Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-1 (October 2012)Thijs Maarleveld; Alice Overmeer: Aanloop Molengat – Maritime archaeology and intermediate trade during the Thirty Years’ War1
4 Discussion: interpretation, historical context and meaning

4.4 Location, economic context, route and destination

The location in the approaches of the Molengat channel into the Texel roads means that the ship was outward or inward bound. It is unlikely that it was just passing. The heavy iron cargo was probably sourced from Sweden or from Nuremberg through Hamburg. The lead is assumed to have come through the Baltic port of Danzig, the tin through Hamburg. Mercury, iron nails and cannonballs have various provenances, but like ivory, pepper, leather and brass pins, they may well have been sourced through the markets centring on Amsterdam. This is true for the heavy metals as well. For the luxury cloth, it is certain that it was an export product of the Low Countries and it is very unlikely to have been brought back into the country. We must therefore assume that we are dealing with a Dutch vessel, sailing from the Republic with a cargo loaded there, but where to and for what purpose?

Despite the uncertain international relations, the 1630s and 1640s were a period of continued economic growth and integration. In the Dutch Republic, shipping, shipbuilding, manufacture, industrial production and trade, the sectors that the Aanloop Molengat assemblage informs us about, continued to grow in unprecedented fashion (de Vries & van der Woude 1995). The Holland staple traded in almost any goods and commodities in every possible direction. Ships of more than 300 last, laden with valuable and heavy cargo, are no exception, but they were generally confined to specific routes – the East and West Indies and the Mediterranean (Table 1).

Hier Table Maarleveld

[ *image not found: m0401a04:TAB7 ]

Contingencies relating to the international situation had both a negative and positive impact on trade, but also prompted deviations from established trading patterns. Incidental price advantages and the need to ballast ships did lead to counterintuitive movements of goods. Heavy cargoes were suitable ballast, even if they did not fetch a higher price at destination than at departure. Outgoing voyages ‘in ballast’ were standard practice in the East and West India Companies, but also on routes to the Baltic. The Sound toll register for the year 1635 and onwards list many Dutch vessels travelling ‘east’ with heavy cargo. Among the 71 sailings in 1646 there are two whose cargoes closely resemble Aanloop Molengat in that they combined ivory, steel, mercury, tin, nails and pins (Bang & Korst 1906-1933). The skippers are listed as coming from Terschelling and Vlieland and it is likely that the entries represent a coordinated shipment. After all, it was good practice for merchants to spread risks by dividing their shipmentsover several vessels. Most certainly, however, it indicates that such commodities were transported along this route. Would the Aanloop Molengat cargo be similarly destined? It is not impossible. On the other hand, Baltic traders generally clustered at around 100-150 last. Ships of 250 last would still engage in this trade, but a ship of more than 300 last is hardly conceivable. The size of our vessel makes it unlikely that it was outward bound on this route.

Another possibility is that it was an East Indiaman, which certainly could have matched the dimensions. Most of the cargo that was found could be taken to Asia, and the absence of a single company stamp on any of the find material would be remarkable, but not conclusive. The VOC was a very bureaucratic organisation, however, with detailed administration of what was required and what was lost. The only outgoing vessel that was lost in the area in the relevant time bracket is the Rob or Zeerobbe that wrecked in a storm when ready to leave Texel on January 5, 1640 (Bruijn et al. 1979). Interestingly, the wealth of archaeological sites in the Texel roads proffers other candidates for this identification. A very large contemporaneous wreck on the Burgzand, BZN 3, has provisionally been presented as such, although the find assemblage and archival research did not provide definite proof (van den Akker 2007, 16; Vos 2012).

All in all, it is more probable that the ship was a straatvaarder engaged in trade through the straits of Gibraltar. These ships were well-armed and of considerable size. They engaged in a tramping trade and while sailing ‘west’ would not necessarily directly load a cargo destined for a Mediterranean port. If commercially attractive, they would stop in France, Spain or Portugal, enemy territory or not.

A secondary source, the Chronyk van de Stad Medenblik, published by Dirk Burger van Schoorel in 1710, informs us of a southwesterly gale that wrecked dozens of ships off Texel during the moonless night of November 3, 1638 (Buisman 2000, 448). The account is consistent with Gotfridus’ chronicle of 1660 (Gottschalk 1977, 133). Two of the ships were from Hoorn; they were returning from Brazil with sugar and were 200 and 250 last respectively. A third ship that is explicitly mentioned is a straatvaarder from Enkhuizen. No other details are given, but the total loss, apparently comprising another 32 (smaller?) vessels, was valued at the substantial sum of 10 tons of gold. It is quite possible that it included the material discovered at Aanloop Molengat. A systematic study of local archives and newspaper reports on post-medieval ship losses may shed more light on this in the future (cf. Hell & Gijsbers 2012).