The Netherlands gives VOC collection to Australia

Silver coins, weapons, gold utensils and navigational instruments. Earlier this month, the Netherlands handed over these treasures to Australia. All of them came from Dutch East Indiamen that had sunk off the West Australian coast.

The ships were on their way not to Australia, but to the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). Navigational problems put them off course, and they fetched up on the treacherous West Australian coast. The treasure came from four shipwrecks, the best known of which was the Batavia.

Salvage work began in the 1970s, and the finds were shared between Australia and the Netherlands. It has now been decided to put the two parts together to make a single collection. It will be housed in Fremantle, the place nearest to the original location of the shipwrecks.

Apart from cannon balls and coins, the collection also contains various utensils that give a good picture of life on board ship. There are wine pitchers, fishhooks, tweezers, thimbles and a very unusual iron for use on silk.

At a ceremony at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, Dutch Ambassador Willem Andreae transferred the collection to Senator Don Farrell by presenting him with a cracked, pewter plate, covered with a layer of white corrosion. With so many silver coins in the collection, this might seem to be a rather meagre gift, but it is steeped in symbolism.

In 1606, Dirk Hartog was the first Dutchman to set foot on land in West Australia. He left a pewter plate behind to show that he had been there. The plate is still on show in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. When Willem de Vlamingh became the second Dutchman to land in West Australia eighty years later, he found the plate and replaced it with his own version. This one is on show in Perth. So the Ambassador's gift is the third pewter plate to commemorate our shared history.