- Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum Amsterdam
- Postbus 15443
- 1001 MK Amsterdam
- T +31 (020) 52 32 222
VOC ships like the Amsterdam sailed to the Far East. The outward journey took around eight months, the return voyage one month less. From 1602 to 1795, 1461 East Indiamen made 4800 voyages. Less than 4 per cent (192) were lost at sea.
The original Amsterdam sailed up the North Sea in 1749. In a raging storm the rudder snapped. The master decided to beach the brand-new ship on the south coast of England. Thus he hoped to save the people on board, the cargo and the vessel.
But the East Indiaman soon sank into the mud, never to be freed again. The wreck has provided archaeologists with valuable information about the construction of VOC ships, their cargoes and life on board.
The Amsterdam, a VOC ship from 1990
In 1985, almost 200 years after the demise of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the keel was laid for a new East Indiaman. The original example was largely copied during construction. But modern standards also created differences: the hull and decks are made of tropical wood instead of oak, there is standing room between the decks, the spars are glued and stairs replace ladders. More than 400 volunteers worked on this new Amsterdam, which has been berthed at the Maritime Museum since 1991.
On the outward voyage, half the hold was filled with food and drink for around 240 men for eight months. On the return journey, the hold was filled with cargo and victuals for only around 70 men.
Cargo on the outward journey
On their way to Asia, the East Indiamen carried bricks and guns for the various VOC settlements and strongholds. And, of course, food, drink and clothes for the sailors and VOC soldiers on board. Plus pots and pans and tools. Silver and gold coins and bullion were brought along for the purchase of Asian goods.
Products from all over Asia filled the hold. Tin, pepper and other spices, fabrics, tea and china were stowed in such a way that they could withstand the voyage to the Netherlands without breakage or rot.
The bread room was iron-plated to keep the supply of hardtack and cheese safe from vermin.
The magazine provided storage space for kegs of gun powder, musket and cannon balls and spare parts for the guns on board.
The main deck served as the 'dormitory' for an average two hundred sailors. The entire deck was crammed with sea chests and ditty bags. The crew members who were on watch worked on deck and in the rigging. Sailors off duty rested in their hammocks, sang sea shanties or exchanged tall tales.
In this safe place, the master gunner stored the small arms, sabres and other weaponry. His mate, the sailmaker and the ship's carpenter had their berths here. On the return voyage, it was used to hide valuable cargo from potential thieves.
On this deck, near the galley, were pens for animals that served as fresh food: pigs, goats and a calf or cow. Twenty eight-pounder guns were also placed on this deck.
With ropes wound around this large drum, the crew could weigh the anchors, set the sails, and hoist up cargo.
The shipmaster, the mates, the bookkeeper, the merchant, the surgeon and the passengers ate in the main cabin at a well-laid captain's table. No picnic when there was a gale blowing!
In this 'office' the shipmaster checked the course on his charts. He also kept the ship's log here and meted out punishments to sailors who had not abided by the strict rules. The quarter galleries contain toilets.
Forecastle deck and 'waist'
When the weather was fine, the sailors enjoyed their leisure time here. Behind the figurehead was the 'head', the toilet for the ordinary sailors.
Galley - food, drink and scurvy
In this cramped cabin, the cook prepared the food for some 240 men. In the morning, a nutritious porridge was prepared from grits cooked in butter and prunes. At noon, the cook ladled peas or beans with meat, stockfish or pork into large bowls for seven men at a time. Leftovers were served in the evening.
Besides the regular meals, there was hardtack and cheese, washed down with water, beer or gin. The diet provided enough calories, but little fat and few vitamins made the crew vulnerable to all kinds of diseases, among them the dreaded scurvy.
This part of the ship accommodated the ship's officers and passengers: VOC officials, merchants and clergymen. They were often accompanied by their wives, children and servants. At the back are the captain's sleeping quarters. Even in 1750, these would have been too low to stand up in.
This cabin contains the berth of the surgeon and his medicine chest with ointments, powders, medicinal oils, bandages and surgical instruments, for example an amputation saw. The surgeon saw patients twice a day at the main mast. He was not a fully-trained physician and treated illnesses and dressed wounds in a practical manner.
This, the highest deck of the ship, sometimes contained chicken coops. The fresh eggs, and later the chickens, ended up on the captain's table. Small swivel guns are mounted on the railings to repel boarders.
The 'Amsterdam': statistics
Length from stem to stem:
Height from keel to mast top:
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