A Protected Wreck off the coast of Sussex, known simply as “Unknown Wreck Off Eastbourne”, now has a name. It has been identified as the 17th-century Dutch warship Klein Hollandia .
Specialists from Historic England have partnered with the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) and the Nautical Archaeological Society on the identification, according to a statement from Historic England . The investigations have put together evidence gathered by professional and volunteer divers, archival research and dendrochronological (tree ring) analysis of the wood samples.
A Significant Find
According to the Daily Mail , the wreck was discovered in 2019 by Eastbourne dive operator David Ronnan, who reported his find to Historic England. It was considered so significant a find that it was immediately granted the highest level of protection under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, meaning only licensed divers were allowed to dive to the wreck site, as per the BBC.
The Guardian reports that the wreck is remarkably well preserved. Historic England hopes it will be a rich source of information about shipbuilding in 17th-century Holland and the warship’s own final voyage. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said:
“Uncovering the story of the warship Klein Hollandia opens up another fascinating chapter in the already rich, shared maritime history between the UK and the Netherlands.”
The Klein Hollandia was built in 1656 and was owned by the Admiralty of Rotterdam. It was involved in all prominent battles of the second Anglo-Dutch war (1665-1667). It sank in 1672 after a surprise attack by an English squadron and has lain 32 meters (105 feet) under water ever since. It was first spotted as something unusual on the seabed during a hydrographic survey in 2015 but it was Ronnan who identified it as a shipwreck in 2019.
The two guns of the recently identified Dutch warship Klein Hollandia, near Eastbourne, England. (© Cathy de Lara / Historic England )
The Fatal Last Journey of the Klein Hollandia
In 1672, the Klein Hollandia was part of the squadron of Admiral de Haese, which was escorting the Smyrna fleet while sailing from the Mediterranean into the English Channel, en-route to the Netherlands.
At the Isle of Wight , de Haeses’s squadron came under attack from an English squadron under Admiral Holmes. The second day of the engagement, 23 March, saw fierce action that resulted in grievous damage to the Klein Hollandia and the commander of the ship, Jan Van Nes, being killed.
The ship was boarded and conquered by the English but sank soon after, taking both English and Dutch sailors down with it. The English action by the squadron under Sir Robert Holmes and Sir Frecheville Holles played a part in the start of the third Anglo-Dutch war (1672-1674).
A marble tile found at the wreck site of the ‘Klein Hollandia’ (© Nautical Archaeology Society )
The Wreck and Its Cargo
Much of the wooden hull of the Klein Hollandia has been found on the seabed. Cannons in keeping with its status as a warship have also been recovered.
The ship was carrying a cargo of Italian marble tiles and Italian pottery. Interestingly, petrographic examination (microscopic examination of rock), mineral composition and isotope analysis of the stone has identified it as being marble from the quarries of the Apuan Alps close to Carrara, home to some of the finest marble in Italy. This makes it likely that it was intended for the homes of the rich in the Netherlands.
Bronze gun found at the wreck site. (© James Clark/ Historic England )
Historic England archaeologists carried out conservation work on the marble tiles before investigations started.
English Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson stated, as quoted in the Daily Mail :
“The identification of the Klein Hollandia offers a glimpse back into the 17th century, giving us a chance to learn more about the maritime history of this period and to uncover treasures which have been underwater for hundreds of years. I am very pleased that, thanks to this partnership between the UK and the Netherlands, we have been able to solve some of the mysteries linked to this wreck – and to protect it for future generations to continue to research.”
The Guardian quoted Mark Beattie-Edwards, CEO of the Nautical Archaeology Society, who said:
“From our very first dive on the wreck, back in April 2019, we have been fascinated by the range of material on the seabed. The impressive amount of wooden hull structure, the ships’ cannon, the beautifully cut marble tiles, as well as the pottery finds, all point towards this being a Dutch ship from the late 17th century coming back from Italy. Now, after four years of investigation and research, we can confidently identify the vessel.”
The identification of the Klein Hollandia more than three centuries after it sank is a fascinating story of cross-national cooperation to uncover the shared history of two nations. It offers an intriguing peak into an offensive that eventually fed into a much larger war.
Top image: A Bellarmine jug found on the seabed near the wreck of the Dutch warship Klein Hollandia, identified off the coast of Eastbourne, England. Source: © James Clark
By Sahir Pandey