The search for 'Haarlem'

Off the coast of Cape Town

Links between the Netherlands and South Africa date back to the seventeenth century. During the course of nearly four centuries, initial sporadic contacts developed into current strong socio-economic bonds and cooperation at various levels between these two nations. The Haarlem Project is a mutual Dutch-South African project that will explore some of these important historic links further.

The search for the shipwreck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) vessel Haarlem forms the core of this project. After Haarlem ran aground near the shores of Table Bay in March 1647, 62 men stayed behind in a makeshift survivor camp for a period of approximately one year. During this period, they became acquainted with indigenous hunter-gatherers and herders. This resulted in friendly contacts and appreciation of each other’s cultures.

The wrecking of Haarlem led to the establishment of a Dutch refreshment station for passing ships on South African soil in 1652. This station later developed into the City of Cape Town. Of even greater importance is that the roots for present-day multi-cultural and multi-racial South African society can be traced back to the wrecking of Haarlem.

This shared cultural heritage project, which is based on thorough historic background research, aims to locate and excavate the wreck of Haarlem and its survivor camp. If both wreck and camp can be found and studied, this will have a significant positive impact on international scientific research, formal and public education, heritage management and the exchange of knowledge and capacity building. The joint contributions from the African Institute for Marine and Underwater Research, Exploration and Education (AIMURE), as well as other Dutch and South African supporters will guarantee an outcome that is of global significance.

Haarlem ran aground close to the eastern shore of Table Bay, near present day Cape Town, on 25 March 1647. Soon after, a group of about 58 of the crew were taken aboard other ships and returned to the Dutch Republic. The remaining 62 survivors stayed behind to salvage as much as possible from the wreck. During a period of about a year they lived in a camp close to the shipwreck, on strange ground in Terra Incognita.

One of the people in charge of the salvage operation, Junior Merchant Leendert Jansz, recorded the events at the time in a journal that has partly survived. This also formed the basis for another document, the Remonstrantie, which led to a decision by the board of directors of the VOC to establish a refreshment station for passing ships at the Cape. The historic events surrounding the foundering of the Haarlem in 1647 until 1652, when the refreshment station was established, have been researched in detail. The results of this, together with an account of preliminary archaeological field work undertaken during the 1990s, have been reported in a  book published by Unisa Press: Dr Bruno Werz –The Haarlem Shipwreck (1647): The Origins of Cape Town. ISBN: 978-1-86888-839-9.

The wrecking of Haarlem resulted in the arrival, in 1652, of South Africa’s ‘founding father’ Johan or Jan van Riebeeck, under whose leadership the first permanent European settlement in these parts was established. This settlement later developed into the City of Cape Town and lay at the basis of present-day multiracial and multicultural South African society.

This project thus does not only intend to gather scientific knowledge, it is also a cooperative undertaking to create a common identity between people. This international cooperative historic-archaeological project should not only result in the discovery of the shipwreck and its related survivor camp, but also contribute to a better understanding of the birth of Cape Town and contribute to the identity of its inhabitants.

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The African Institute for Marine and Underwater Research, Exploration and Education (AIMURE), 27 Rose Avenue, Tokai 7945, Cape Town, Tel. 021 – 715 6288 / Fax. 021 – 712 4831 / e-mail: 

Nedbank account nr.: 1050 8827 41 

Branch Code: 1011 0900 

Branch Name: Constantia, Cape Town

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