The Lost Wreck of the Fortuyn
The West Coast of Australia is dangerous. The shallow reefs and rough seas here have claimed many ships along with their treasure and most of them have never been found. I set off to find one of these ships, the lost wreck of the Fortuyn.
The Fortuyn was a trade ship of the VOC. She was on her way from the Netherlands to Indonesia in 1724 but never made it to port. No one is entirely sure what happened to the ship or her crew but it’s possible she might have wrecked on the Abrolhos Islands along with $4,000,000 worth of silver.
So why the Abrolhos? Well, another Dutch ship, the Zeewijk wrecked on those same islands in 1727. While there the crew came across wreckage and clues of past castaways which they believed were left behind by the Fortuyn.
If the Fortuyn did wreck on the Abrolhos, her treasure might still be there.
The Fortuyn's Fate
I began looking into the Fortuyn to try and figure out what could have happened to her and if the Abrolhos was the place she met her fate.
The Fortuyn left the Netherlands in September, 1723 with a crew of 225 and captained by a man named Pieter Westrik. She arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on January 2nd, 1724 and left on January 18th. She was accompanied by other ships but eventually they lost sight of each other and the Fortuyn was never seen again.
The VOC had two routes they used to sail from the Cape to the East Indies. One took them directly across the Indian Ocean which was used from October to February and then there was another route used from March to September. This route used seasonal winds to take ships closer to the coast of Western Australia before turning north towards Indonesia which would save them a few months on the journey.
Although the Fortuyn departed in January and shouldn't have ventured so close to the Great South Land at that time, it's possible she was blown off course or sailed too far east and met her fate at the Abrolhos.
The Copper Coins
The Fortuyn was a merchant ship. She would have carried lots of different cargo like bricks, pots, tiles, and timber. She also carried 36 cannons and 8 swivel guns to protect the ship against pirates and apart from the silver she was transporting, the Fortuyn also carried duit, a Dutch copper coin.
In 1724, 2000 guilders worth of duit were sent to Batavia. Only one ship recorded offloading their duit in Batavia and only 1250 guilders worth. Since the Fortuyn was the only ship that didn’t arrive to port that year she would have carried the other 750 guilders worth. One guilder is equal to 160 duit so if you do the math, we’re looking for about 120,000 copper coins.
And here’s the smoking gun. Between 1723 and 1725 the duit did not have the VOC stamp like the one I’m holding. So if I’m lucky enough to find these coins and they don’t have the stamp then we know the Fortuyn wrecked at the Abrolhos.
My next stop was Gun Island…
When the crew of the Zeewijk wrecked on the Abrolhos in 1727 they made it to Gun Island and established a camp. When they realised no rescue would arrive the crew banded together and over several months built a new ship in order to escape.
While castaway, the crew explored nearby islands for food and water as well as supplies to build their new ship. On these expeditions the crew came across wreckage and relics from a previous wreck which they believed could have been from the Fortuyn which disappeared 3 years earlier but what happened to these previous castaways is a mystery. No bodies were found on the islands. Only the clues they left behind.
The first mate of the Zeewijk, Adriaan van de Graaf kept a journal while on the islands and recorded some of the finds.
Following the clues left behind in these journals and letters, we packed our gear and took the boat over to the Abrolhos to explore the waters and search for the lost Fortuyn. When we got to Gun Island however, our boat’s engine cut out and we were unable to repair it. We were stuck at the island for several hours while waiting for another boat to be able to tow us back to the mainland
While stranded I did still explore around Gun Island and although I didn’t find a wreck or those copper coins, I did make friends with a very curious seal. After a few hours, a boat arrived and we escaped the island. Although stranded for only a few hours, I sympathise with the Zeewijk crew who called this place home all those years ago.
Return to the Islands
With the boat repaired we returned to the Abrolhos in search of the Fortuyn. After searching around Gun Island again we made our way over to Pelsaert Island to piece together the next part of the mystery.
When the Zeewijk crew ventured to other islands, there's one they came across which was a "long drawn out island" which is none other than Pelsaert Island. When they came closer to Pelsaert Island they noticed wreckage in the water including a piece that could have been the ship's figurehead. Adriaan van de Graaf recorded these finds in his journal.
The only wreck we found at Pelsaert Island though was a modern yacht resting in the shallows. If the Fortuyn did wreck at the Abrolhos, it’s possible she sank into deep water along with her treasure while the crew made it to the islands and left behind the few relics found by the Zeewijk survivors. But that still leaves a lot of mystery. If the Fortuyn crew didn’t die on the islands then what happened to them? And if it wasn’t the Fortuyn that wrecked here and she wrecked somewhere else then who wrecked here for the Zeewijk crew to find?
The only way to find out is to keep exploring.