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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Wreck of the Batavia, Western Australia

In 1606 Dutch sailors were the first recorded Europeans to set foot on Australian soil and they called it 'New Holland'. By the time James Cook arrived nearly 170 years later, the Dutch had charted all but the east coast of Australia. But they lost interest in New Holland and never thought of colonising it or staking a claim.

The wreck of the Batavia is a story of greed, betrayal and bloody murder. The greed of one man, psychopath Jeronimus Cornelisz for riches, the betrayal of 268 castaways by the commander and captain of the ship and the murder of 110 innocent men, women and children.

The first canon taken from the wreck in 1963

On 28 October 1628 the Dutch East India Company's (VOC) new flagship Batavia sailed from Texel in the Netherlands on her maiden voyage to Batavia (now Jakarta) in the Dutch Colonies of Indonesia.

Jeronimus Cornelisz befriended the skipper, Ariaen Jacobsz who hated Pelsaert, a merchant and Commander of the Batavia. They were unhappy with the leadership of Pelsaert and together, they plotted a mutiny. Just as the the plot was about to come together, the Batavia struck a reef in the Abrolhos Islands, about 80 kms from Geraldton.

This traditional Dutch vessel is a replica of the longboat used by Francisco Pelsaert and 47 others to sail from the wreck of the Batavia to Jakarta in Indonesia in June 1629, a journey of 1500 nautical miles

By dawn about 180 passengers were able to reach one of the islands by boat, others stayed on board, plundering the stores of food and wine.

Commander Francesco Pelsaert and the Skipper Ariaen Jacobsz and 47 others took most of the food and water and were headed toward the island where the survivers were waiting but just as they came close, Skipper Ariaen Jacobsz, fearing the boat would capsize in a panic to get aboard, turned the boat away and they sailed off to Jakarta, 1500 nautical miles away, leaving 268 castaways and the psychopath Jeronimus Cornelisz in charge.

Cornelisz soon arranged for weapons, food and water supplies to be put under his control then he sent soldiers under the command of Wiebbe Hayes to West Wallabi Island to look for water. Knowing there was a very slim chance of them ever finding any, he left them there to die and forgot all about them.

Then he began to supervise the murder of all the survivors. Although Cornelisz didn't actually murder anyone himself, he had a dedicated group of murderous young men who did it for him. They only needed the smallest excuse to drown, bash, strangle or knife to death any of their victims. Between them, he and his followers murdered over 110 men, women and children.

Meanwhile Wiebbe Hayes who was sent to another island to find water, sent a smoke signal as instructed to indicate they had done so, they also had the good fortune of finding food as well.

Then one of the survivors of the massacre managed to swim to Hayes on West Wallabi Island and told them of the terrible murders that were going on. Cornelisz ordered them to surrender their arms to him before they left for the island, and they had foolishly obliged. Now they had to make weapons from the debris washed up from the shipwreck, they even built a small fort out of limestone and coral blocks.

Cornelisz was very pleased about the water, his own supplies were running low. He went with his men to try and defeat Hayes and the soldiers but they were too strong. On 17 September 1629 the final battle between the mutineers and Hayes was under way when suddenly the rescue ship Sardaam appeared on the horizon with Francesco Pelsaert himself in command. The Dutch East India Company wanted him to retrace his steps, find the wreck of the Batavia and bring back the valuable cargo.

Hayes managed to tell the terrible story of what had happened and the mutineers were quickly rounded up. Cornelius had both hands chopped off and was hung on the island and later, the others were also hanged.

What was the point of murdering so many innocent people? Somehow Cornelisz convinced a small group of young men that their only chance of survival was to kill everyone off, wait for the return of Pelsaert in the rescue ship, take control and set off with the 240,000 guilders worth of silver coins, jewels and other valuable salvaged cargo. If Pelsaert did not return, they'd build a new boat from the wreckage.
There were 294 crew members made up of merchants, soldiers and sailors and 38 passengers - 20 women and 18 children.