Remarkable finds

During the course of the excavation of the Rooswijk, the wreck was fully surveyed, and over 3,000 artefacts were recovered. These artefacts are now being conserved at Historic England in Portsmouth. Some of the more remarkable founds include silver coinage with holes in them, a nit comb, a lead cheese container, plant and insect remains, coconuts, pewter vessels and a chest full of thimbles.

Silver coins and smuggling

The Rooswijk set off on its last journey, from the Netherlands to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta), with a lot of silver on board. All of it destined for trade in Asia. The precious metal was in high demand and was exchanged for Asian spices and porcelain. The value of the Rooswijk’s known cargo is thought to have been more than 300,000 guilders. The cargo was in the form of silver ingots and ‘pieces of eight’ - Mexican reals – these were minted to a recognised standard weight, making them perfect for international trade.

However, archaeologists have uncovered lots of other, older coins at the wreck site including ducatons from the Republic and the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium) that were not part of the sanctioned cargo. This suggests that the Rooswijk’s passengers and crew were carrying extra silver to trade illegally.

Other coins found during the dives have small holes deliberately made in them, an indication that the crew sewed them into their clothes to smuggle to the Dutch East Indies. Concealing the coins in this way also kept them safely hidden from others on board. At this time we know that people were smuggling silver in their shoes and belts, such was the demand overseas.

Smuggling silver was officially prohibited by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) although it seems to have been common practice by many VOC personnel. It’s thought that by the time the Rooswijk went down, up to half of the money being transported on these ships was illegal. It has been estimated that a total of 20 to 40 million ducatons were illegally shipped to Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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Smokkelmunten Rooswijk
Image: ©Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed / Historic England
Silver coins found on the Rooswijk

Specialist blogs

On some of the finds specialist blogs have been written which offer details on the objects and the historical context in which they were used. The blogs discuss pottery, glass artefacts, objects related to lightning, weaponry and ordnance, silver and a trumpet. On the website of Historic England two other specialist blogs can be found, concerning the general conservation process of artefacts of the Rooswijk and the conservation of a cask and a pistol.