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Adelaar: Ceann Aird Ghrein, Barra, Atlantic

Dutch East Indiaman (18th Century)

Site Name Adelaar: Ceann Aird Ghrein, Barra, Atlantic

Classification Dutch East Indiaman (18th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Greian Head; Scurrival Bay; Middle Rock; Maolach Sgeir; Cursed Reef; Barraigh; Adelaar

Canmore ID 213275

Site Number NF60NW 8003

NGR NF 6491 0502

NGR Description Centred NF 6491 0502

Datum Datum not recorded


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Western Isles
  • Parish Maritime - Western Isles
  • Former Region Western Isles Islands Area
  • Former District Maritime
  • Former County Not Applicable


Excavation (1972 - 1974)

Reference (1975)

(No accurate location cited). Greian Head [Ceann Aird Ghrein], Isle of Barra, Inverness-shire: Adelaar. The scattered remains of this Dutch East Indiaman, wrecked in 1728, were found around the exposed reef known locally as Maolach Sgeir (Cursed Reef) in 1972.

Excavation, which began in that year, was completed in April 1974 by the Institute of Maritime Archaeology, St Andrews University. There were no structural remains. Examples of each of the five types of gun carried by the ship were recorded, and a bronze 6-pounder and a swivel gun bearing the VOC cipher were raised. Sixty lead ingots, of four types, were recovered: some carried a mark tentatively identified as that of the Bright smeltery in Sheffield. Many of the distinctive yellow bricks often carried by East Indiamen as paying ballast were also noted. A massive concretion deposit containing shot, iron tools, and nails was examined in detail, and selective recoveries were made. Small finds, which were not numerous, included a copper pan, pan-lid handles, fishing hooks, small shot of various gauges, copper bars, a pump valve, shoe and belt buckles, part of a pocket watch, a pair of dividers, glass, a single sherd of stoneware pottery, clay pipe fragments, some silver ducatons, and four pieces of gold jewellery.

Disposal of the finds, preferably to an appropriate museum, is at present under discussion with the Dutch government and the Receiver of Wreck. Publication is being prepared in conjunction with a closely parallel wreck in Australian waters (Zeewyk 1727).

J Cherry 1975.

[Summary by RCAHMS (RJCM)]

Reference (1977)

Assigned to class 5 ('fragmentary').

K Muckelroy 1977.

Reference (1977)

Assigned to class 5 ('fragmentary').

K Muckelroy 1977.

Reference (1998)

(Classified as East-Indiaman). Adelaar: this vessel stranded on Greian Head [Ceann Aird Ghrein], NW coast of Barra. Money recovered 1731-2.

Registration: Dutch.

(Location of loss cited as N57 0.8 W7 31.0).

I G Whittaker 1998.

Note (24 April 2002)

Location cited as NF 650 049.

Information from Dr C Martin, 24 April 2002.

Note (10 October 2005)

This exposed location (on the NW side of Barra) has a massive fetch to the N and NW. The general charted depth is about 7m; no seabed type is indicated.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 10 October 2005.

HO chart no. 1976 (published 1978, revised 1990).

Reference (2005)

(No specific location cited: neither structural evidence not human remains were apparently discovered). The remains of this wreck were discovered on 23 March 1972 by Chris Oldfield, Simon Martin and Tony Long while diving around the Maolach Sgeir ('cursed reef’). This reef complex comprises three rocks which rise above the surface about 100m from the N side of Greian Head [Ceann Aird Ghrein] some 300m from its western tip. The easternmost rock covers at high water; the two guns found in 1728 presumably lay upon it. Seas break over the other two rocks under all conditions, the situation being extremely exposed, with massive fetches between North and West.

Subsequent investigation was based on research into documents held in Dutch, Scottish and English archives, these being unusually complete on account of the litigation that followed the loss of the vessel and the salvage of the remains. Underwater investigation was carried out by Colin Martin and Tony Long, a three-month survey season being completed in 1972 and a three-month season of excavation in 1974, the latter under the auspices of the newly-founded St Andrews Institute of Nautical Archaeology.

The broken nature of the wreck, the extent of the site, and the exposed location precluded the laying of a physical grid or the use of tape triangulation. Instead, the gullies were surveyed individually and reconciled against a plane table survey of the surface features and buoy-marked datum points. An arbitrary reference grid was then superimposed across an area measuring 100x70m at the core of the site.

Excavation was conducted by hand-fanning (down to bedrock wherever possible) allowing the maintenance of a running section. A water-dredge was found to be the most efficient method of removing spoil, but could only rarely be employed; buckets and shovels were used instead. In situ investigation was also conducted on an example of each of the three sizes of iron gun, which could not be lifted. The careful use of hammer and chisel allowed the accurate recording of profiles and trunnion-marks, at the cost of an increase in degradation.

Most of the wreckage was found to lie within deep gullies on the landward side of the reef. These follow the local E-W trend of the folded rock strata, and are cut at intervals by N-S fissures. The main deposit was found within a long, narrow cleft ('Gully A’) immediately beneath the S edge of the central rock, and at the base of a cliff, which is vertical, and in places overhanging. This gully is narrow (commonly 2m or less) and has a U-sectioned bottom ground by boulder movement occasioned by rapid water flow in the solid rock. This area varies between 7m and 10m in depth, and was evidently the location of most of the 18th century salvage. This gully is intersected at its E end by a wider gully ('Gully B’) which runs northward, and has near-vertical sides extending close to the surface. This feature measures between 15m and 18m in depth, and contains boulders abraded by water flow. To the E, a third gully ('Gully C’) continues the line of Gully A beyond Gully B.

Between the reef and the shore, the rock strata come close to the surface and are thickly covered by kelp (Laminaria digitata). Further wreckage was found within three gullies in shallow water: Gully D (which runs S from Gully B), Gully E (which branches SW from Gully D) and Gully F (a short fissure running parallel to Gully A and a short distance to its S). Nothing was found in the long gully ('Gully E’) which runs close to the shoreline beyond the southern edge of the site.

Underwater reconnaissance revealed no wreckage to the W of this gully-system, but a trail of debris extended for some 200m along the cleft that runs [to the ENE] from the main concentration towards Sloc nan Frangach ('Creek of the foreigners’). Further finds, including an iron gun, were made off the small rock at the NW end of this feature, while a further gun, an anchor and a lead ingot were located between this feature and the main concentration. The difficult conditions occasioned by the prevailing seabed topography precluded systematic survey; more wreckage is probably present in this area. A lead ingot was found about 100m E of the Middle Rock and another about 30m to its N.

The concentration of heavy items (notably guns) around Gully A indicates that the main break-up took place in this area, the recorded locations reflecting those of their primary deposition. Four guns were found within Gully B, three of them at the S end and in line with Gully A. Considering guns over 15m from their neighbours as having become separated, a zone of concentration measuring about 55m by 40m may be defined. This corresponds relatively well with the ship’s known dimensions of about 41m by 10.5m.

The distribution of other objects within this 'nuclear zone’ bears at least some relationship to their original locations within the vessel, although the 18th century salvage operations may have redistributed as well as removed some of the material. A closely-concretion deposit was found to contain at least 16 unused hammer-heads, which may be identified from the ship's manifest as part of a consignment of forty packed in a single barrel; the others were possibly salvaged in 1728. Another concretion was found to contain packed mass of double-ended iron spikes cemented together in the shape of the barrel within which they had been packed; seventeen barrels filled with this type of nail are noted in the manifest. Three grindstones were noted within Gully A, one at the W end and two towards the E.

Thirty silver coins were found within the concretion deposit at the W end of Gully A. Many were abraded beyond recognition, but 29 were of similar size (44mm diameter), the two in best condition being ducatons of the United Provinces and Spanish Netherlands respectively. These are typical of VOC specie consignments before 1728. This area probably represents the stern of the ship, in concordance with the early description of the wreck that places the foremast close to the easternmost reef. No coins of the new (1728) minting were found. The ship’s consignment of 32,000 coins was recorded as comprising coins of this date, suggesting that all were salvaged immediately, while still sealed in their iron-bound chests.

Since the types and numbers of the vessel’s guns were known, and only bronze guns were apparently of interest to the 18th century salvors, the proportion of iron guns remaining at the 'nucleus’ of the wreck can be quantified. Of the ten 12-pounders recorded, only two (20%) remain, together with seven (39%) of her 6-pounders and 4 (67%) of her 3-pounders. In all, 42% of the original guns (excluding bronze pieces) lay within the 'nuclear’ zone, suggesting that this was the site of the main break-up.

Not all the ship’s contents need fall within this area. A small brass swivel gun was found within the northern part of Gully B, close to the large boulder that blocks its end. A few isolated deposits of iron concretion and small gold items were found within Gully B, as were numerous lead ingots. 42 of these were recovered, the presence of many others being suggested by metal-detector survey. East Indiamen commonly carried lead as paying ballast, the ingots being stowed in the lowest part of the ship, probably along either side of the keelson.

The ship's remaining ballast is recorded as comprising 60,000 building bricks, which would have been stacked to fill the lower hold. The concentration of ingots in the seaward part of Gully B probably indicates the point at which the ship first struck, ripping out her bottom and dropping most of her ballast. Large numbers of bricks should be expected here, but only a few worn fragments were found lodged in deep fissures. The rest were presumably destroyed by abrasion. The swivel gun (one of eight mounted on the upper part of the stern) may have become detached under the shock of impact, while the four pieces of jewellery may be personal trade goods or else derive from corpses washed into the gully after the disintegration of the ship.

Together with documentary evidence, the topography of the site, and an analysis of the prevailing weather conditions, these observations allow the wrecking process to be reconstructed with some confidence. The inferred sequence closely parallels that suggested for the wreck of the Hollandia, a VOC ship which was lost in the Scilly Isles in 1743. The Adelaar probably approached the area from the NE in a severe NNW gale, being close-hauled in an attempt to clear Greian Head after being trapped in Scurrival Bay. She would have struck the shallows bows-first between Middle and Low Rocks, to lodge on the upper edges of Gully B, where her bottom collapsed, releasing most of her ballast. Relieved of this weight, the ship was carried over the reef by the wind and broaching seas, pivoting across Middle Rock until she lay broadside-on beyond its southern edge, stern towards the West. Deposition within this area of a few bricks and lead ingots suggests that some parts of the bottom remained partly intact at this stage. The hull was then held against the reef by back-surge while it broke up completely and swiftly, depositing much of the armament and most of the heavy cargo into Gully A. The forward part of the vessel was then pushed inshore, depositing most of its contents in Gullies D and E, within the area where the foremast was observed in 1728. Isolated pieces of structure were carried to other locations, taking with them such objects as guns, which became sub-formations as that noted near the Sloc nan Frangach. There were possibly other afield. Many of the bodies were driven towards the Sloc, dropping a scatter of artifacts and fetching up eventually within the creek, where further items were deposited. Over the following days, bodies and other floating material were deposited around Barra and beyond, as is recorded by contemporary accounts.

The finds may be summarised as follows:

Armament: cannon and shot

One of each of the two types of bronze ordnance survived, and was recovered for recording, while an example of each of the three sizes of cast-iron gun was deconcreted and recorded in situ. As the archaeological evidence corresponds well with that from documents, and as the specifications of VOC ordnance had been standardised by this date, it is likely that these five specimens accurately represent the full range of weaponry carried.

All the iron guns carry the raised letter 'F’ on the trunnion faces, indicating that they were cast at Finspong, the Swedish foundry North of Stockholm which supplied most VOC cast-iron ordnance in the 18th century. The multiple mouldings are typical of Swedish castings, comparable examples being found on the wrecks of the Batavia (Australia) and Kennemerland (HU67SE 8001).

Samples of cast-iron shot recovered demonstrate a close correlation with the three categories of gun size, making due allowance (about 5%) for windage; the standardised nature of the ship’s armament is confirmed. Examples of specialised bar an expanding shot (appropriate to a gun of six-pounder calibre) were also found.

Only one of the eight bronze swivel guns recorded as having been carried was found. These were presumably carried as a defence against piracy, the others being salvaged in 1728. This piece was one of a pair placed adjacent to the ship’s compasses, in accordance with standard VOC practice. Abrasion has removed any decorative detail, but the lifting dolphins remain intact. It is of the common breech-loading open-chambered type, having a 75cm-long barrel of 65mm bore. Had it fired a solid iron shot, this would have weighed about 4lb (1.8kg). More probably, it was used with containers filled with lead shot or iron scrap. No associated powder-chambers were found, but one of appropriate size is known from the wreck of the De Liefde (HU77SE 8001). This piece carries the A-VOC cipher of the Amsterdam chamber rather than the Z-VOC of the Zeeland chamber, indicating that such items were interchanged within the company. The gun has a hole at the breech end for an arming bar or handle, probably of wrought iron.

This piece was found close to two octagonal bronze bearing-bushes with lugs on either side. These resemble the lugged bronze bearings or 'coaks' that have been identified on other ships, but could equally well have served as swivel-gun mounts, and broke free during the wrecking process.

Ship's equipment and fittings

The identifiable items of ship’s equipment recovered comprised a sounding lead, a perforated disc of sheet lead, two octagonal bronze bushes, and part of a small boat anchor. The last may be a relic of the salvage operations, while the lead is of the common 14-pound type, and similar to others found in VOC ships.

Specie: coins and metal bars

29 silver coins were recovered from Gully A, and it is believed that several others were found by a rival diving group in the Sloc na Frangach, perhaps carried by bodies washed in there. These coins are generally in poor condition. Nine can be identified as ducatons of the Spanish Netherlands, minted in Brabant and dating from the reign of Philip IV (1621-65); the two legible dates are 1636 and 1639. Fourteen coins are ducatons of the United Netherlands (‘silver riders’), the only legible date being 1670. All the latter coins appear to be of the archaic type current between 1659 and the 1680’s, when they fell out of circulation. This obsolescent coinage was apparently intended for profitable disposal in Asia, presumably by unauthorised private trading rather than as manifested cargo under the VOC monopoly. The location of this discovery suggests that their presence was at least known to the ship’s officers.

The absence of any recorded evidence for the ducatons of the 1728 minting that are noted in the manifest indicates that the seventeen iron-bound boxes in which they were carried were successfully salvaged intact. Unusually, a wax impression of one of these coins in Edinburgh (NAS AC 9/1203), having been deposited as part of the legal process.

The silver bars recorded as lost (but not recovered) were probably similar to those found on the wreck of the Slot ter Hooge, a VOC ship lost off Madeira in 1724. Four copper bars were also found in abraded condition. This may be the 'yellow copper in bundles’ noted in the manifest.

Iron tools, nails and other ironwork

A group of eighteen hammer-heads was found within a radius of 4m in Gully A. All are of wrought iron, with hardened faces. They can be divided typologically into six different categories, four being intended for heavy blacksmithing and two for lighter work. Variations within the weight range in each category suggest small-scale craft manufacture within general parameters as against tightly-regulated factory production. A representative sample of nails and other ironwork was recovered from the concreted deposit in Gully A. The largest nails are square-headed spikes suitable for constructional work. Their square-sectioned tapering shanks range in size between 245 and 130mm, and they can be recognised as 10-, 8-, 7.5-, 7-, 6.25- 5.5- and 5.25-inch nails (to Amsterdam standard) of standard types.

A double-ended spike (19cm long) from within the concreted barrel may be identified as one of the 'thick doubles’ listed in the manifest. The spikes were found arranged in criss-cross layers within the barrel in contrast to the radial packing of headed nails observed in the wreck of the Hollandia.

The smaller nails would have been suitable for general carpentry. Their square-sectioned tapering shanks range in size between 90 and 40mm, and they can be recognised as 3.75-, 3.5-, 3-, 2.5- and 1.75-inch nails (to Amsterdam standard) of standard types.

Two staples were found, measuring 155 and 75mm (6 and 3 Amsterdam inches) in length respectively; one point was longer than the other in each case, as in modern practice. A chisel-like object with flared head and round section ending in a splayed and flattened end is probably a bricklayer’s line pin. A ring with a fixing-spike and a bale-hook were also found; two round-sectioned spikes found were either cargo- or hull-fastenings.

Lead ingots and shot

50 lead ingots were recorded, 6 in Gully A (in association with the concreted deposit of ironwork), 42 in Gully B (revealed by excavation), and 2 outside the gridded area. Six examples were recovered for detailed record, and four types identified:

Type I (21 examples): parallel-sided (measuring 93x13x6cm) with rounded ends and a rounded flat-topped section. Each weighs 21kg; each of the two examples recovered bears the same stamped markings.

Type II (27 examples): also parallel-sided (measuring 86x14x6cm), but with squarer ends than type I and a trapezoidal section. Each weighs 61kg; each bears single and ligatured letters.

Type III (1 example): rectangular (measuring 67x16x6cm)with a flat top and bottom, tapered ends and a slight lip on the sides. It weighs 66kg, and bears no visible markings.

Type IV (1 example): near-rectangular (measuring 60x15x7cm) with a flat top and bottom, slightly rounded sides and a distinct rim. It weighs 50kg, and bears no visible markings.

Much of the lead supply for the VOC came from Derbyshire, England, so that the 'IB’ marks noted on ingots of Types I and II are those of John or Joseph Bright who was active in the Peak District in the earlier part of the 18th century. Considered with ingots from other VOC wrecks (including the Kennemerland [HU67SE 8001] and the De Liefde [HU77SE 8001]), these ingots form the basis for a putative typology.

Thirteen pieces of cast lead shot were found. Nine of these measure 20mm in diameter, a calibre appropriate to muskets, and had probably been provided for the VOC soldiers. The remainder measure 13mm in diameter, and are probably pistol shot.

Several hundred pieces of scatter shot were also recovered, ranging in size between 2 and 5mm. Many took the form of droplets with tapered tails, suggesting that they were poured directly into a container of water rather than down a shot tower.

Clay pipes

4 unabraded fragments of clay pipe were found. Two of them bear marks attributed to Gouda pipe-makes Staats Jansz (active 1723-38) and Pietersz van der Kleig (active 1706-24) respectively.


7 fragments of glass were identified. These include stoppers and a fragment of clear wineglass.

Small finds: gold

Four gold artifacts were found in crevices within Gully B. These comprise decorated finger-rings and hollow linked buttons; the latter bear the mark of the Amsterdam silversmith Jan Breda (1668-1725). It remains unclear whether these were personal possessions or items of cargo.

Small finds: copper-alloy panThe greater part of a shallow pan of copper alloy was found trapped beneath one of the guns. This measures 41cm in diameter and 7cm in depth with a concave bottom, sloping sides and a rolled-over rim; four rivets for a broad handle remain in place. This is probably one of the 600 copper frying-pans that are noted in the manifest.

Small finds: copper alloy

Miscellaneous small items found included pins, tacks, handles, strap-buckles, buttons, shoe-buckles, an arrow-headed pointer (possibly from a watch), and navigational dividers.

The dimensions, design, specification, armament and appearance of the vessel are remarkably well documented, both in the administrative records of the VOC and by the contemporary model of her near-identical sister, the Padmos. The cargo carried at the time of loss is also well documented, both in the ship’s manifest and in the legal process relating to the salvage operations.

This background information allows a degree of verification of the results of archaeological investigation, which may indicate the limitations of such research elsewhere. This research allowed the construction of a convincing hypothesis for the wrecking, and indicated an overall length of about 45m, as against a documented figure of 41m. The A-VOC cipher on the bronze gun would have suggested an incorrect attribution of the ship to the Amsterdam chamber, rather than the Zeeland Chamber recorded by the documents; the survival of the many silver bars bearing the Zeeland cipher but recovered in salvage would have corrected this misapprehension. The guilder of 1706 would have furnished a terminus post quem 22 years short of the wreck, while the clay pipes would have suggested a date of loss in the 1720’s. Again, the recovery of the many Zeeland-struck ducatons of 1728 in mint condition that were recovered in salvage would have given the right date.

Complete survival of the remains (precluded on this occasion by the salvage operations) would have provided a complete and accurate record of all the armament, lead ingots and brick ballast. In practice, the lack of pottery and the structural contexts in which the few brick fragments were found should have led to the conclusion that the ceramics were subject to severe attrition and the brick fragments were all that survived of a much bigger cargo. The metalworking hammers (found in close proximity and too numerous for shipboard use) would have been recognised as cargo, as would the iron nails, tools and other hardware. The un-riveted pan-lid handles would suggest that some of the copperware was packaged for shipment, rather than assembled for use. Most of the other finds would have been un-attributable as cargo, ship’s equipment or personal possessions. No evidence was found for the cargo of cloth that is recorded as being intended for Japan; the lead bale-seals might have been expected to survive. So, also, might the distinctively-marked musket lock-plates and cartouche escutcheons favoured by the VOC for its soldiers.

In general, the nature of the cargo would have indicated that this vessel was an outward-bound Dutch East Indiaman, rather than one homeward bound. Such a vessel would be expected to carry a cargo of specie, and the absence of this might have suggested the possibility of prior salvage, despite the lack of direct evidence.

(Numerous illustrations include maps, plans, section and photographs of the investigated site, photographs and drawings of finds, and photograph of contemporary model of the Padmos. The gun specifications are tabulated, and there is a comprehensive bibliography).

C J M Martin 2005.

[Noted by RCAHMS (RJCM)]

Reference (2011)

Whittaker ID : 1439


Latitude : 570048

Longitude : 73100

Registration : DUTCH


Loss Day : 24

Loss Month : 3

Loss Year : 1728

Comment : Stranded Greian Hd, NW coast of Barra. Money recovered 1731/1732.


(No accurate location cited). The Adelaar ('Eagle') was built in 1722 for the Zeeland chamber of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) and to the standard specification for a medium-sized ship on the Indies route. Her length, beam and laden draught were thus 44m, 11m and 4.7m respectively, while her laden displacement was about 700 tons. The ship carried 36 muzzle-loading guns, two of which (those nearest the compass) were of bronze and the rest of iron. In addition, eight light breech-loading pieces were set higher up to deter pirates in eastern waters.

The ship made two round trips to Batavia between 1722 and 1727, and sailed on a third under a new captain (William de Keyser) on 21 March 1728. She left Middleburg with a general cargo and seventeen chests of specie (mainly silver ingots and coins) to pay for her anticipated return cargo of spices, tea and porcelain. Lead ingots and characteristic yellow bricks (of size about 175 by 75 by 35mm) were also carried in considerable numbers, apparently as 'paying ballast' towards the same end.

The ship was wrecked on a shallow reef 220 yards off the lee shore of Barra in severe weather on 4 April, all 220 on board being lost. Salvage operations (remarkable for the day) were organised by Alexander Mackenzie, an official of the Court of Admiralty in Edinburgh, who employed Captain Joseph Rowe and his diving 'engine', in reality a closed cylinder or 'barrel'. Almost all the specie was recovered, and most of the available information regarding the wreck is derived from the subsequent legal proceedings.

The remains of the wreck were discovered and investigated by Colin Martin and the Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies in 1972 and 1974, explosives being used experimentally. The remains were found to have been severely 'scrambled' by post-depositional movement on a fissured and rocky seabed by virtue of their exposed situation and the salvage operations, but enough remained recognisable to allow the extensive documentation to be tested against the remains. The shingle within the seabed gullies was in a constant state of movement, the only objects to survive being held in concretion below this layer. The only diagnostic artifacts to survive were of metal, many of these being battered and distorted; those noted on the published plan include bronze, iron and swivel guns, grindstones and nails.

C J M Martin and A N Long 1975; K Muckelroy 1978; C Martin 1992; J P Delgado 1998.


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