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The cargo of the Vrouw Maria
In the 17th century The Netherlands rose to great prosperity largely owing to trade. Various branches of industry developed and colonial trade flourished. Shipbuilding, textile industry, refinement of sugar and tobacco and shipping of spices and other colonial goods for instance developed to very profitable cornerstones of Dutch economy. The Dutch were also well known for book-publishing and -printing and high-quality lenses. The arts prospered too, and Dutch painting developed to technical and artistic superiority and international fame.
The Vrouw Maria sailed in the latter era of Dutch sea- and trade-dominion, when the greatest glory was already history. Nevertheless several branches of the above mentioned Dutch industry are reflected in the cargo of the Vrouw Maria and the paintings bring forth the Dutch art and dimensions of art-collecting.
Knowledge of the contents of the cargo of the Vrouw Maria has been gathered primarily from the Sound Custom Toll records of Denmark and from the preserved list of objects salvaged from the sinking ship. According to the custom records there was for instance sugar, different cloths and textiles, zinc, mercury and dyes. But the list is incomplete, as part of the cargo was marked only as "assorted merchandise" with quite a substantial value. Unmarked are also Catherine's items, as due to the legislation of the time she enjoyed exemption of from the toll. The list of salvaged objects includes coffee, tea, books and luxury items such as ivory eggs, paintings and mirrors with gilt frames. The knowledge of Catherine's paintings bought from the Braamcamp auction comes from the diplomatic correspondence between Russian and Swedish authorities. Further hints of the paintings have been found also in the preserved auction catalogues and Catherine's personal correspondence.
Still the knowledge of the cargo remains incomplete, as custom records and the list of salvaged objects only give parts of the initial contents of the hold. Divers' observations and photographs and video from inside the hold have added a crate of lenses and hundreds of clay pipes to the cargo-list. Various packing crates and -barrels can also be identified, but the contents of these are not known. Zinc-ingots and something resembling remains of fabric can be seen too. Further observations are hard to make, because the hold is not big enough for a diver to go in and document the interior without risking his or her own safety or the condition of the ship. This being the case, the interior of the wreck must be documented by the help of a small-size robot camera. Even then, the examination of the interior is difficult since a light layer of sediment covers practically everything.
The hold of Vrouw Maria shows a cross-section of the different fields of the European society of the 1770's. The wreck tells us about many people: about the suppliers in different countries, the loaders in Amsterdam, the islanders who helped in the attempts to salvage of the ship in Nauvo, and the burgesses in Turku. Because some of the items were salvaged and taken to Russia, the wreck leads us as far as to St. Petersburg. In addition to these, there were of course more people involved with the ship: the men in the Sound customs house and, naturally, the crew of Vrouw Maria.
Objects raised from the Vrouw Maria
In the summer of 1999, soon after the wreck was found, divers raised six objects from the wreck. A researcher from the Maritime Museum of Finland supervised the operation. A clay bottle, a lead seal, a zinc ingot, and three clay tobacco pipes were on the deck of the wreck or in the upper parts of the hold. The clay bottle is a Seltzer water bottle with salt glazing. The bottle had contained mineral water from the mineral springs of the Prince of Trier. By the help of its form and a factory mark, the bottle can be dated to the 1760's.
Some words on the lead seal are still readable, and the text implies the seal has been in a packing of cloth made in Leiden in Holland. Leiden was an important centre of cloth industry in Europe even in the 18th century. In Vrouw Maria there were Dutch cloths, and many of these were salvaged after the shipwreck. The seal may well have come off from a roll of cloth at the time.
By the help of the clay tobacco pipes' form and factory marks, the authorship of the pipes is now known. A metallic analysis of the ingot revealed that it contains zinc. The finding of a zinc ingot corroborates the Sound customs entries, according to which there were more than 6500 kilograms zinc in the ship's cargo. Zinc is used as raw material in manufacturing brass.
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Last updated 30.10.2015
© National Board of Antiquities