You may have heard of the outlet shopping centre at Batavia-Stad near Lelystad, but did you know about its next-door neighbour Batavia-Werf? Batavia-Werf is a shipyard that uses traditional Dutch ship-building techniques to create authentic reconstructions of famous Dutch East India Company ships, such as the Batavia.
Batavia-Werf and The Seven Provinces
Initiated by master shipbuilder Willem Vos, Batavia-Werf is a small ship-building yard located in Lelystad. In 1995 the replica VOC ship Batavia was launched after ten years of work to create the most authentic reconstruction of a 17th century VOC ship ever made. Today visitors can go on-board the Batavia as well as explore the shipyard itself, see traditional crafts in workshops and even explore the work-in-progress of the replica De 7 Provinciën (The Seven Provinces). If you have seen the Dutch film “Admiral” about renowned Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter, then you may be interested to know that the Seven Provinces was his flagship. The reconstruction of this huge battleship (the Batavia was a trade ship and much smaller) is one of the largest historical shipbuilding projects in the world. Not only is this a fascinating place to visit because of the historical ship-building work going on, but Batavia-Werf also provides employment and the opportunity to learn a trade for long-term unemployed and underprivileged.
Batavia-Werf is open every day of the year except Christmas Day and New Year’s day and costs 11 euros for adults. You can visit the the forge to see traditional blacksmith work, the woodcarving workshop to see wood carved into beautiful figures and ornaments and the rigging workshop to see how rope was made for ships. You can also walk around the scaffolding of the Seven Provinces to see a huge ship in the middle of being built, as well as clambering around on the Batavia which is moored across the road. There is also a tavern and a well-stocked gift-shop. For more information on visiting see the website here.
I have a special relationship to the story of the Batavia, both the original and the replica on display at Batavia-Werf. My first job out of university in Australia was in rural Western Australia, and I lived very close to the area known as the Batavia Coast. The original VOC ship Batavia was shipwrecked off the West Australian coast here on its maiden voyage to Jakarta (then called Batavia just to confuse you) in 1629. The story of the Batavia is quite bloody; the shipwreck was partly deliberate as some of the crew had mutinied. The survivors of the wreck camped out on small islands while the captain and most of the senior officers set out in a longboat for Jakarta to get help. However, some of the mutineers left behind started to rape and murder other survivors. The whole story is quite nasty and long, and I personally think would make an interesting film! Read the whole thing here.
When I lived in Western Australia I actually saw parts of the original ship on display at the Geraldton museum. Fast forward a few years and I moved to the Netherlands to be with my Dutch partner who happens to live in Lelystad; where the replica Batavia is now open to the public! I have been wanting to visit the shipyard and actually go on the ship for ages, but we ended up waiting for VOC Day on the 29th May.
The United East India Company (in Dutch ‘Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie’ = VOC) was originally a chartered company which was granted a monopoly by the Dutch government on the Dutch spice trade. It became a very powerful company, possessing almost government-like powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins and even establish colonies. I can’t seem to find any information on what the significance of VOC day is, apart from a day in which you can take part in traditional activities at Batavia-Werf! But the entertainment factor of this annual event definitely makes it worth a visit. Apart from the workshops and ships which are always open, there were also extra traditional stalls featuring felt-work, basket-weaving, and other traditional crafts. People in traditional costumes were singing, showing visitors how to fight with swords or shoot with a bow and arrow, as well as enacting a traditional burial at sea and firing of the cannons. If you were extra adventurous you could even climb the rigging of the Batavia!
While a lot of the activities and displays are aimed at children (there were even lots of traditional games to be played) this is definitely a day that is fun for all the family. While a visit on VOC day gives you a real taste of Dutch life in the 17th century, if you can’t wait until next year then a visit to Batavia-Werf on any day will be just as interesting and fun. What are you waiting for?!