In the early hours of November 20, 1722, the VOC Retourschip Schoonenberg ran aground at Cape Agulhas, South Africa. The ship was on a return voyage to the Netherlands, under the command of Capt. Albertus van Soest. The story of Schoonenberg is unique, intertwining the scheming of a crooked Captain to frame his crew for negligence and mutiny, with his own efforts to salvage and steal what he can of the valuable cargo of the vessel. 100 shipwrecked men must find their own way to safety, across an unexplored African wilderness. The Schoonenberg shipwreck left a trove of fables and myth in the folklore of South Africa, but the truth of the events are even more fascinating and beguiling.
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 under her now, no more. She 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.
The ship and the voyage
Albertus van Soest – Captain of the Schoonenberg
Willem Verbeek – First Officer (Opperstuurman)
Pieter Corver – Second Officer (Onderstuurman)
Dirk Prest – Third mate (Derde Waak)
Bruno Zee – Sailor, and Helmsman at the time of running aground
Jurrian Ijser – Botswain (Bootsman)
Coenraad Schierenberg – Ships Gunner (Bosschieter)
Lists of crew members
* Muster Roll (Monsterrol) Cape 30 June 1723 – 35 sailors
The Maiden Voyage of the Schoonenberg (1719) – an ominous start.