically, it’s believed none of the 250 passengers survived the accident, and for the next 265 years, their bodies and the 85-foot ship were left untouched after they were buried under the sand. It wasn’t until 2005 that a diver discovered the wreckage.
After the Rooswijk was first discovered buried in the Goodwin Sands, experts assessed the condition of the wreck and performed an excavation, which turned up personal items like shoes, pewter jugs, and knives as well as several cannons and silver…
An Archeologist’s Dream
“With the finds that we’re bringing up we’re seeing how they lived on board, and now with the remains, we are seeing how they died as well. They were probably drowned or crushed as the ships collapsed or the cannons came loose and rolled across the decks,” said Mark Dunkley, a marine archaeologist for Historic England.
Time Runs Out
After the preliminary excavation, the wreck was covered up again and the area became a protected site in 2007. But, when another survey of the ship was taken by Historic England and the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency, they discovered the ship and everything buried with it was in danger of being destroyed…
According to experts, the shifting Goodwin Sands left the Rooswijk exposed to rough currents, erosive salt water, and air. Without the protection of the sand, the wreck is also in danger of being exposed to a new type of shipworm from the Mediterranean Sea that is traveling north as water temperatures rise with climate change.
“It’s reached as far north as Felixstowe so any shipwreck below that latitude is threatened by it. It burrows into any wood which speeds up decay and makes the wrecks vulnerable. It attacks the timbers and wooden chests. So it’s important that we start conserving these things now to prevent any more damage,” Mark Dunkley explained…
Race Against The Clock
In order to record and save as many artifacts as possible before they were destroyed, archaeologists were forced to work quickly. During a recent excavation, divers discovered three treasure chests believed to be full of silver bars and coins, which would be worth a fortune.
While archaeologists were trying to uncover any last treasures, which will be returned to the Netherlands, they also discovered something priceless. During an excavation, divers uncovered an archeologists dream when they found bones of the victims…
“We have started finding and recovering bodies. It’s a highly significant assemblage because it is so rare to find a lost crew on a shipwreck, captured in time at the moment when a catastrophe happened,” said Mark Dunkley. “It’s very rare to find a grave and know how that person died. Here we know everyone drowned or were crushed prior to drowning.”
“In that sense it’s like an underwater Pompeii,” Mark added. The team plans to take x-rays of the chests to find out what might be inside before they are opened, and hope to take DNA samples of any remains found to see if any of the victims have any descendants alive today.