Banner image: A conger eel making its home in bronze cannon No.4 © James Clark

A previously unknown Protected Wreck off the coast of Sussex has now been identified as the 17th century Dutch warship Klein Hollandia. Built in 1654 and owned by the Admiralty of Rotterdam, the ship was involved in all major battles in the Second Anglo-Dutch war (1665-1667) before being lost in an engagement in the English Channel in 1672.

Over the past five years the Nautical Archaeology Society, along with independent historians, specialists from Historic England and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) have been working on the ships identification through evidence gathered during dives on the wreck by a team of professional and volunteer divers, as well as through archival research and dendrochronological (tree ring) analysis of wood samples.

Until now, the wreck, which lies 32 metres deep on the seabed, was known as the ‘Unknown Wreck off Eastbourne’ – but it has now been identified as the Klein Hollandia - a Dutch warship first mentioned in 1654 and sunk after being boarded by the English in March 1672.

You can listen to a podcast of the discovery and the research here

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Dive the wreck with NAS in 2024

The dates of our 2024 Protected Wreck visits have been released giving you the chance to dive on the Klein Hollandia and the Normans Bay historic shipwrecks in one day
Klein Hollandia / Normans Bay - 16th April 2024 - ONLY 4 PLACES LEFT
Klein Hollandia / Normans Bay - 13th May 2024
Klein Hollandia / Normans Bay - 27th June 2024 - NOW FULL - RESERVE LIST ONLY
Klein Hollandia / Normans Bay - 12th August 2024
Klein Hollandia / Normans Bay - 25th September 2024

Book via the Events and Membership portal here

Dive the wreck with the NAS dive club in 2024

9th-15th September 2024. Cost £490.00 not including gas. Air B&B shared accommodation is possible if needed. 7 days of hard-boat diving out of Eastbourne with the finder, Dave Ronnan, and the team that have been working on the site since 2019.
Contact Mark on [email protected] 

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Check out the feature article on the Klein Hollandia in Issue 406 of Current Archaeology magazine, published on 7th December 2023.

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Above: The bronze cannons reveal a Dutch makers name and the 1670 date of manufacture © Cathy de Lara

Above: Bronze guns No.1 and No.2 © James Clark

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Discovered in 2019, the wreck was considered so important that within three months it was granted the highest level of protection in the same year, under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. This year (2023) marks 50 years of the Act. Only licensed divers are allowed to dive to the wreck site. The wreck was discovered by Eastbourne dive operator David Ronnan (Dive 125) and reported to Historic England. David Ronnan and Mark Beattie-Edwards from the Nautical Archaeology Society are the licensees and have been investigating the wreck since its discovery.

The condition of the wreck is remarkable and could offer a wealth of information about how 17th century Dutch ships were built and the activities of the warship during its final voyage. The range of material found on the seabed includes extensive wooden hull structure, iron and bronze cannons, Italian marble tiles and pieces of northern European and Italian pottery. The beautifully-cut marble tiles are from the Apuan Alps quarries close to Carrara in Italy. As well as the tiles, the assemblage includes several large stone blocks, the largest of which is 3.75m long. The marble was bound for the Netherlands and would have been used for the construction of high status homes or municipal buildings.

Above: Bronze gun No.6 being surveyed by photogrammetry © NAS 

Above: NAS divers measuring one of the iron guns on the wreck © NAS / Martin Davies InDepth Photography

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Klein Hollandia on TV

The work on the Klein Hollandia was filmed in September 2022 as part of the 10th series of Digging for Britain by Rare TV. The programme aired on BBC2 on the 29th January 2023 and is still available to watch on the BBC iPlayer.  (Link may not work if outside UK).

Prof Alice Roberts, Digging For Britain presenter, said:  “This is such a great story of archaeological sleuthing! Using all the evidence gathered from the seabed, together with historical records, the archaeologists are now sure that they can identify this previously unknown wreck as the Klein Hollandia - a Dutch warship which is known to have sunk soon after being captured in the Anglo-Dutch wars. It was astonishing to see the marble tiles that formed part of her cargo - which had been shipped all the way from Italy, but never made it into port.” 

Above: Mark Beattie-Edwards from the NAS filming with Digging For Britain © RareTV / BBC

Above: Mark Beattie-Edwards from the NAS documenting the hull structure of the wreck © Martin Davies InDepth Photography

Above: ITV News coverage of the announcement of the Klein Hollandia identification on 27th January 2023

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Discovery of the site

The wreck was first classified as an anomaly on the seabed during a hydrographic survey in 2015 by the UK Hydrographic Office. It wasn’t until 2019 that David Ronnan, a local dive boat operator (Dive 125) working out of Eastbourne, confirmed the early indications of the geophysical survey and discovered a shipwreck. Immediately after the first dive in April 2019, Dave reported the find to Mark Beattie-Edwards, the CEO of the Nautical Archaeology Society and then to Historic England who recommended to DCMS that the wreck be protected.  Since 2019, staff and volunteer divers from the NAS and other agencies have undertaken over 450 dives on the site and have built up a comprehensive picture of what is on the seabed.

Above: Briefing the dive team before a visit to the wreck © NAS 

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Identifying the wreck 

By August 2020, all the clues were pointing towards the wreck being of Dutch origin, given the analysis of the finds and historical research conducted in the UK and the Netherlands. The RCE funded a survey by the NAS, including the recovery of two cut stone tiles for analysis by Historic England experts. Petrographic examination (the use of microscopes to examine rock), mineral composition and isotope analysis identified the stone as being marble from the Apuan Alps quarries close to Carrara, Italy, home to some of the finest marble in the world.

 Above: Marble tile (UID 009) sampled by Dr Francesca Gherardi at Historic England © Historic England

Above: NAS divers measuring some of the marble tiles on the wreck © NAS / Martin Davies InDepth Photography 

As well as Italian marble tiles, the wreck has also revealed a number of pieces of Italian majolica pottery with decorative designs suggesting a 17th century date and originating from the area around Savona, to the west of Genoa in Italy.

Above: Part of a plate (UID 010) with blue decoration recovered in 2021 © NAS

In 2022 a small number of wood samples were recovered from the site for dendrochronological (tree-ring) analysis. To date only a few conifer hull planks and a single oak plank have been sampled, with more due to recovered in 2023. The dating of the only structural oak timber (undertaken by DendroArch and funded by Historic England) recovered from this shipwreck indicates that at least some of the timber employed in the ship's construction was sourced from modern Germany, an area where the Dutch sourced their wood in the 17th century. It also highlights the dating potential of the oak structural timbers which await sampling. 

Above: Timber samples T1 and T8 showing shipworm damage, growth rings, and a groove for a fastening joining the two together © NAS

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The Dutch Warship

The Klein Hollandia, owned by the Admiralty of Rotterdam, was involved in all major battles in the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667). In 1672, the ship was part of the squadron of Admiral de Haese to escort the Smyrna fleet while sailing from the Mediterranean into the English Channel, en-route for the Netherlands.

Above: Team member, Sara Hasan, examining a drawing of the Klein Hollandia at the V&A Museum, London © NAS

At the Isle of Wight, the Dutch fleet was attacked by an English squadron under Admiral Holmes. A fierce battle broke out on the second day, resulting in the Klein Hollandia being damaged severely. The commander of the ship, Jan Van Nes was killed in action. The ship was boarded by the some of the English crew from HMS Gloucester, but shortly thereafter the Klein Hollandia sank with both English and Dutch sailors on board. This surprise action by the small squadron under Sir Robert Holmes and Sir Frecheville Holles launched the beginning of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. See mass.cultureelerfgoed.nl for more information.

Above: Wreck researcher Becky Austin and dive team member Martin Davies examine a drawing of the Battle of the Smyrna Convoy held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich © NAS

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Site at risk

In 2021, trawl damage to the site was documented by NAS divers, which led to a joint decision by the RCE and Historic England to support further investigation of the wreck. Sussex Police investigated, using the evidence provided by NAS, but were unable to obtain enough evidence to warrant a prosecution. The NAS, RCE and Historic England are involved in a project with MSDS Marine to forensically mark the objects on the seabed. This is a new form of technology that makes objects traceable: a large step forward in the protection of vulnerable underwater archaeological sites.

Above: Damage to an iron cannon (Gun No.9) following an impact by a fishing trawler in 2021 © NAS / Martin Davies InDepth Photography

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Significance of the wreck 

Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: "The identification of the Klein Hollandia offers a glimpse back into the seventeenth century, giving us a chance to learn more about the maritime history of this period and to uncover treasures which have been underwater for hundreds of years. I am very pleased that, thanks to this partnership between the UK and the Netherlands, we have been able to solve some of the mysteries linked to this wreck – and to protect it for future generations to continue to research."

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: ”Investigating this internationally-significant Protected Wreck site has been an excellent example of partnership working between Historic England, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and the Nautical Archaeology Society. We’re delighted that Historic England’s material scientists have played a key part in solving the mystery of this shipwreck’s previously hidden identity. Uncovering the story of the warship Klein Hollandia opens up another fascinating chapter in the already rich, shared maritime history between the UK and the Netherlands.”

Mark Beattie Edwards, CEO of the Nautical Archaeology Society said: “From our very first dive on the wreck, back in April 2019, we have been fascinated by the range of material on the seabed. The impressive amount of wooden hull structure, the ships cannons, the beautifully cut marble tiles, as well as the pottery finds, all point towards this being a Dutch ship from the late 17th century coming back from Italy. Now, after four years of investigation and research, we can confidently identify the vessel.”

Martijn Manders, Manager of RCE’s International Program for Maritime Heritage (2017-2021), said: “An absolute privilege to dive the site! The identification process has been a great joint effort between our two countries and the collaboration still continues, so that we can learn more about this fascinating site in the coming years. This project marks again the close ties archaeologists and heritage agencies of the two countries have built up over the years.”

Above: Professor Martijn Manders from the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands diving the wreck with the NAS in 2022 © NAS

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Netherlands maritime heritage in British waters

This research is part of a larger campaign of fieldwork and maritime heritage projects in which the UK and the Netherlands closely collaborate to preserve their shared maritime heritage. Both countries endorse the importance of this mutual collaboration and intend to continue this by exchanging knowledge, conducting joint research and supporting conditions to preserve maritime heritage in the future.

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Visiting the wreck

In 2024 the Nautical Archaeology Society plan to continue diving the wreck to reveal more of its secrets and to record structure and artefacts as they come to light. If you are a NAS member and would like to get involved in our 2024 investigation with the NAS Dive Club please do contact us on [email protected] or watch out for announcements during the year. Ideally we are looking for divers with twinsets on nitrox or rebreather divers to maximise time spent on site. Single cylinder divers can contact Mark to discuss. 

Above: 2019 dive team members Claire and Ian planning to document the guns on the wreck © NAS

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Credits

The NAS would like to thank everyone that has been involved in the work on the wreck, especially the finders Dave Ronnan, Tom Stockman and Graham Owen, and also thank the regular dive team members Sara Hasan, Martin Davies, Jon Parlour and members of the Nautical Archaeology Sub-Aqua Club

Thanks to all our NAS members - your support means that the Society can actively contribute new knowledge to our maritime history and involve members in that investigation. Seventy-eight divers have helped so far and have contributed so much to our understanding.

Thanks also to researcher Becky Austin, the late great 17th century historian Frank Fox, and to Mark James, Brandon Mason, Nico Brinck, Ruth Rhynas Brown and Kay Smith. Credit must be paid to Effy Evans, Matthew Richter and Morgan Edwards for their help with researching the events surrounding the loss of the ship.  Thanks to Bexhill Museum in Sussex where the artefacts are being curated and are being displayed; to the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and Historic England for their support and assistance. 

Finally thanks to GoDive Scuba Store for sponsoring our fabulous project T-Shirt and graphic artist Caroline Fairbairn for her wonderful designs. You can support the work on the Klein Hollandia shipwreck by buying a T-shirt from our shop here.

Above: Our Klein Hollandia project T-Shirts sponsored by the GoDive Scuba Store