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Wendela: Heilinbretta, Fetlar, North Sea

Danish East Indiaman (18th Century)

Site Name Wendela: Heilinbretta, Fetlar, North Sea

Classification Danish East Indiaman (18th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Wendala; 'the Silver Ship'; Urie Island; Heilanabretta; Urie Lingey; East Fetlar; Heilnaabretta; Wendela

Canmore ID 213898

Site Number HU69SE 8001

NGR HU 675 911

NGR Description HU c. 675 911

Datum Datum not recorded


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Administrative Areas

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

Archaeology Notes

HU69SE 8001 c. 675 911

N60 35.9 W0 46

NLO: Heilinabretta [name: HU 675 911]

Fetlar [name centred HU 62 91].

Not to be confused with HU69SE 8008.

Wendela: [max. date] 18 Dec 1737.

Crew perished, large cargo of silver much of it recovered.

Archive Ref: "GD 144/139/40

Source: Shetland Archive Service [undated].

MS/3025, no. 30.

Handlist (by L J Leicester and W A Trebble of artifacts were recovered by Mr Stenuit from the wreck between 8 August and 1 October 1971 (excluding unidentified fragments and small pieces):


1 finger ring

2 nested weights

1 fragment of crucible


1 button

2 fragments of handles


44 coins [unspecified, and not described in detail]

1 signet ring


21 musket balls

26 fragments of hull sheeting [sheathing]

1 'small ingot shaped object'


605 whole [intact] coins [unspecified, and not described in detail], plus fragments and a number of heavily corroded shapes, the latter containing hardly any silver. (This figure is in approximate concordance with the figure of 673 given in Mr Stenuit's list dated 2 October 1971).


'Small unimportant fragments of pottery- [unspecified, and not described in detail]

11 fragments of clay pipes [not described in detail]

29 'flints' [not described in detail]

'one half of a pulley block' (listed as 'wood')

2 flagon or bottle stoppers (listed as 'cork')

'unimportant fragment [fragments?] of bottles' (listed as glass).

NMRS, MS/2462.

(No accurate location cited). Fetlar, Shetland: Wendela. R Stenuit discovered cannon and silver and gold coin on the site of this Danish frigate lost in 1737.

J Cherry 1973.

Coins, a gold signet ring, weights, musket balls [and] musket flints from this Danish Asiatic Company ship (lost 1737) were sold at Sotheby's, 8 November 1973, lots 1-117.

J Cherry 1974.

Assigned to class 5 ('fragmentary').

K Muckelroy 1977.

(Classified as a 26-gun frigate, with cargo of silver: date of loss cited as 18 December 1737). Wendela: this vessel stranded on the East side of Fetlar, at Heilanabretta. Registration: Danish.

(Location of loss cited as N60 36.0 W0 46.0).

I G Whittaker 1998.

The following artifacts from this wreck are held in Shetland Museum, Lerwick:

(Registration no. SEA 8750; accession no. A92-85). Bronze bell, decorated with two bansd of stylised foliage, fish etc, between which appears SOLI DE GLORIA A 1736. The suspension lug (apparently of iron) has broken off and a U-shaped brass fitting added by bolting through the crown and solering. The clapper suspension is also modern. Received from the effects of the Tom Henderson. [Original provenance unstated].

(Registration no. CUR 8245). Gold ducat bearing on the obverse a legend in a decorated square MO.ORD/PROVIN/FOEDER/BELG.AD/LEG.IMP. On the reverse, an armoured knight holding sword over the left shoulder and clutching a bunch of arrows in the right hand; dated 1609 on each side of the knight. The legend reads CONCORDIA. RES PAR CRES TRAI. Weight 3.33 gms; found on the wreck.

(Registration no. SEA 77176). Walking stickwith the spiral design of a snake; stick carved of oak from the De Haan (HU44SE 8011) with the head carved from a Lignum vitae block sheave from the Wendela. Made by the late Walter Shewan, blacksmith in Lerwick.

All the other artifacts excavated from this wreck have been sold at auction.

NMRS, MS/829/65.

The third Danish East India Company had been started in 1732 by Peter Baker, a merchant from Bremen, with the help of King Christian VI, who retained ultimate control over it. The company's ships traded with China and the East Indies, being typically laden with between two and six tons of silver and gold (in ingots and coins) on the outwards voyage. However, it fared badly in its early years, losing one quarter of its vessels between 1735 and 1755.

The 26-gun Wendela sailed from Copenhagen for Tranquebar, a flourishing Danish trading post on the Coromandel coast of India, towards the end of 1737. Her cargo is recorded as having comprised 79 bars of silver, 31 sacks of minted silver coins, sheet metal and pig iron, 1500 barrels of claret, 100 muskets, barrels of wine, ropes, copper wire, four tons of coal, two grindstones, material and hats, cooking pots, paper and wax, eight dozen drinking glasses, and 37,000 flints.

The last of the cargo was loaded on 21 October, and the ship is next recorded on 10 January 1838 in a letter written by William Irvine to Earl George Douglas Morton, Admiral of the Shetlands. Irvine was one of six famous 'wrackmen' of 18th century Britain, and held a contract to recover silver from wrecks. He noted the discovery of bodies, masts and yards along the coast of Unst, and identified the casualty as the Wendela, a 'frigate' lost on the night of 18-19 December. William Bruce, laird of Fetlar, subsequently identified the location of the loss on the East part of Fetlar.

On 13 January 1738, the bailie of Fetlar informed Andrew Mitchell and Andrew Ross, the deputies of the Vice-Admiral of Shetland, that the vessel had sunk 'in a very barbarous place' and that 'some money [had] been saved by such people as could travail down the huge Rock where she [was wrecked]'. The wreck was found to offer considerable prospect of the recovery of treasure. The salvage experts were in place, sending accounts (arguably inaccurate) of each others' discoveries to the Admiral. The local people worked with grappling hooks, and Irvine with a 'diving machine' (a weighted barrel) down to a depth of 10 or 12 fathoms (18.3 or 22m).

Investigation by R Stenuit was based on the estimate that some 18 or 19 bars of silver (weighing between about 800 and 1000lb) and between 2000 and 3000 coins from the wreck remained unaccounted for. The lack of knowledge of the Danish East India Company would render any discoveries of considerable interest.

Under water reconnaissance [between August and October 1971] revealed that debris from the vessel was scattered in several layers within the mass of fallen rock between one and eighteen yards (0.91 and 16.5m) from the bottom of the cliff. The 'bottom of the basin' was 'covered with traces of rust, pudding-like shapes of decaying metal'. Concentrated effort within this area (rather than in shallower water) revealed only a few silver coins.

The Wendela had apparently touched the lone rock above the SE corner of the 'basin', but was then caught by the swell and thrown onto the rocks to the North, where she was split open and broken in half. Only scattered objects had been lost in crossing the 'basin', the major concentration being further North. In this latter area, at a depth of between 6 and 9 yards (5.5 and 8.2m), there were found cannon, gold and silver coins (the latter concreted together), and nails. 270 of the better preserved coins formed a 'most amazing portrait gallery of European royalty', with an unexpectedly wide range of provenance. A rich assortment of gold coins was found dating from between 1609 and 1737.

(Sectional plans and cross-sections [from unstated source] reproduced by Stenuit).

NMRS, MS/2461.

The rig of this vessel is apparently unrecorded.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 6 September 2005.


Reference (2011)

Whittaker ID : 1442


Latitude : 603600

Longitude : 4600

Registration : DANISH


Loss Day : 18

Loss Month : 12

Loss Year : 1737

Comment : Stranded on the east side of Fetlar at Heilanabretta.

Cargo : SILVER


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