The Koning Willem II was one of 5 Dutch ships that carried Chinese passengers to the port of Robe during 1857. The others were: Generaal de Steurs, Jacob Cats, Jan Hendrick and the Almonde. Together they brought about 2000 immigrants to the Goldfields of Victoria.
On reading the inscription plate I suspected the name of the ship was wrong, as “Koenig” is not a Dutch word, and I decided there and then to find out more about this ship. As a result of this on-the-spur-of-the-moment-decision I commenced a long but interesting search, which resulted in some surprising discoveries. Visits to the Maritime Museums in Greenwich (UK), Rotterdam (Holland) and the Veenkoloniaal Museum in Veendam (Holland) were the highlights of this tour of discovery.
Every effort has been made to discover all the major stories that have been written about the demise of this unfortunate vessel and its crew. Most items are well known and can be found in the various libraries in South Australia and Overseas. These and some new material are now combined into one essay to give, it is hoped, a near complete and balanced view of this tragedy of so long ago.
I submit the 3 most important new discoveries are:
The official report by Corporal Warren of the incident to the Commissioner of Police.
The official report into the seaworthiness of the “Koning Willem II” dated 1857 by Bureau Veritas.
A full list of names of those who perished.
Neither of the first 2 reports have been mentioned in previous writings to my knowledge, and I suggest they do portray a somewhat different view as to what, has up until now been accepted as “gospel” in relation to the incident, condition of this ship and its subsequent demise.
Mrs. Nel Noordervliet-Jol, a Dutch author and historian with a keen interest in the story of the Koning Willem II, provided much detailed information about the owner of the vessel, Mr. Pieter Varkevisser. I am extremely grateful for her contribution. I am also indebted to Mr. Roelof Varkevisser of St.Annaparochie, Holland for his contribution and information.
I also would like to thank the following persons for their assistance in compiling this essay. Mrs. Gerdi Schot of the Prins Hendrik Maritime Museum in Rotterdam, the director of the Veenkoloniaal Museum in Veendam and his very enthusiastic assistant, Mr. Marten Fokkens, Mr. Frits Jager, Veendam and the late Mr. Henk Bulder in New Zealand for personal details and his story of the event. Valuable help was also received from Librarians at the South Australian State Reference Library and the Flinders University, Bedford Park.
Wandering through Robe and observing the remaining leftovers from the Koning Willem II today, we develop an awareness of those brave Dutchmen who are now part
of South Australia’s maritime history. This essay is written to the memory of those 15 sailors, who are buried somewhere in the sandhills near Robe, far from their beloved homeland.
G.G. (Danny) van Doorn