The Wreck Of A 17th-Century Pirate Ship Reveals Its Incredible Treasures


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


Just as you'd expect from a 17th-century vessel, the ship holds some good stories. Courtesy of David Gibbins/Cornwall Maritime Archaeology.

The coast of England is no stranger to legends of shipwrecks, sea-faring feuds, and pirates. A few more of these tales have been brought to light thanks to a number of recent diving expeditions and some rather convenient weather. 

The Schiedam, a Dutch merchant ship that sunk in 1684, was first rediscovered in 1971 by divers near the coast of Cornwall in the south-west of the UK at a depth of 4 to 7 meters (13 to 22 feet). Now, even more of the ship’s story has been revealed after a series of storms in the area shifted the seabed, washing some of its cargo ashore. 


Among the new finds are a couple of rusted and heavily worn 17th-century hand grenades and some decorative marble. Previous dives at the site have revealed an arsenal-load of weapons around the shipwreck, including numerous iron canons and carriage wheels. In fact, a magnetometer survey in 1985 suggests that as many as 15 iron cannons may be buried under the sand.

David Gibbons of Cornwall Maritime Archaeology also took advantage of stormy weather that shifted the sand back in October. When it settled, he snapped up a series of 3D photogrammetry images of the wreckage, which you can check out below, showcasing some of the finer details of the ship’s lost cargo.

3D photogrammetry of one of the ship's canons. Courtesy of David Gibbins/Cornwall Maritime Archaeology.

Just as you’d expect with a 17th-century shipwreck, the Schiedam is full of good stories. She started life as a vessel in the Dutch East India company, the megalithic corporation that traded with India and Southeast Asia in the 1600s. It was later captured by pirates in 1683 after picking up cargo in the north of Spain. She was soon recaptured by an English crew and taken to Cadiz where the cargo was sold.

The last of her days were spent as a transport vessel in the English Royal Navy before sinking to the seabed amid a storm on April 4, 1684, while loaded with ammunition from a failed British colony in North Africa. It’s believed locals looted most of the wreckage, however, evidently, some of its treasures remain.  

3D photogrammetry of timber and stone from the ship's wreck. Courtesy of David Gibbins/Cornwall Maritime Archaeology.

“The Schiedam is a fascinating wreck because it was carrying goods back in 1684 from the English colony of Tangier [Morocco], which had been abandoned to the Moors,” said Gibbons, according to Cornwall Live. “It represents a pivotal moment in history because the failure of Tangier led the English to look to Bombay instead.”

“Had the English succeeded in carving out a commercial enclave in North Africa and focusing their interests in the Mediterranean instead of in India, then the world would have been a very different place today."

[H/T: Live Science]


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