Page 175 - Dutch Asiatic Shipping Volume 1
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 the ZEEWIJK (2680) which was wrecked on 9th June 1727 near De Houtman's Abrolhos, 82 survivors managed to reach Batavia. In chapter 4 it has already been demonstrated that in the V O C s history shipwrecks remained the exception, even in particularly unfavou- rable years.
But it was mostly owing to disease and, to a lesser degree, accidents on board ship, that the percentage of deaths for all voyages was higher than that to be considered normal for the period. The medical historian Schoute considers 4% then to have been normal in the sense that this percentage among adults ashore in the Republic may be assumed for similar periods of time.3 7 Mortality on board VOC ships was on average above, sometimes far above this 4%.
Complete data on numbers and losses on board on outward and homeward voyage are unfortunately not available. In this respect we are better informed about the outward than the homeward voyage. For voyages from the Republic most data on crews and mortality are to be found for the period 1620-1780. For the homeward voyages we have figures only for the eighteenth century, continuous until 1795. Tables 30 and 31 below aim to give a general picture of mortality on board on outward and homeward voyages respectively, for which they have had to be worked over. For the outward voyage in table 30 the absolute figures found for many voyages with average numbers and deathrate have been extrapolated for those voyages with unknown numbers and deathrate. For the period after 1660 this is more reliable than for the preceding one. For the homeward voyage this extrapolation has been applied in the same way for the run from Asia to the Cape. If both these tables had been limited to stating the known figures for numbers and mortality on board, the total picture would have been distorted. It should be kept in mind however that the tables are approximations and indications.
Table 30 shows very fluctuating percentages of deaths per decade on the outward voyage, always well above the 'normal' 4%, with extremes in the decades 1690-1700, 1730-50 and 1760-80. So in general mortality was high, and in some decades very high. Causes for these extremes merit further research. No doubt sometimes more or less chance external causes have played a part.
For the decade 1690-1700 the war situation may have been of some significance, lengthe- ning the voyages by the use of the 'backway' and long waiting periods. Severe epidemics, like possibly typhoid after 1730, may have been incidentally catastrophic, a point to be returned to later. But for the general trend of rising mortality in the course of the eighteenth century, particularly after 1730, other causes may perhaps be assumed. W as greater over- crowding, at least between 1730 and 1750, as ascertained before, an influence? Could the deteriorating physical quality and supposedly increased inexperience of crews have played a role? Were the nature and extent of diseases becoming intensified?
The relatively low percentages of deaths on the homeward voyage shown in table 31 also require an explanation, though seemingly easier to find. In any case a deathrate of 2% to 4% for the on average quite short voyage to the Cape, with a not quite explicable slight rise in 1730, is not surprising. The voyage took an average of three months, the ships, if all went well, returning with full holds and carrying considerably lower numbers than on the outward voyage, while those returning may have been hardened by their stay is Asia, and physically speaking a kind of 'natural selection' had taken place on the outward voyage and in Asia, with some acquired immunity against tropical diseases not improbable.
37 Schoute, Geneeskunde, 46.

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