The Hercules (1661)

35 cannons of the shipwreck

In the early morning of 22 May 1661, a small fleet of four ships was ready to sail to Batavia. Two officers were persuaded by the fine weather to take the ships out of harbour before any adverse change. There are several reefs in the area which lie hidden just below the surface, inviting disaster for ships entering or leaving the harbour without a pilot at the helm. After the flute Elburg and the yacht Tholen were guided out of the bay, the pilot returned and prepared to take the yachts Hercules and Angelier out of the bay together. An eyewitness aboard the Angelier gave an account of what went wrong after the ships weighed anchor:

'When the crew of the Angelier had weighed anchor and were busy pulling up the sails, quite suddenly a strong cross-wind struck the ship. We managed to fasten the sails again and to throw the anchor. On the Hercules however, half a pistol shot from us, things went wrong. I saw that the anchor rope was broken. This seemed strange to me, since this rope wasn’t bad and no other ship in the bay at that moment had the same problem. Still they tried to throw the second anchor, but in this case the end of the rope wasn’t secured to the mast so they lost the second anchor too. Without anchors the ship was now a playing ball of the elements. The bow of the ship turned in the direction of the land and was breaking to pieces on the cliffs a few moments later.'

After the disaster, the pilot was interrogated. He explained that the cross-wind struck when they were in the process of weighing the anchor; in the ensuing panic, the anchor rope stuck between the ship and the rudder, with a catastrophic result. The whole cargo was lost: 1700 packets of fine cinnamon, and a cargo of rice.

With the new development plan of the Galle harbour, an Archaeological Impact Assessment had to be carried out. The Department of Archaeology conduct this AIA with special help from the Western Australian Maritime Museum. The task was carried out from the MAU and the Bay of Galle was surveyed by using side scan sonar and a proton magneto meter. The archaeological sites found during the Galle harbour project were re-surveyed and recorded.

Few sites around the developing area were surveyed and recorded. The exact boundaries of the sites and the archaeological and environmental details were recorded. The VOC ‘Hercules’ (1661) site will be directly affected by the new development plan, due to the site having been carefully surveyed and mapped again, the site being indicated as the Site F on the survey plans of the Galle Harbour Project (1998). Iron cannons, the bell of the ship and few other artefacts were found from this site. Four new cannons were found from this survey in addition to the 31 cannons found from this very site during the 1993 survey. All the cannons were numbered and plotted on a map using a GPS. Most of them were found resting on the rocks. Many concretions and cannon bolls were found near some of the cannons.
A small test excavation was done near the Southwest boundary of the site, just the edge of the rocks. The excavation pit was dug near the cluster of cannons and some concretion with cannon balls. The aim was to find out any remains of the wreck under the sand layers. The excavation was continued to the sea side for few meters but no wooden parts or remains apart from the concretions were found.