Australia's "Pre-Settlement" Coins - Recovered From Dutch Shiprecks off the WA Coast

An increasingly popular numismatic field are the coins struck prior to the Australian "Proclamation" era of 1788 - 1826.

This area of Australian numismatics is generally described as being "pre-settlement coinage", and includes coins related to Australian history before settlement in 1788.

Numerous silver coins have been recovered from several Dutch shipwrecks (dating back to the early 1600s) along the Western Australian coast, these artefacts make for fascinating study.

The wrecks themselves are clear evidence of European contact with the Australian continent well before the arrival of Arthur Phillip in 1788, and the coins (perhaps contentiously) may be regarded as Australia’s first coins. Exploring the background to these coins and the history surrounding them would provide a deeper understanding of the events leading up to Governor King’s Proclamation of 1800, and the reasons why the eleven coins were selected.

The pre-settlement wrecks along the WA coast that have yielded coins are:

  1. The Batavia;
  2. The Vergulde Draeck (The Gilt Dragon);
  3. The Zuytdorp;
  4. The Zeewijk; and
  5. The Rapid.

Batavia Shipwreck
If you haven't heard of the Batavia shipwreck, you truly have missed out on a story of depravity and barbarity that is known the world over. The tale of the Batavia also has consequences for the history of white settlement in Australia - throw in a good measure of controversy surrounding the discovery of the wreck in 1963, and you have a yarn with so many threads you will want to learn every aspect of this story for months to come.

Since relocating back to WA in 2006 I've had the opportunity to meet and talk with a range of people that've had some involvement with the discovery of one of the Dutch shipwrecks off the West Australian coast - it turns out that even members of my own family have met some of the leading figures involved.

The story of the Batavia's wreck, then its discovery some 300 years certainly isn't always pretty, but it sure is engaging.

Not many coins offer you a direct window into an episode of world history that resonates to this very day, but coins from this wreck certainly do.

Comprehensive research has been done into the composition of the Batavia's contents by the WA Maritime Museum, much of it published in Doits to Ducatons, published by the WA Museum in 1989.