From shipwreck to survival

What are the odds? For three hundred years, one family in Germany farmed the same small piece of land on a bend in the river Weser. Generation after generation, life was monotonously the same. Birth, marriage, and death, in an area not much larger than a Manhattan city block.

Not for Bruno Zee. Enough was enough. He wanted more.

Something completely different. Excitement. Life. The unknown. He shared an idea with his good friend Henry. What if we were to leave this place? What if we set out on an adventure bigger than anyone has ever heard of here? Take the risk, Bruno thought; take the risk and see what happens.

But this was 1720. What does true adventure look like in 1720? There was only one answer: join the VOC, the Dutch East India company, and sail to the furthest point on the planet.

And so, once the Christmas festivities of 1720 had ended, and a new year could bring a new life, Bruno and Henry departed for Holland, arriving in Amsterdam, the centre of the European universe, in the cold of a winter’s January.

What lay ahead: The Atlantic Ocean, north and south, the Cape, Batavia, storms, shipwreck, mutiny, death, survival, conspiracies, buried treasure, and at the end of it all … the beginning of the Zee family.

The Last Glass of the Dog Watch

3.30am, 34 degrees 54 minutes south, 5 miles south of Cape Agulhas: The moon is up. Dawn will come soon, but not yet. The wind is steady, and the ship is moving well.

Bruno Zee is at the wheel of the Schonenberg, one of the largest vessels in the VOC fleet, steering the 800 ton ship due west. Not far now. The destination, the Cape of Good Hope, is close. Maybe as soon as tomorrow evening.

High above the deck, Pieter Janszoon is the lookout on the mast. Again he makes the call: “Land!“. This time, the crew react. Bruno is ordered to turn the ship hard. Turn the rudder, adjust the sails! The depth is measured again: decreasing rapidly.

The anchors are deployed: both break. There’s no stopping the ship, no saving it from its fate. 7 metres of water now, no more. The ship hits the reef, slowing, grinding, groaning, breaking apart. Pieces of the hull are now coming to the surface, floating on the water, the holds are filling, the pumps don’t help.

It’s 4.30am now, November 20th, 1722. Shipwreck is certain. Survival is not.


If you’re going to be Shipwrecked, there’s worse places to end up. The beach at Schoonbergbaai, near Cape Agulhas, is the longest white sand beach in the Southern Hemisphere.

Bruno and his adventures with the VOC

Bruno and Henry departed Amsterdam on February 19, 1721 on the Hogenes. There was a flotilla of nine ships departing that Wednesday: The Hogenes, the Amsterdam, the Amstelveen, the Koning Karel de Derde, the Strijkebolle, the Vrieswijk, the Wassenaar, the Wendela, and the Westerdijkshorn.

Though the ships all left Amsterdam together, they would arrive at the Cape of Good Hope at vastly different times: Bruno and Henry on the Hogenes, together with the Amstelveen, arriving May 25th – the Strijkebolle did not get there until July 15th.

The Last Voyage of the Schonenberg, 1722

So, our first ancestor, Bruno Zee, was a member of the crew of the 800 ton VOC retourschip Schonenberg, which left Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) on Friday, September 25th, 1722 with destination Holland. It sank off the coast of South Africa two months later, after hitting a reef in darkness.

I thought it might be interesting to re-trace the route of this mammoth voyage. Very few VOC ships of the 17th and 18th century have records preserved in the same detail as Schonenberg. Ironically, the reason for this is the very fact that it sank – but the logs were salvaged, and kept after a court of enquiry.

The primary source for this day by day account is the ships log, kept by Albertus van Soest. As events unfold after the shipwreck, and the crew mutiny against him, his entries become a mix of fact and fiction, but for the ocean-going part of the story, they ought to be fully reliable.

Reading the log carefully it is possible to calculate positions when they are not specifically noted as coordinates. I will display the route on a present day map.

Deciphering the log and plotting positions takes quite some time. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the The Last Voyage of the Schonenberg – more to come.

Where did Bruno Zee come from?

Map of the Achim area, 1720. Source: German archives >

Bruno was born in 1697 in Bollen, a tiny hamlet just down the river Weser from Bremen. The map above is from 1720, the year that Bruno was making his plans to go to Holland and join the VOC. Born as Bruno Seekamp, his father Bösche Seekamp was a farmer – like all the generations before him.

The forefathers of Bruno Zee

  • Bruno Zee (Seekamp), born 1697 Bollen
  • Father: Bösche Seekamp, born 12-Feb-1669 Bollen, x Trine Eggers, died 13-Jan-1742 Bollen
  • Grandfather: Brüne Seekamp, born 1641 Bierden, x Beke Struckhusen, brother Wöltje, died 1717 [>]
  • Great-grandfather: Wöltje Seekamp, born 1604, Bierden, x Gesche Dahlweg, brothers Brüning (known as Brünje) (1605), Albert (1610), Bauman in Bierden Hof 9, death unknown [>]
  • Great-great-grandfather: Harm Seekamp, born c. 1580 [>]

    Lower confidence, but probable (working to confirm):
  • 3rd-great-grandfather: Brüning Seekamp, born c. 1550, Bollen (?), Bauman in Bierden Hof 9, died after 1602
  • 4th-great-grandfather: Johann Seekamp, born c. 1510, Bollen, Bauman in Bollen Hof 5.
  • 5th-great-grandfather: Researching!

Note: A book published on the Zee Family history in 1993 shows Bruno’s parents as Marquard Seekamp and Lücke Jägers, and that Bruno was born in 1681. This has turned out to be incorrect. There was indeed a Brüne Seekamp and Anna Margaretha Meyers, from Oyten, but they were not the same Bruno and Anna that moved to Holland in 1733. The correct parents of Bruno Zee are Bösche Seekamp, born 12-Feb-1669 in Bollen, and Trine Eggers.


A1 Bruno Zee (aka: Bruine Seekamp, Bruno Zeekamp, Bruyn Zee)
b 27-Aug-1697 Bollen [Bösche Seekamp & Trine Eggers]   
+ 06-Apr-1753 Medemblik
x Anna Margaretha Meijer 20-Sep-1725 Bremen
b 09-May-1704 Bremen [parents unconfirmed, Berendt Meyer & Margareta Schrörs]
+ 26-Nov-1750 Medemblik 

B1 Hendrik     b 23-Oct-1726 Bremen         x Engeltje Kist
B2 Margreta    b 10-Nov-1728 Bremen         x Fredrik Radius
B3 Lüder       b 03-Dec-1730 Bremen         NFN
B4 Johann      b 19-Oct-1732 Bremen         + 25-Jun-1736 Medemblik
B5 Bruin       b 30-Mar-1735 Medemblik      x Jannetje Tromp
B6 Trijntje    b 23-Mar-1738 Medemblik      x Evert van der Hulst 
B7 Anna        b 05-Jun-1740 Medemblik      + Apr-1760
B8 Mietje      b 20-Mar-1743 Medemblik      + After 1768
B9 Jan         b 26-Feb-1747 Medemblik      + 14-Feb-1748


20-Sep-1725 Marriage of Bruno and Anna. Unsere Lieben Frauen kirche, Bremen. Marriage record >, "Unserer Lieben Frauen auf Seite 72". 

23-Oct-1726 Baptism of first child Hinrich Seekamp, later Hendrik Bruynszoon Zeekamp. Hinrich (SEKAMP) Getauft: am 23.10.1726 Pastor Herr Superintend Grusius in Bremen. Paten: Hinrich MÜLLER Geboren: 1685?. Beruf: Seidenkramer. (10063); Johannes Daniel CHRISTIANY ; Jürgen Anthon MEYER ; NN AHLFELT EHEFRAU ; Dierich SCHRIFFER Geboren: G 1707. Beruf: Karenschuffer. (12997). Von 13587 SEHKAMP (SEKAMP), Brünning (EV) Geboren: 1700?. Beruf: Klanderer. Verbindung Kirchl.Heirat g 1725. mit MEYER, Anna Margreta (EV) Geboren: 1702?. Pate am 07.05.1747 bei Anna Maria MEYER (9535). [St. Petri Dom Taufen, Bremen >]

10-Nov-1728 Baptism of Margreta Seekamp, later Grietje Zee/Radius. Margreta (LU) Getauft: am 10.11.1728 Pastor Henrich Mohlling in Bremen.Paten: Arendt TIMAN, WITWE ; Johan SCHRÖHRS ; Johan MEYER ; Martin WAGENER. [>]

03-Dec-1730 Lüder (LU) Getauft: am 03.12.1730 Pastor Henrich Mölling in Bremen.Paten: Melchior Jobst BORCHERS Geboren: 1688?. Beruf: Kauffman. (01569); Lüder TIDEMAN Beruf: Elterman. ; Conraht ELLERHORST ; Jürgen MEYER. [>]

19-Oct-1732 Johan (LU) Getauft: am 19.10.1732 getauft durch Pastor Vaget in Bremen.Paten: Johan MARTENS Geboren: 1701?. Beruf: Müller. (08804); Marten WAGENER ; Johan Simon ISLIEBER. [>] 

01-Jan-1733  Medemblik verponding 1731-33. There is a Hendrik Zee mentioned several times, as a landlord. Jan de Zee, Hilbrandt de Zee, Cornelis de Zee. No Zeekamps, no Bruno.

1733-34 estimated move from Bremen to Medemblik. Still looking for possible death of Lüder and Johann (found now, as Jan, died 1736) in Medemblik at a younger age - they maybe have moved with Anna and Bruno. Reviewing impost registers. [>] Continue 1740>

19-Aug-1734 Bruno Zeekamp, j.m. van Bremen, ingekomen lidmaten, op de Egelantierstraat Amsterdam, Nederlandse Hervormd [>] This is not our Bruno for several reasons: 1. j.m. = jongeman - young adult (max 25). Bruno was 37 in 1734. 2. No listing for Anna in same register 3. Wrong religion - Bruno baptised all children in Lutheran churches, both in Bremen and Medemblil. This is most likely the other Bruno Zeekamp, who lived in Amsterdam ca. 1750, appears in several notarial documents [>]. His signature is known and does not match our Bruno Zee.

15-Sep-1734 Bruno's mother Trine Eggers buried in Arbergen, died aged 66 in Bollen.

30-Mar-1735 Bruno and Anna's first child born in Holland - Bruin Bruynzoon Zee. 

ca. 1735 Bruno Zeekamp buys a house in Medemblik. Looking for confirmation and source.

25-Jun-1736 Impost op overleden, classe nihil, Jan Bruinsz, een kind alhier [>] In Medemblik at this time there are very few "Bruins", and this is how Bruno's son Johann would have been referred to. Extremely likely this is Johann born 1732. The only other person with a similar name is Bruin Jansz, born 1734. [>] There is a death registered on 03-Oct-1740 for Bruin Janz, so that matches up. [>] No birth of any other Jan Bruinsz in Medemblik. In the period 1700-1745, the name Bruin, Bruine, Bruyn only appears 10 times in Medemblik - and of these, 5 is our Bruno. This is a city source. Lutheran church deaths not available for this period. 

23-Mar-1738  Trijntje baptised.

05-May-1740  Anna baptised (June 5 mentioned in Orphanage)

17-Dec-1740  Medemblik. Meeting of the Burgemeesters. They give Bruno a piece of bare land, between the Town's Turfhouse and Adriaan Vroom's house, free of charge. Most unusual, the only entry of its type in the record books of the Mayors Office.

13-Jan-1742  Bruno’s father Bösche Seekamp dies aged 73, Arbergen, Germany.

25-Dec-1742  Medemblik: Baptism of Jannetjen, daughter of Christiaanasing Grouw & Aarntje Jans, Luthers Kerk Medemblik, Doop peet Anna Margaretha Meijers, vrouw van Bruin Zeekamp [Lutherse Kerk Medemblik]

20-Mar-1743  Mietje born

03-Apr-1746  Amsterdam: Brunog Zekamp, father, baptism of Maria Sofia, mother Maria Sofia Geleijtsmans, DTB Dopen Lutherse Kerk. Not sure who this is.

23-Feb-1747  Hearing into the De Juffrouw Judith Jacoba incident.

26-Feb-1747  Son Jan baptised (in bed) [daughter Jannetje?]

14-Feb-1748  DTB Medemblik: died Jantje Bruijn Zee. Impost: Jantje Bruyn Zee een kind alhier [Impost P98 >]

20-Oct-1749  Medemblik: Baptism of Antje, Andries Christoffelsen & Engeltjen Jans. Doop-peet Anna Margaretha Meijers, Bruine Zeekamps vrouw.

26-Nov-1750  Anna Meijer dies in Medemblik

   Mar-1752  Marriage of daughter Grietje Bruijn Zee and Fredrik Radius, source: DTB Medemblik [>]. 

06-Apr-1753  Bruno dies in Medemblik

12-Apr-1753  Three daughters into Orphanage Medemblik

Timeline addendum (for disambiguation with the "other" Bruno Seekamp in Amsterdam)

04-Sep-1741 Notarial doc (attestation) with Bruno Zeekamp, Jan Theessink, Jurriaan Berent Hoogklimmer, Gerard Sluijskens, Barent Smit, Godfried Kramer, Bruno Seekamp, Hendrik de Frementeau Junior, Jan Voordewint [>] Signature of Bruno Seekamp is different to ours. This is the bookkeeper Bruno living in Amsterdam.

30-Sep-1741 Notarial doc mentioning Bruno Zeekamp, book keeper, along with Gerard Sluijskens and Hendrik de Fremantieau. [>] [Not our Bruno]

26-Aug-1742  Amsterdam, Niuewe Kerk. Bruno Seekamp witness at Baptism Hendrik Bruno Sluijsken, with Clara Sluijsken zn Gerard Sluijsken & Hendrina Fremantiau. [Not our Bruno]

16-Jan-1750 Bruno Seekamp & Clara Groenevelt marriage in Amsterdam. This particular Bruno is 38, from Bremen, parents dead. So, born in 1712, and matches the arrival in Ams in 1734 above. Not our Bruno. [>] On 25-Oct-1776 their son Arnoldus Bato Seekamp & Aaltje van der Velde married in Ams. [>] Second son Gerrit Pieter Hendrik Seekamp & Lijsje Paasie [>], they had a son Jan Zeekamp & Alida Tjerks [>], and they had son Pieter Zeekamp [>]. This info all for disambiguation with the Medemblik Seekamps.