The Batavia- one of the most interesting shipwrecks of all time!

This is such an interesting part of Australian history that I am surprised more people are not aware of this ship. Everyone knows about the Titanic and the Bounty but very few people can tell you the story of the Batavia. It may have been a Dutch ship, but it is a part of Australia’s history now. It is only a matter of time before a Hollywood movie is made about this story. It has it all. A beautiful sailing ship, treasure chests, mutiny, murder, scull duggery, a love interest, slavery, adventure, torture. What more do you need?  M

bataviaIn 1629 the magnificent ship the Batavia of the Dutch East India Company sets sail from Amsterdam full of treasure headed for the walled city of Batavia, in the Dutch East Indies to buy spices. This was a time when spices were so expensive that only royalty could afford them.

In charge of the ship is Commander Francisco Pelsaert with Ariaen Jacobsz as Skipper. These two do not like each other and don’t get along, having known each other from a previous voyage and a previous altercation. They could not be more different in breeding or personality. Also on board was a number of wealthy paying passengers, including the beautiful Lucretia van der Mijlen heading to the Spice Islands to meet her husband. She travels with her maid Zwaantje. Jacobsz tries but fails miserably to gain Lucretia’s attention from the outset of the voyage. However Lucretia had time for Pelsaert, even going as far as tending to him in his sick bed, with fevers which were most likely Malaria. This had the other woman on board spreading rumours of what might be going on in the Commanders cabin between the two! Lucretia tending to the Commander further enraged Jacobsz and he then resents both Pelsaert and Lucretia. Zwaantje then takes up with Jacobsz and ignores her mistress for the remainder of the voyage. Later in the voyage Lucretia is assaulted by a masked gang of men, dragged along the deck by her ankles and smeared tar with excrement.  M

batavia geralton museum
A cross section of what the Batavia’s cargo hold might have looked like with bricks and sandstone blocks used to build parts of the city of Batavia. The sandstone was for a portico that would have been the entrance to the walled city. All these blocks were found on the wreck and now stand in the museum of Geraldton.
portico
Stone blocks found on the Batavia wreck standing as they might have, at the entrance to the walled city of Batavia if only they had made it there. They are now in the Geraldton museum.

 

Pelsaert is outraged by this assault on Lucretia, but senses something untoward is happening on the ship. He does nothing about finding out who is responsible, waiting until they get to port instead to have the full weight of the law behind him. During the voyage Jacobsz and Junior Merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz (possibly Australia’s first psycopath) become friends and hatch a plan to “take the ship” and use the huge supply of silver on board to start a new life somewhere. They begin their plan by setting the ship off course while the Commander is laying sick in his bed. But on June 4, 1629, before they were able to fully execute their plan,under full sail the ship hits Morning Reef. In an attempt to lighten the ship and hopefully float off the reef, some of the cannons are thrown overboard and the mast is cut down. This does little and the ship sinks near Beacon Island in the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, off the coast of what will later be Western Australia. M

batavia cannon
One of the Batavia’s 30 cannons at the Geraldton museum.

Most of the 341 aboard make it ashore with only 40 people drowning. Beacon Island was found to have no water and limited food, so Commander Pelsaert and skipper Ariaen Jacobsz set sail with a number of others in a 9 metre long boat on a rather adventurous trip to the “mainland” which was not yet Australia. When no water was found, Pelsaert abandons the survivors on Beacon island and sails this small boat with 48 people, 2000 miles to the Dutch East Indies to get help. This is an amazing feat in only 30 days with no loss of life and with even a baby on board. Though Pelsaert felt something was going on on the ship, he is unaware of the mutiny plans of some of his men.

long boat repica
The replica of the Batavia’s long boat in Geraldton harbour.  The longboat successfully sailed 2000 miles from the wreck site to the walled city of Batavia (Java, Indonesia) with 48 people including a baby, with no loss of life.

Meanwhile left in charge of the survivors is Jeronimus Cornelisz, who together with other mutineers continues his mutiny plans on land. He plans to take by force, the rescue ship that he knows will come back for them and more importantly, the treasure on the Batavia ship. In the meantime he must reduce the number of mouths to feed and rid the island of anyone who is not “with them” in their mutiny plan. He and his men murder all the children and most of the women leaving alive only those that can be of “service” to the men. Lucretia Cornelisz he keeps for himself, not “sharing” her with the other men. At first she resists his advances but is threatened by one of Cornelisz’ henchmen and decide’s to relent. Cornelisz has his men puts to death any of the men who will not help with their cause. He also gets rid of all the soldiers off the ship confiscating their weapons, and leaves them on a nearby island without food or water, thinking they will starve to death. Many people were murdered by being hacked to death or beheaded by swords, strangled or drowned. 125 men, women and children are killed by Cornelisz and his men. M

skull from batavias graveyard
Scull recovered from Beacon Island or “Batavia’s graveyard” as it was known with obviously fatal sword injury.

What he doesn’t know is that the soldiers led by Wiebbe Hayes, not only find water but thrive, eating birds and wallaby’s they call “jumping cats”. Despite having no weapons they are able to hold their own when Cornelisz’ men return to finish them off. One of the men escape from Beacon Island and is able to warn Hayes about the plan to take the rescue yacht. Hayes then makes his own plans to get to the rescue ship before the mutineers and warn them. M

 

Pelsaert returns on the ship Sardam taking 63days from Java, having to find his way back through the many islands and reefs in the area. Wiebbe Hayes and his men race to the ship and are able to get to the Sardam before Cornelisz and his men and the mutineers are overpowered and held under arrest.

Trials then take place on the island and many of the mutineers were tortured into confessing to their crimes, which was the norm of the day. Many were hung for their crimes after first having a hand chopped off. Two of the men were exiled on the Australian coast near Shark Bay, never to be heard from again. Some were brought back to Java to stand trial. Jeronimus Cornelisz was hanged in the islands, after first having both hands chopped off by hammer and chisel. Even at the gallows, he never confesses to his crimes and shows no remorse, crying out his that he is an innocent man! M

batavia plaque
The Batavia wreck was found in 1963 and most of it is in the Museum at Fremantle and some in the Geraldton museum. Some of the 28 cannons and numerous anchors are still at the wreck site, next to the depression in the sand where she carved her shape into the reef.
beacon island with morning reef
Beacon Island (Batavia’s Graveyard) and morning reef in the background where she was wrecked. A drone shot on a very unusually calm day.
restricted access sign
There is restricted access to Beacon Island. Although many graves were found on the island there would be many bodies still to be found buried here.
batavia cannon
A 400 yr old cannon from the Batavia wreck beautifully encrusted with 400 yrs of sea life!
batavia anchor
One of Batavia’s anchors sitting at the bottom of the Indian ocean near morning reef in the Wallabi group of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands 400 hundered year on! Fish seem to love the site too making it even better.
batavia wreck site 2
Drone photo of  the Batavia dive site on a very unusually calm day. The ship was travelling full sail when it hit and carved a hole in morning reef. It sat in the sandy depression seen left of centre. Divers are looking at the many anchors and cannons left behind after the wreck was salvaged. Most days it is just too rough here to dive on this wreck and helped to keep it a secret for so long even after it was found by Cray fisherman living on beacon island, who didn’t like visitors. One even dug up a scull while putting in a pole for a clothes line and then reburied it as he thought it would attract attention to the islands!!! Eventually the Geraldton police 65 kms away  on the mainland heard the rumour, came out and the search was on. The rest is history!  M

The text for this blog was researched from 2 books I read on the Batavia, from info on the Abrolhos picked up from Historian Dr Howard Gray and from the internet. It is only the outline and the full story is even more interesting and it is worth reading a book on the subject.

 

Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash would be my pick, if you want the real history, well researched.

Batavia by Peter Fitzsimon  if you like an easy more bestseller type read, but you are not big on historical details or background.

Dr Howard Gray has even written a “Lucretia’s diary” of what Lucretia might have thought if she had kept a diary, trying to stay as close to the history as possible. I have not read this one.

 

Would you believe many of the fishermen on the Abrolhos still don’t like visitors! M

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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