LETTER:Our heritage of shipbuilding skills

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The Independent Online
From Mrs Jean Sutton

Sir: While decisions concerning our heritage are ultimately taken by the Treasury Solicitors' department ("Historic wreck's rescue scuppered by bureaucrats", 27 June), we cannot expect them to be the right ones.

The Amsterdam should not be considered as a purely Dutch problem.

A great debate in the Dutch East India Company generated by repeated disasters in the 1740s focused on improved ship design. The Amsterdam Admiralty, the largest of the six Dutch Chambers comprising the company, called upon English expertise. In 1727 three English shipwrights were invited to work for the Admiralty. One, Charles Bentham, produced draughts and moulds which were very influential in the standardisation of Dutch East India Company shipping from the 1740s. Of the 12 150ft ships of the Amsterdam class in commission in 1745, only two met a sad end, the Amsterdam and the Hollandia - oddly enough both off the English coast.

Bold decisions leading to the perpetuation of their national heritage and shipbuilding skills are being taken by our European colleagues. A replica of the Amsterdam docked in what was the company's complex on Oostenburg, Amsterdam, is visited by thousands - including British - every year. A replica of the Batavia has just been completed and lies in a dock at Lelystad, what was one of the smaller Chambers.

Hand in hand with these practical projects has gone a study of the great Dutch East India Company, the results of which are displayed in excellent exhibitions in various museums. In France a complete new museum of the French Compagnie des Indies has been created at Lorient, the base of the company and its shipbuilding.

And what of the greatest of all the European East India Companies, the United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies, and the 1,400 or more superb East Indiamen that carried out its trade and supported our Navy in the eastern seas? Presumably the Treasury Solicitors' department will make sure nobody ever hears about them.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Sutton


27 June