Explorers hunt for Dutch slave ship wreck

A team of Dutch and British explorers is on the brink of discovering the wreck of an 18th-century Dutch slave ship.

The Leusden sunk off the coast of Suriname on 1 January, 1738, claiming the lives of 664 African slaves. This makes it the most substantial marine tragedy which occurred under the Atlantic slave trade.

The expedition team has determined the rough location of the wreck to be near the mouth of the Maroni River (Marowijne), and is preparing for an extensive survey of the area.

A symbol of the Dutch slave trade

The slave trade was a dark era in world history and played a particularly strong role in the Netherlands, which was once one of the leading nations in human trafficking.

Although the Dutch signed an international agreement to end the slave trade in 1814, they were one of the last to enforce abolition. Last year marked the 150-year anniversary of abolition in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.

The Leusden was an important player in the Dutch slave trade. Built in 1719, it was owned by the Dutch West India Company and made 10 voyages as a slave ship.

She departed Elmina (in modern Ghana) packed with a full load of slaves on 17 November, 1737, and spent the next several months crossing the Atlantic.

Crew left 664 slaves to perish

As the ship approached the coast of Suriname, she encountered stormy weather and became grounded in the riverbed of the Maroni River.

When damage to the rudder allowed water to seep in, the crew locked the slaves below deck, and let them drown as the ship flooded during the course of a night. The entire crew - 73 men - escaped, and simply wrote off the 664 dead slaves as lost goods.

Searching for the wreck

Dr. Leo Balai is a Dutch academic of Surinamese origin and is the leader of the Leusden expedition team. The team has sectioned off a small area where it believes the ship to have sunk, and plans to conduct a more thorough search of the area from May to August, 2014.

Due to rough waters, the water is largely unsuitable for divers. The team relies on special instruments to detect the guns and other metallic items that lie within the wreck.

Balai believes that the wreck will be an invaluable find for archaeologists, as the ship likely sank in one piece and should be in relatively good condition. The discovery will also serve as an important reminder of one of the deepest scars in Dutch history.

Amsterdam Scheepvaartmuseum exhibit

Anyone seeking more information about the Leusden disaster can visit the National Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum), which is currently holding an exhibit on the Dutch slave trade. The exhibit, called "The Dark Chapter," runs in Amsterdam until 31 August, 2014.

Sources: Telegraph, Scheepvaartmuseum

Ellen Keith


Ellen Keith

A Canadian with Dutch roots, Ellen has had half her heart in the Netherlands since the day she was born. After years of visits and studying abroad, she finally made...

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