Genealogie Bos

This is my English-language Genealogy & Ancestry Blog.
(Mijn Nederlandstalige blog is genealogiebos.blogspot.nl).

5 Nov 2018

Jan Bras of IJsselmonde was shipwrecked in 1727 ~ Mariner Monday

“Zeewijk” was one of 4 ships of the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.) to have been wrecked close to Australia. This particular ship was built by the Chamber of Zeeland in 1725, and had a length of 145 feet (44 m) and a width of 36 feet (11 m). It left Flushing a year later - on its maiden voyage - to the V.O.C.’s Indies headquarters in Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia), but it wouldn't reach its destination.

One of the 341 people on board the “Zeewijk” was Johannes “Jan” Bras. Jan was baptized on 17 February 1704 in IJsselmonde. His parents, Claes Bras and Marijtjen van Mullem, were married on 17 May 17 1699 in Charlois (now part of Rotterdam). Jan had an elder brother Pieter Bras who had joined the Dutch East India Company as a sailor in 1720.

After months of preparation, on 7 November 1726 “Zeewijk” - and the rest of her fleet - left Rammekens near Flushing for the long voyage to Batavia. It was carrying a crew of 208 men, 315834 guilders in silver and some cargo. Its skipper was Jan Steijns in his first command. Jan Bras was recruited as sailor and gunner. 
On 13 November 1726 they were forced to interrupt their journey at the Roads of Downs in Great Britain to wait for fair winds. Finally, 10 days later they were able to sail off again. During this part of the voyage, accidents and illness occurred, resulting in 28 deaths. It was common on V.O.C. ships at the time to lose so many people during the first part of the voyage.
The remainder of the crew, 180 people, most of whom were in (relatively) good health, reached the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa on 26 March 1727. At the Cape 38 sick men were taken ashore and hospitalized, and 7 soldiers were deployed. The crew, diminished further by 3 deaths, was enlarged with the recruitment of 22 men, most of whom had likely recovered from a previous voyage. Fresh water was collected, too. On 21 April 1727 the “Zeewijk” once again set out to sea. Their journey progressed swiftly due to favorable winds. Meanwhile, illness resulted in another 16 deaths.
The V.O.C. required ships to utilize the "Brouwer Route" to cross from the Cape to Batavia, enjoying the prevailing westerly winds by travelling eastwards before finally turning north. Turning north too late - due to a miscalculation in the longitude - was risking being wrecked on the reefs of Western Australia.

In darkness on 9 June 1727 the “Zeewijk” was wrecked on Half-Moon Reef, just off the coast of Western Australia. In the aftermath of the wrecking, the ship lost its masts and flooded a little, but remained largely intact. When the morning dawned, the survivors saw a number of islands in the distance, and realized they might be saved. Most of the men wanted to leave the vessel, but with the hard surf around them, they found no possibility to do so during the first few days. When they made attempts, these often resulted in men drowning - or nearly drowning - and jolly-boats capsizing. It was not until 14 June that the first attempt to reach an island succeeded. Two days later the longboat was launched successfully and more crew members were ferried to an island with fresh water. It is now known as Gun Island.

Under-steersman Adriaan van der Graaf's journal mentions on 1 July 1727:
"They (petty officers and common hands) wanted the longboat to sail to Batavia and that they wish to appoint as her chief the upper steersman Pieter Langeweg and no one else [..] and that they have collected some good seamen whom they deem to be capable of handling a long boat and have made them draw lots and have appointed 10 of them [..] to sail in the boat, they being: Jan Ried, Hendrik Aalbergen, Sander Sandersen, Pieter de Bruin, Emanuel Vijane, Christiaan Holst, Juriaan Sijmonsen, Laurens Jansen, Dirk Pietersen, Jan van Schelle". 
On 10 July 1727, Pieter Langeweg set out in the longboat with 11 seamen. None of those people was ever heard of again. Luckily, the rest of the survivors had enough water and food to survive. They also found seals and small birds that they could eat. Soon they organized discovery trips to the nearby islands.

Under-steersman Adriaan van der Graaff's journal mentions on 19 August 1727:
"At about 2 o'clock this afternoon, the small yawl leaves the island with the intention, if possible to reach the mainland coast (actually Pelsaert Island) in order to find out whether there would be anything there which in case of emergency, could serve to our nourishment; the 6 following men are going: Albert Hendriksen, constable's mate, Pieter Franke, seaman, Jan Meijer, seaman, Engelbregt Volmeer, seaman, Jan Clasen Bras, seaman, Jan Jansen, soldier.
When no rescue party arrived to save them, they took trips to the “Zeewijk” wreckage and also to the mangroves on nearby Pelsaert Island - to find materials for building a new vessel to be able to sail to Batavia. During this period they also set up a trial when 2 young men were caught "committing with each other the abominable sins of Sodom and Gomorra" (sodomy). The men were marooned on two of the small islands to the North-East of Gun Island where they were certain to perish.
Finally, when they had finished building a new vessel, they called it “Sloepie” (little sloop). It was loaded with fresh water and victuals. All men were mustered. They counted 88 men altogether. All the company's money chests were loaded on board, too
On 26 March 1728 they set sail in “Sloepie”. The journey to Batavia was swift and successful for the most part, although an additional 6 men would die along the way. On 28 April 1728 the final 82 survivors could finally disembark in Batavia. Among them ware Jan Bras and skipper Jan Steyns. 
The skipper was accused of acting both irresponsible and against instructions, sailing too close to the islands and their reefs, resulting in its wreckage. His possessions were confiscated, and Jan Steyns was relieved of his duties.

Jan Bras boarded the ship “Blijdorp” on 1 November 1728, and arrived back in The Netherlands on the Island of Goeree on 28 June, 1729. In 1731 in IJsselmonde Jan Bras married Willempje Spruijt (1707-1783), eldest daughter of Leendert Spruijt (†1745) and Johanna van der Graaf. Jan Bras had 2 daughters, Maria and Johanna (who died young), and a son Klaas Bras (1735-1786) who married and had issue.

Sources: Stadsarchief.Rotterdam.nl and Database of the people aboard the VOC ships Batavia (1629) & Zeewijk (1727), 2012, Australian National center of Excellence for Maritime Archaeology, GaHetNa.nl, Resources.Huygens.KNAW.nl, VOCSite.nl, AustraliaForEveryone.com.

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