Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon)
The Gilt Dragon, lost off Ledge Point in 1656.
The Vergulde Draeck (Far-hool-de-drak). Or the "Gilt Dragon".
Australia's third oldest known shipwreck and one of the four VOC, Dutch East India Company's merchant ships known to have wrecked on the West Australian coastline in the 17th and 18th century.
Discovered by Graeme Henderson in 1963 while spearfishing off Ledge Point. The Vergulde Draeck is one of the most significant wrecks with regard to the early history of the Perth coastline and also one of its greatest mysteries. Before dawn on 28th April 1656 the ship carrying 78,600 guilders in silver, hit the shallow reef 3 nautical miles from shore. Of the 193 on board only 75 survivours made it to land in the ship's boats with very little salvaged from the wreck that is believed to have quickly broken apart. It is thought they assembled at one of the bluffs some 5 kilometres north of the town of Seabird.
7 sailors were sent by the ship's smallest boat over 3000 kilometres to raise the alarm in Batavia and immediately two VOC ships were sent to rescue the survivours. Aside from wreckage of the lost ship, of the 68 souls left ashore, no trace was ever found. They had vanished.
The VOC sent further vessels to investigate the coast and search for the missing Dutchmen resulting in the first charts drawn of the Perth coastline. For the first time in history Europeans walked the Perth beaches over a century before Captain Cook landed in Botany Bay. In 1658, Rottnest Island was first charted and the first European, a sailor named Abraham Leeman (the man the town of Leeman near Dongara is named after) landed on the island to restock on timber for the Waeckende Boey that was searching the coast to the north. Meanwhile, the Emeloort searched further south and landed sailors in the Geographe Bay area. William De Vlamingh on his famous Voyage to Discovery in 1696/97 sailed to the Perth coast turning northwards. Part of his orders were to investigate for signs of the long lost Vergulde Draeck. This voyage and search resulted in the naming of Rottnest Island and the discovery of the Swan River. They also found wreckage believed to be from the Vergulde Draeck in the area of Cottesloe beach, very far south of the actual wreck site.
Slowly the mystery began to give up its secrets, in 1931 two young Edwards boys found silver coins (guilders) half buried in a sand drift north of the Moore River, leading to the naming of the town, Guilderton in 1951. Some days later, remains of a skeleton and a hinged box were found near Eagles Nest Bluff. In the following decades, stories of artefacts slowly began to show themselves on the coastline adjacent to the wreck, slowly giving clues to the location of the wreck site. Until the day in 1963 when a 16 year old Graeme Henderson drifted over a reef looking down at a sea floor scattered with elephant tusks, yellow bricks and cannons.
Still to this day there is no definitive answer as to what happened to those 79 Dutchmen from the Vergulde Draeck and a search party from the vessel Goode Hoope, all lost without a trace on the coast north of Perth in 1656...
In 1931 Fred Edwards and two of his brothers were tracking a fox through the sand dunes north of the Edwards homestead, a few kilometres from where the town of Seabird now stands. Following the fox tracks up from the beach and into a sand blowout they noticed something glinting in the sand... The reflections turned out to be 32 silver coins and ingots minted between 1615 and 1655, one of the very first solid clues to the location of the Vergulde Draeck. The coins are also one of the very few pieces of evidence from the 68 Dutch crew that were marooned and vanished on what was then a remote and inhospitable coastline on an unknown continent.
Still to this day there is nothing known of what happened to the missing Dutchmen of the Vergulde Draeck and it remains one of the coast's greatest mysteries. Very little has ever been found to give evidence of camps or the remains of survivours. Even in the following months after the wreck event, as rescue ships sailed our coast with search orders from 1656 to 1696, no living sign was ever seen of the crew. It was never known whether they moved inland, perished, were integrated or killed by natives or were once again lost at sea while attempting to self rescue themselves.