The Wreck of the Dutch East India Company Ship Haarlem in Table Bay, 1647, and the Establishment of the ‘Tavern of the Seas’

By Bruno EJS Werz, published November 2017


Credit: NMM PAD 1901

On Sunday 25 March 1647, shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Nieuw Haarlem or Haarlem was wrecked in Table Bay, off the coast of South Africa. The events that followed had far-reaching consequences for the history of South Africa. Fifty-eight of the crew were repatriated by accompanying ships soon after the incident, but 62 men were left behind to try and salvage as much of the cargo as possible. They found refuge in a makeshift camp, where they lived for about one year. During their stay, the men from Haarlem came into contact with indigenous people. Although initially marked by apprehension and reservation, these contacts improved after some time. This led to regular bartering, visits to each other’s abodes, basic exchange of language and appreciation of each other’s cultures. Upon returning to the Netherlands, the men reported favourably of their experiences. As a result, VOC management decided to establish a much-needed stopover for their ships. This station, known as the ‘Tavern of the Seas’, later developed into the city of Cape Town. The wrecking of Haarlem can thus be regarded as the catalyst that created one of the roots of current multiracial and multicultural South African society.

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Filed under: Atlantic | Other (Early Modern)
Subjects include: Harbours & Dockyards | Merchant Marines | Strategy & Diplomacy

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