The Russia Leather Wreck from Texel, the Netherlands (1735)
A Dutch merchantman and the ‘yufte’ trade in the eighteenth century.

In 1980, diving team Phileas Fogg from Oudeschild discovered a wooden shipwreck near the former sand of Vogelzand, east of Texel. Because the cargo consisted largely of bundles of rolled up leather, the ship was soon referred to as `Leatherwreck’. [1]

Because there was a strong current in the tidal Wadden Sea, there was erosion, but it also re-covered the wreck with sand. Later, the remains came free again and were rediscovered by Duikclub Texel (DCT). Both diving teams salvaged rolls of leather and brought them to Oudeschild. Galley goods, parts of the remaining cargo and ship parts were also taken. In 2016, the Texel municipality commissioned Archeologie West-Friesland (AWF) to inventorise all privately owned archeological objects from the municipality’s waters and, if possible, add them to the public collection of Museum Kaap Skil or that of the province of North Holland. The study of the finds from the Leatherwreck was one of the first projects within this inventory.

The Texel Roads

The western part of the Wadden Sea is full of shipwrecks. Many of these wrecks are partly or completely washed away by the tidal currents. Others are actually covered by washed-up sand, some reappear from the sand after some time. Occasionally, unknown wrecks also become visible. [2]

The greatest density of wrecks is in the Burgzand Noord area, since 2015 the first underwater National Monument, which includes the famous Palmwood wreck. But why has the western Wadden Sea become such a huge ship graveyard?
Texel was still connected to mainland Holland until the Middle Ages. The early medieval shire of Texla was probably bounded by the Vlie to the east and a small stream to the southwest that would later develop into the Marsdiep. By then, the Vlie was already a navigable channel between Flevomeer and the North Sea. From the 11th century, Holland was reclaimed and diked. West Friesland received a ring dyke, but the northernmost part remained a watery peat bog that extended to the Vlie. To the west was the line of dunes along the coast. A series of storm surges, including the All-Saints’ Flood of 1170, led to the breach of the Marsdiep as a sea channel and the creation of the islands of Texel and Wieringen. The Flevo Lake also gradually grew into a large inland sea, the Zuiderzee. The loss of land was offset by an important gain: the sea breakthrough was used as a shipping route from the beginning.
The new route to the North Sea did have one major problem: a westerly wind generally prevailed. For large sailing ships, this was insurmountable, and there was nothing for crews to do but anchor and wait for more favourable -eastern- winds. The sea on the south-east side of Texel was very suitable for this anchorage. Not only were ships moored here in relative lee, but the water was also deep enough for large seagoing ships. The berth was also suitable for the transhipment of goods on smaller ships, which could take cargo to and from the Zuiderzee towns and further inland. Over the fifteenth century, increasing use was made of this mooring and people started referring to it as `the Texel Roads’.
Two different anchorages arose within this roadstead, each with its own function: the Rede van Den Hoorn in the south, where the smaller vessels were moored, and on the east side of the island, at Oude- and Nieuweschild, the Moscovische or Koopvaardersrede, for the larger ships. Waiting on the Texel Roads could take weeks or even months, but if there was then favourable wind, the anchor was lifted en masse and the ships sailed through the Marsdiep to the North Sea. There were then three shipping routes: the Landsdiep (the most stable), the Slenk and the Spanjaardsgat. The latter silted up in the 18th century, creating the Mokbaai in the lee. This too became an anchorage for ships and was called the Rede van de Mok. [3]

Despite the relative lee of the Rede van Texel, it was certainly not comparable to a safe harbour. Storms caused many casualties among the waiting and passing ships, and the Leerwrak, near the Koopvaardersrede, is therefore one of the many ships on Texel’s wreck map. [4]

The Leatherwreck

The Leatherwreck was found at a depth of 3 metres below average sea level, about 10 kilometres east-north-east of the harbour mouth of Oudeschild. Because the topside was constantly eaten away by shipworms, much of the shipwreck had already been lost before divers arrived. In 2015, the still-visible remains consisted of a 12.5-metre by 5-metre fragment, protruding some 2.5 metres above the seabed. The deepest remains were at 8 metres below sea level. Along the northern side, the current had carved a deep channel in the seabed, slowly pulling out the cargo of the cracked-open ship. The condition of the wreck has been systematically monitored since 2016 by DCT at the request of the municipality of Texel and by Periplus on behalf of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. This monitoring showed that the condition was rapidly deteriorating and in 2019 the cargo was found to have been washed away. Besides currents and shipworms, fishing nets were also found to cause damage. This combination of natural factors and human activities meant that by 2020, the last remains of the wreck had also disappeared.
The exact identity of the Leatherwreck is not known, but based on its structural features and finds, some things can be said about this ship. The wood proved to be impossible to date accurately, but it is known from the finds, about which more later, that the ship probably sank in or shortly after 1733. Based on the remains and knowledge of ship types, the original length is estimated at around 37 metres, with the vessel having a distinctive `thick butt’. Because of that shape, it is suspected that it is a so-called flute ship, a type that was common in the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century. Perhaps partly because the top of the hull was largely washed away, little of the ship’s equipment was recovered. A few parts of the rigging, such as blocks, sheaves and pulleys, have surfaced.
The ship was divided into compartments with detached wooden bulkheads. In the steerage of the ship a hump of grain or rye was found, while further aft no cargo was found. Some frames taken by Texel divers showed remnants of rye and chaff stuck to iron pins. In the aft part of the ship there was a partitioned off space with galley goods. Attached to one of the walls was a wooden cabinet with a bronze tap, with an ornament in the shape of two intertwined dolphins. The rolls of yufte’s, from which the wreck takes its name, lay at the bottom of the ship. There were dozens of rolls, which had been tied up with rope. Underneath was more cargo, which consisted of woven mats.
With a limited number of guns and a small amount of ammunition, the vessel was only lightly armed. As far as we know, only three guns were recovered. It will therefore not have been a warship but a merchantman, as the cargo also suggests. One of the guns was an English three-pounder, a calibre often used on merchant ships. Also on board was a half-pound rotary bass, a sixteenth-century type of cannon made and used well into the eighteenth century. The rotary bass works with a separate powder chamber. Four such powder chambers were unearthed by DCT in 2016. The third gun had already surfaced in 1980, but was lost. Apart from the guns, part of a wheeled carriage and two fuse sticks are also among the remains of the armament, as well as 61 cannonballs. [5]

Galley ware and trade equipment
The galley ware on a ship includes various items for cooking, eating, drinking and entertainment. Of the cooking utensils on the Leatherwreck, one flat-topped brass pan with two handles and a lid, a skimmer without a handle, a brass saucepan with the handle broken off and two redware Dutch tripod pipkins remain. Tableware consisted of pewter objects and ceramics. Among the pewter, a vegetable dish from German East Friesland stands out, which has a crowned rose on the underside. Also found were two pewter breakfast plates and a third plate with two marks, an angel and a sword with the text `Inglish Tin’. A brass tap must have been used in a barrel. Ceramics included medium-sized stoneware jugs with bearded masks of the late Frechen type. There was also a Delftware tea set on board. A brass tea or coffee pot was found crushed, in addition to a brass base of a tap jug. Glassware consisted of an engraved beaker and two green bottles, one onion-shaped and the other cylindrical. Of the smoking utensils, a brass tobacco or snuff box with a Biblical representation and a number of pipe stems have survived. A small bronze bell possibly served as a table bell, and of the lighting, a brass oil lamp and a brass sconce with stem remain. Two hourglasses were used for timekeeping. The only item of clothing from the wreckage is a leather shoe. It is unclear what the function of a 1.2-metre-long, 40-centimetre-wide and 40-centimetre-high lead container was.
Some objects clearly belong to the trade equipment, such as four stool weights, which consist of a cast iron weight and a lead collar cast on it. The semicircular iron bracket that was attached to the collar is missing. Roman numerals in the collar indicate the weight in Amsterdam pounds. City and calibration marks indicate that the weights originated in Amsterdam. Four weights bear the date 1730. Apart from these stool weights, a box of nine matching brass gauge weights has also turned up, which fit together perfectly. [6]

The cargo

As the upper part of the ship was affected by shipworm and washed away, the upper deck and much of the intermediate deck of the Leatherwreck disappeared. In the process, much of the cargo may also have been washed away, and so it can no longer be fully reconstructed. At the very bottom of the ship were the mats. These are so-called Moscovian mats’, which were coarsely woven by hand from broad, sturdy types of grass and reed. They were stacked in the hold. Furthermore, it is certain, as we saw above, that a part of the cargo consisted of rye. Apart from caked remains on ship’s timbers, a bag of rye also turned up. Although the bag itself had perished, the contents still had the characteristic shape. The composition was botanically determined as rye, edible rye chaff and field weeds. [7]

The most unusual find from this vessel are the curious rolls that emerged from the cracked open side of the hull. These rolls had been tied with coarse twined rope. After removing the rope, it turned out that they were stacks of rolled, tanned leather hides. The rolls always contained six or seven hides, with the smallest inside and the largest on the outside. As above the water the leather immediately began to shrivel, the divers desalted it and treated it with various materials to keep it supple. The first hide was loaned by DCT to specialists at AWF in Hoorn in the winter of 2016-2017 for examination. Usually the protruding parts of hides have been cut off on all sides, but in this case, tail, neck, part of head with the cutouts of the eyes and parts of the belly were still present. Holes from stretching during tanning were also still visible. The inside appeared to be rather coarsely skinned and cleaned, and on the outside a waffle pattern was visible. A curious smell was also noticeable, which could not be immediately brought home. Leather expert Amber Veel later managed to identify the skins asRussia leather’ or Cuir de Russie’. This information prompted a meeting on 20 September 2017 with experts from home and abroad, including Elise Blouet, the French specialist on Cuir de Russie. Finally, in 2018, 36 of the recovered skins managed to be brought together. The rest, some 200-300 hides, were desalted, treated and then sold, given away or cut up for personal use. Indeed, the leather was still very usable after treatment. All 36 hides still available for research were systematically measured and compared, to see if a certain regularity or coherent series could be detected. However, all the skins turned out to be different, not only in shape but also in colour. The different sizes were caused by the fact that cattle were not deliberately slaughtered at a certain age, as was common in Holland, but mainly worked with cadavers, i.e. cattle that had died naturally. There was a colour variation from almost black to almost beige. The dyeing of Russian leather was done with various kinds of natural materials like oak bark (eek) or mushrooms. What did stand out was that many hides had a year stamped on one cheek, (17)32 or (17)33, usually in the left cheek. The curious smell of the leather appeared to be caused by the use of birch bark and birch oil during tanning. The leather was than rolled with a kind of metal pastry roller with many circular sharp blades creating the characteristic lozenge shaped waffle pattern when rolled in the right angle. It was then soaked with pitch and oil to make it waterproof. In Russian, such leather is called ‘Юфть‘, which has been bastardised into `juchtleer’ in Dutch. Three of the 36 hides examined were still untreated and preserved under water. These still offer possibilities for further natural science research. [8]

From where or to where?
Like most wrecks found near Texel, this ship has not been identified. Many strandings were handled insurance-wise by notaries, but notarial records for Amsterdam for the years 1733-1736 are missing. From 1738 onwards, only two incoming ships wrecked in the study area, in 1738 and 1754. However, it is known that in a heavy storm on 19 January 1735, as many as 25 outgoing merchant ships sank on the Texel Roads, with destinations including Rouen, Lisbon, Cadiz, Gibraltar, Malaga, Barcelona and Constantinople. For now we assume that the Leerwrak is an outgoing ship, with a cargo that was transited.
In the Amsterdam notarial archives journeys of Dutch ships to Russia occur frequently. In the first decades of the eighteenth century, the Great Northern War (1700-1721) raged, in which the Northern Alliance (Russia, the kingdom of Denmark and Norway, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Saxony) fought with the Kingdom of Sweden for control of the Baltic Sea. The major Russian seaport at the time was Archangelsk, located above the Arctic Circle, beyond the north Atlantic Ocean. A trip there was risky, led past Norwegian territory and was only ice-free in summer. Dutch merchants sailed to Russia with luxury goods such as silk, paper, spirits, small arms and cannons for the tsar. On the return journey, they took with them natural products such as linseed, hemp, rye, barley, tar, pitch, whale- and cod-liveroil, beeswax, honey, salmon, caviar, furs and pelts of all kinds lots and lots of yuftes/juchten. Muscovite mats were also sometimes purchased. Some ships sailed directly from Archangelsk to Mediterranean ports.
From 1703, St Petersburg and its outport Kronstadt gained increasing importance for Russian trade, although they suffered from Swedish piracy. This growth was at the expense of remote Archangelsk. Russian export lists and the registers of the Sonttol show that at least from 1737 onwards, many ships from the home ports of Amsterdam and Hindeloopen sailed to Holland with cargoes of juchten, and some also directly to Mediterranean ports such as Venice or Livorno. For the period between 1733 and 1736, the registers of the Sonttol are also missing. [9]

Other leatherwrecks’. The wreck Vogelzand 5 is known as the ‘Leatherwreck’, but there are obviously more shipwrecks with leather finds. Another Russian leather has was found in the Netherlands in the 1960s in the wreck near the Kreupel, an artificial island 4 kilometres north of Andijk (West Friesland). However, hides of Russian leather do occasionally wash up ashore along the North Sea coast on both Texel and Terschelling.
The most important leather wreck’ outside the Netherlands is the Metta Catharina, built in 1782 in Rønshoved on the north side of the Flensburg Fjord. Flensburg has been a German town since 1864, but at the time it was one of Denmark’s most important ports. The Metta Catharina was sailing from St Petersburg bound for Genoa in December 1786 with a cargo of juchten and hemp. Off Plymouth in southern England, bad weather broke out and the crew was forced to drop anchor. On the night of 10 December, a severe south-westerly storm struck, causing the ship to break loose and run aground on the rocks between Drake Island and the Cornish coast. The entire crew managed to get to safety before the Metta Catharina sank. The wreck was surveyed between 1973 and 2006 and could be quickly identified thanks to the ship’s bell with its name on it. Three-quarters of this ship was found to be well preserved in the muddy bottom and hundreds of rolls of leather were brought to the surface. Again, the upper part of the ship’s hull had disappeared, but the leather, which lay at the bottom of the ship, was so well preserved that some of it was used to make a variety of products. In addition to this leather, utilitarian goods of the crew were turned up, as was also found on the Leather Wreck. [10]

Several shipwrecks with leather as a (by)cargo have been found in the Baltic Sea area. A special leather wreck’ lies off the southern coast of Finland. A survey of the Juktenskobbenin Hylky, (the wreck on the Juchten rock) has been started there. This eighteenth-century shipwreck has a large consignment of Russia leather on board, which has been well preserved in the cool Baltic waters and captured on clear underwater images. [11]

The foreign examples show just like the archival records and the Texel Leather Wreck that there was extensive international trade in Russian yufte’s in the eighteenth century, with the Texel Roads as an anchorage and intermediate station. This is not to say, incidentally, that all leather was transported, as it was also used in the Netherlands and known from written sources and from archaeological sites. The mayor’s chamber at Medemblik received `staende Rusleren stoelen’ in 1664. [12]

Fragments of seventeenth-century boots made of this leather have been unearthed in Enkhuizen and Delft.

A full yufte from the Leatherwreck ‘Texel’ 1732
Kaart_Zoutman_Metius1664 – Die Landkarte wurde 1627 aufgenommen und 1664 kopiert. Federzeichnung in Braun und Grau, aquarelliert, mit Gold und Silber gehˆht, von Jan Dircksz. Zoutman. In: Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem, Bd. 15:71, fol. 152 – 153, (71)
Bakhuizen 1665 Island of Texel and Oudeschild with ships
Leatherwreck caked rye
Leatherwreck Draaibas
Leatherwreck tin and red pottery
Delft tableware from Leatherwreck
Leatherwreck stoneware and glass
Stoolweight XV Amsterdam 1730
Moskovian mat
Leather wreck hides rolled out
Rolled-in Waffle pattern [diamond pattern]
1732 Leatherwreck date punch
Annet and Owen
Leatherwreck gun port

This article is partly based on M.H. Bartels, 2022. Many people contributed tot he study of the Leerwrak. On Texel island: Jacco Bakker, Gerrit-Jan Betsema, Guido Betsema, Jac Betsema, Lorends Boom, Teunis van der Bor, Johan Bremer, Hans Dijker, Ricky Drijver, Flip Duinker, Wilma Eelman, Gerrit Gerrits, Corina Hordijk, Lilian Koorn, Arnold Looyer, Reinier Nauta, Nico Tessel, Rick van der Vis, Richard van der Vis en Cynthia Winkelman.
Terschelling Island Terschelling: Oeb de Breed, Wim Bloem, Nico Brinck, Hille van Dieren, Gea van Essen. From the main land: Riikka Alvik, Jan Beekhuizen, Elise Blouet, Seger van den Brenk, Carl van Dijk, Alec Ewing, Maarten Hell, Mikko Huhtamies, Owen Ooievaar, Fleur Schinning, Lies de Sitter-Homans, Erik Schmitz, Wytze Stellingwerf, Taniel Suvi, Rens Top, Amber Veel-Bruseker, Annelies Verbruggen, Martin Veen, Ans Vissie, Herre de Vries, Immi Wallin, Harmen de Weerd and Els Winters. For moticvation and empowering my enthusiasm special thanks go out to Hans Eelman (Oudeschild, Texel). Special thanks to Annet van Boven (De Waal, Texel) who fron DCT almost inexhaustible put her energy in this project.

All known finds from this wreck can be seen at PAN-maritime: https://portable-antiquities.nl/pan/#/ensemble/public/159

1 The wreck is also known as Vogelzand 5 or The Frenchman, because it was mistaken by local divers for a French warship of the seventeenth century.
2 Bartels and Van Ginkel (2022), 9.
3 Van Koeveringe, Manders and Opdebeeck (2011), 15-22.
4 Van Koeveringe, Manders and Opdebeeck (2011), loose wreck map, wreck identified as Vogelzand 5/De Fransman.
5 Bartels (2022), 9-10.
6 Bartels (2022), 11.
7 Determination Lies de Sitter-Homan, AWF.
8 Bartels (2022), 13.
9 Bartels (2022), 13-14.
10 Skelton (2010); shipwrecks.org.
11 www.hylyt.net/item/juktenskobbenin-hylky-1169/.
12 Courtesy of Peter Swart, Westfries Archive, Hoorn.
13 Bartels (2022), 15.

Bartels, M.H. (2022), `The Leatherwreck off Texel: Russian leather and other finds from a 1735 Dutch merchantman’, in: R. van Oosten, A. Verhoeven, S. Ostkamp and M. Klomp (ed.), In jugs and pitchers. Studies on medieval and post-medieval,pottery and glass presented to Hemmy Clevis, Zwolle, 207-218

Bartels, M.H. and E. van Ginkel (aut. resp. ed., 2022), Driftwood, swell and determination. Fifty years of diving archaeology around Texel (1970-2020), Hoorn
Koeveringe, Y. van, M. Manders and J. Opdebeeck (2011), 100 times Texel Maritime. With wreck map, Hoorn

Skelton, I. (2010), `Die Frau Metta Catharina von Flensburg: a Danish brigantine wrecked in 1786 in Plymouth Sound, England’, in: International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 36, no. 2, 235-257

About the author
Michiel Bartels (1965) is municipal archaeologist at Archeologie West-Friesland in Hoorn and Den Burg NL and can be reached through: m.bartels@hoorn.nl