Alastair Deacon is Technical Director of Blade Education, a not-for-profit organisation that works with community groups to implement innovative education projects for people of all ages. Alastair and his colleague Beth Hooper recently attended our Rooswijk1740 Finds’ Conservation course and wanted to share his experience with others…

On a cold January morning my colleague and I braved the icy roads of Portsea Island to arrive at the spectacular Fort Cumberland, where the Nautical Archaeology Society have their Head Office. Our day began in a warm classroom with introductions and sessions by the course experts on maritime conservation, environmental sampling and a fascinating session on x-raying finds.  Many of our group turned out to be expert divers with a great willingness to share their experiences with us complete newbies who haven’t dived any deeper than the bottom of a swimming pool.

After lunch we really enjoyed the 5 conservation activities to give us an insight into the journey of artefacts. Desalination with NAS Education Officer Peta Knott was our first task, where, under supervision, we handled artefacts that had been raised from the wreck of the Rooswijk. It felt amazing to be working with an oil lamp that was last seen over 250 years ago. The containers were like little treasure chests as each one opened to reveal its own little slice of the past.

Then we tackled an 18th century cannon ball trapped in a stubborn concretion with Air Scribing tools. Rooswijk 1740 Project Archaeologist Nicole Schoute showed us how to carefully use this tool. Each time a little piece chipped off there was a sense of achievement.

Next came identification of environmental remains which is a remarkable detective story that allows Historic England’s Archaeobotanist Ruth Pelling to be able to know where the ship had travelled and what she carried. All this from tiny fragments of flora and fauna that were trapped when the ship went down!

Then we worked alongside  Historic England’s Archaeological Conservator Angela Middleton to make sure that a Slow Match from the London was packed and catalogued perfectly. It was very clear that to do this job you have to have an eye for detail and precision.

Our last task was to remove barnacles off oak that had come from the frame of the Rooswijk and had been submerged for 250 years or so and needed a good (but careful!) scrub!

This is an amazing introduction to maritime archaeology conservation, and we would both thoroughly recommend it. Thank you NAS and all the lovely people who made us so welcome at Fort Cumberland.


About the #Rooswijk1740 Project:

The Rooswijk was a Dutch East India Company vessel which sank on the treacherous Goodwin Sands, off Kent, in January 1740. The ship was outward-bound for Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) with trade goods. The site is now protected by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and all access is controlled by a licensing system administered by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The ship's remains lie at a depth of some 25 metres and are owned by the Dutch Government. The UK government is responsible for managing shipwrecks in British waters, therefore both countries work closely together to manage and protect the wreck site.  The International Programme for Maritime Heritage of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture) and Historic England (on behalf of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) are responsible for the joint management of the Rooswijk.

An archaeological survey of the site in 2016, undertaken by RCE and Historic England, showed that the wreck site was at high risk. As a result, a two-year excavation project began in 2017. Wrecks such as the Rooswijk are part of the shared cultural maritime heritage across Europe and it's important that cultural heritage agencies are able to work together to ensure that sites like this are protected, researched, understood and appreciated by all. The project involves an international team led by RCE in partnership with Historic England. MSDS Marine are the UK Project Managers for the project. This course was funded by the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency as part of the project and run by the Nautical Archaeology Society and MSDS Marine.

To learn more about the courses currently available, please click here. 

Do you have a story you'd like to tell? Learn more about writing for us here.