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The Amsterdam, pride of the East Indies fleet, was enveloped in Pevensey’s quicksand

Posted in Disasters, Historical articles, History, Ships, Trade on Saturday, 21 December 2013

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This edited article about maritime disasters first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

The Amsterdam, picture, image, illustration

Survivors from the Amsterdam, a Dutch merchant ship, beached a few miles west of Hastings, England in January 1749 by Graham Coton

On a Sunday afternoon in January, 1749, while the local population was in church, the Amsterdam, a Dutch merchant ship, was beached a few miles west of Hastings. For six days she had drifted, rudderless, in the choppy English Channel, after striking a sand bank in Pevensey Bay. At almost low tide the 329 men on board scrambled ashore, taking with them what valuables they could carry.

When the populace came out of church, the wisdom of this act was revealed, for the same people who had been worshipping only a little while before began to ransack the stranded vessel. English soldiers had to be sent to guard the wreck.

But worse was in store for the captain of the Amsterdam, Willem Klump. Within a few days it was realised that he had unwittingly beached his magnificent new ship, the biggest Dutch ship of the day and the pride of the East India Fleet, on quicksand! She began to disappear more and more with each tide, as she took in sand and water. After eight days she had sunk 20 ft., and the lower deck and hold, where the cargo was stored, had been enveloped by quicksand before they could be unloaded. Only the top deck and rigging remained visible.

So there she stayed, resting on the bottom, but with the quicksand swirling around her. She is still there today, preserved in very good condition. The mollusc Teredo Navalis, which would normally have completely devoured the submerged wooden hull, has been, because of the quicksand, unable to damage it. The lower hold of the ship still contains stores in a remarkable state of preservation. This is the only 18th century merchantman known to be so preserved anywhere in the world. Much of value has recently been recovered from the hull, including cannon, French table wine still in bottles, silver cutlery and candlesticks. The remains of the vessel and its contents, which are the property of the Dutch Government, may still be seen at low tide to the west of Hastings, saved from vandals by the quicksand in which it rests.

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