5 - Schokland, island in the Zuiderzee.

The Noordoostpolder landscape has a peculiar mound: Schokland. Formed from the moors, Schokland became an island in the late Middle Ages. The inhabitants lived on artificial dwelling mounds called 'terps'. Life on Schokland was not always easy and it remained impoverished for most of its history. For centuries, the Schokland people, Schokkers, struggled against the water. By 1859, the government intervened and the island was evacuated. The Schokkers lost their home. Schokland did retain its maritime role. It has been quiet and peaceful in the drained Noordoostpolder since 1942. 

View over Schokland

Formation of Schokland 

The Schokland area and its surroundings have existed since prehistoric times. Since circa 1000 AD, the lands of this inaccessible area have been exploited. The monasteries, in particular, were the ones taking the initiative. Large strips of peat soil were surrounded by small dikes, dewatered through canals and used by agricultural colonists. The yields, rye and butter, were traded off.

Regional map 4000 BC with raised bogs and fens

The continued rise of sea levels, the many floods, and events like the Palm storm of April 10, 1446, eventually led to Schokland becoming an island (see also pane 2). Because Schokland is largely made up of peat, the island has suffered greatly from storm surges throughout the centuries. Heavy storms were at times powerful enough to gobble up entire chunks of the island. Present-day Schokland is but a fraction of what it used to be. This became very apparent during the draining of the Noordoostpolder, when remnants of dikes were found around Schokland. The oldest dike remnants are from the eleventh century.

Schokland in medieval times
Emmeloord was situated on the northern part of Schokland (on top of a dwelling mound) The southern part of Schokland had Ens, Middelbuurt and the Zuidpunt. While Schokland was a single island, up to the nineteenth century people spoke of two islands: Emmeloord and Ens.  

Map IJsselmonding/Schokland 18th century

This was due to an administrative border that ran across the island. Together with Urk, Emmeloord formed a heerlijkheid [manor]. The Urk and Emmeloord manor was part of the county (and later the region) of Holland. The southern part of Schokland with the villages of Ens and Middelbuurt belonged to the Overijssel region. 

The Reformation in the sixteenth century had little initial effect on Schokland. However, by the late sixteenth century, the pastor of Ens turned to Calvinism and from that moment onward protestant ministers were appointed in Ens. Nevertheless, most people in Ens initially stuck to their Catholic faith. 

"The pastor of Urk, he would preach on Schokland, but the fury of the sea made him forget his sermon". Detailed map Schokland from 1773 by Jan Christiaan Sepp.

In 1622, the northern part of Schokland, Emmeloord, also appointed a protestant pastor. The altar in the church was torn down and the pastor had to leave. This top-down Reformation proved unsuccessful. Pastors continued to (illegally) visit the island to celebrate the Roman-Catholic mass. Eight years later, the church had another altar. While the south of Schokland became partially Protestant, Emmeloord in the north stayed Catholic. 'Spotted marriages' (marriages between protestants and Catholics) occurred on the small island of Schokland.

Schokland was one of the most impoverished regions in the Netherlands. Around 1700, the island had become so small that there was no room for arable farming. Cattle raising, too, quickly diminished. The switch to become a fisher became easier than to stay a farmer. The island was not very large, either: around 1800 it was but four kilometres long and not a single point was wider than five-hundred metres. At the narrow gangway between Ens and Emmeloord, people passing by each other had to grip each other by the waist to not fall down.  Homes were made of wood and were placed closely together. Oftentimes, one house would harbour two families. The wind and cold were given free play through the many cracks. For a long time, fishing was the most important means of livelihood. The Schokland people fished on both the Zuiderzee and on the North Sea. With freight transport and small-scale cattle raising on the side, the Schoklanders could for some time be self-sufficient.

Above, a drawing of Schokland with gangway, circa 1845.

From 1800 onward, commercial sailing took a downturn. The fishing industry was not faring very well, either. Around the year 1830, almost all of the 650 Schokland inhabitants were living in extreme poverty. In an attempt to alleviate poverty on the island, two weaving halls were opened on Schokland in 1839. The idea was that by weaving cotton, the Schoklanders could become self-sufficient. The cotton products would be traded off in the Dutch East Indies by the Netherlands Trading Society. But this plan backfired. The Schokland weaving halls were unable to compete and the revenues were but a small addition to the income of the islanders. Soon after, machine productions elsewhere in our country ended this venture. The Schokland population became increasingly dependent on outside financial support. Regularly, Dutch newspapers called for charity. The mayor wrote: "Not only are these people facing serious hardships, 100 homes without a fire, 500 people without a meal! In the morning, they ask each other: has anyone died."

Evacuation in 1859
In 1859, the teacher Arnoldus Legebeke, together with the pastor of Schokland, came to the conclusion that the conditions on the island had become unsustainable. Their request to the government to evacuate the island was granted. The Schoklanders agreed to a compensation and moved in the summer of 1859.

Publication evacuation of Schokland Dated March 1, 1859

"Geen weg terug" [No way back], image inspired on the evacuation of Schokland; Kiny Copinga, 2004.

Schokland had some seventy fishing barges ranging in weight between 5-29 tonnes, 51 of which were in Emmeloord. Most Schoklanders moved to Brunnepe, a fishing village just outside of Kampen. Later, a part of this 'Schokland neighborhood' was torn down. Some of the residences were rebuilt at the Zuiderzee museum in Enkhuizen. A large majority moved to Vollenhove, the only place where they could count on a warm welcome. Other Schokland families moved to Urk, Volendam, Edam, Amsterdam or towards the textile industry in Twente. After the emigration of its original population, Schokland was still inhabited by some Rijkswaterstaat officials, who held tasks such as keeping the beacons alit for vessels on the Zuiderzee. Skippers, fishermen and reed cutters also temporarily remained on Schokland. Ironically, Schokland has barely gotten any smaller after 1859. 

Albert Hendriks Diender, born on 9-6-1826, on his chair in front of his house in Kampen. From Schokkererf no.9, September 1988.

In 1907, H.T. Nieuwenhuis, teacher at Urk, visited the Middelbuurt dwelling mound accompanied by some of his esteemed entourage.

Aerial picture Schokland in times of the polder pioneers, 1950.

World Heritage
After the reclamation of the Noordoostpolder in 1942, Schokland was straight at the centre of that new land.  Because the history of this former island in the polder symbolises the ever-lasting struggle of the Dutch against the water, Schokland was drafted into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995. 

Museum Schokland, across from the church from 1934 on the Middelbuurt, the property of the Noordoostpolder municipality, is currently showing what life on Schokland was like. At the Zuidpunt, we can still visit the foundation of a lighthouse and the ruins of the old church of Ens, and the Zuidert has a water well. The dwelling mound of Emmeloord has an intact lighthouse keeper residence and a foghorn building. The lighthouse has been restored and the old harbour has also underwent a partial restoration. Descendants of the original Schokland people founded the Schokker association at the end of the last century. It organises various activities on the former island and keeps the memory alive. 

More information about the history of Schokland can be found at www.schoklanddoordeeeuwenheen.nl