Bruno brings 1647 shipwreck story to life

Bruno brings 1647 shipwreck story to life

Opening public lectures for the first time since lockdown, the Academy and the Royal Society of South Africa held participants spellbound this month with the tale by maritime archaeologist Dr Bruno Werz in Cape Town.

Fingering shards of lead from what is believed to be the wreck of the Haarlem (which went under the waves in Table Bay in 1647) as well as a copper thread, which lecture participants failed to identify as a necklace, used in bartering with local people, were part of the excitement of the day, when 25 people took a risk to attend (masked up for the 45-minute lecture, temperature checked, rostered and socially distanced) while others stayed home for the digital experience.

Bruno brought to life his passion for finding the Haarlem, one of 35 wrecks in Table Bay, using a Treasure Map, an oil painting of the scene (complete with waving palms, immortalised in canvas based on eye witness accounts and part fantasy), diaries and journals from the survivors. Not a pin was heard dropping as he told his tale.

On the 25th of March 1647, shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon, the United Dutch East India Company ship Haarlem wrecked in Table Bay. The events that followed had far-reaching consequences, and this incident can be regarded as the catalyst that created one of the roots of modern South Africa. Since 1989, a project has been underway to search for Haarlem. This presentation provided a brief overview of work undertaken to date. This has resulted in the location of a site based on currently available evidence close to the Dolphin Beach hotel in Blaauberg.

Originally from the Netherlands,  Dr Bruno Werz was once the youngest diver on the world famous ‘Mary Rose project’. He  introduced scientific maritime archaeological research to southern Africa in 1988. Previously a senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town, he is currently CEO of the African Institute for Marine & Underwater Research, Exploration & Education (AIMURE) (, as well as research associate at the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, University of Pretoria. In 2010, he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London for his services to maritime archaeology and history.