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The mutineers attacking the other survivors of the wreck of the Batavia, 1629
Francisco Pelsaert Ongeluckige Voyagie, van't Schip Batavia...[Disastrous voyage of the ship Batavia]. Amsterdam, 1647.


On October 28 1628 the VOC Indiamen ship Batavia sailed from Texel in the Netherlands on her maiden journey to Batavia (modern day Jakarta) in the Dutch Colonies in Indonesia. She was accompanied by seven other ships of various sizes. These included the Buren (a warship), the Dordrecht, Galiasse and s'-Gravenhage (Retour ships), the Assendelft and the Sardaam (storeships) and a small yacht the Kleine David. In command of the Batavia was Francesco Pelsaert a senior merchant. The Company policy of appointing a merchant command of the Flagship did not find favour with ship's Skipper Ariaen Jacobsz. The two men were old enemies from a previous journey from the Indies to Holland.

Also aboard the ship was a young Lady "Lucretia van der Meylen" who was travelling to meet her husband in Batavia. The Skipper apparently tried to seduce this lady but she refused him and instead became a close friend of the Commodore. The Skipper having failed to win the lady took up with the lady's maid Zwaantie Hendrix with greater success.

The journey to disaster was to take eight months. Bad weather helped split the convoy up early and only the Batavia, Buren and Assendelft reached the Cape of Good Hope together on April 14 1629. The Skipper took the opportunity to go on a wild and violent drinking binge with Jeronimus Cornelius his (now) companion and Zwaantie Hendrix his new girlfriend (who refused the Skipper nothing). Jacobsz ended up in a fight aboard the Buren and official complaints were lodged. The Skipper was publicly dressed down by Pelsaert which enraged Jacobsz even more.

It was soon after this event that Cornelius was supposed to have suggested mutiny to the Skipper. With the help of key ship personnel it would be possible to commandeer the ship, kill the soldiers, throw Pelsaert overboard and take all the treasure. The Batavia could then be used to prey on other VOC ships before retiring to some safe haven in the Indies. The idea was obviously attractive to the ego damaged Skipper. The ship carried a kings ransom in various treasures and was one of the most heavily armed ships of its time. In a time where material possessions were much more important than human life the Skipper was probably easy to convince.

Meeting in secret the Mutineers laid their plans carefully. They arranged to have Lucretia Van der Meylen assaulted in a calculated taunt. The unfortunate woman was able to identify one of her attackers, Jan Evertz, by his voice and Pelsaert intended to have the man hanged as soon as they sighted the coast of the "Unknown land". Pelsaert did not realise that an attempt to punish Evertz was to be the signal for the mutiny to begin. Since the mutiny probably involved the Skipper, the undermerchant, a lance corporal and some of his soldiers and some of the Cadets (junior officers) it most certainly would have succeeded.

Before the mutiny could take place the Batavia ran aground on the Houtman Abrolhos. On June 4th 1629 the Batavia became wrecked on the Abrolhos Islands some 40 miles of the coast of Western Australia; it was a tragic end to her maiden voyage. Most of the passengers and crew were off-loaded onto a nearby island later known as Batavia's Graveyard. The Commodore (Francesco Pelsaert) and the Skipper (Ariaen Jacobsz) some 30 others (mostly sailors) and most of the food and water was landed on a smaller island. Pelsaert and Jacobsz knew they were in dire straights and after much deliberation loaded the two ships boats and set sail for Batavia. They left a note for the other survivors who felt so betrayed by this desertion they named the smaller island "Traitor's Island", a name it still bears to this day.

The people left behind were in a dreadful situation and some died of thirst in the first week before some rain helped replenish supplies of water. After the initial problems of survival had been dealt with the unfortunate survivors were then to play a part in one of the most horrible tales of mutiny and murder ever told. The Undermerchant Jeronimus Cornelius, the most senior company man amongst the survivors, turned out to be a psychotic killer with an uncanny ability to control others with weaker personalities.

Soon the undermerchant had sent one group of soldiers in search of water to another island and left them, hoping they would die. He then split the remaining survivors amongst some of the closer islands, none of which had any water. It was then he revealed himself and the killings began. With a loyal band of murderous young men drawn from the ship's Junior officers, soldiery, and even cabin boys, Cornelius began to systematically kill anyone he believed would be a problem to his reign of terror, or a burden on the limited resources. He took the unwilling Lucretia as his concubine although she only submitted after not so veiled threats of death.

The mutineers became intoxicated with killing and enjoyed complete control over the survivors; none could stop them. They loved to experiment with different ways of dealing death and misery, needing only the smallest excuse to murder. The survivors that were sent to other islands were systematically hunted down and killed if they hadn't already died of thirst and hunger. Cornelius and his men strutted around the islands wearing red and gold clothing plundered from surviving company stores. The islands were theirs to do as they would except for one thing; the soldiers sent to die on one of the far islands had survived. The killings had only just begun when Cornelius and his men noticed the smoke rising from the distant "high Island" meaning that the soldiers lead by Wiebbe Hayes and his men had found water.

What Cornelius did not know was that Hayes and his 2 dozen or so soldiers had been sent to the only island in the group with a natural store of water; a very substantial store of water since the recent rains. The "High Island" itself had no water but another island nearby could be reached by wading through the shallows. This other island contained the water, numerous wallabies, many birds (mutton birds) and eggs. Jeronimus Cornelius had intended to send the soldiers to their deaths but instead he had sent the only group of men that could threaten his regime to the best island in the Abrolhos.

The soldiers had gone to the islands without weapons but when some escapees from Cornelius' reign of terror arrived at the island the resourceful soldiers began to construct pikes and morningstars from wreck timbers and barrel hoop iron that had had washed up on the island. Wiebbe Hayes had 45 men with him on the island. This included the original group that had been sent to look for water and some who had escaped from seal island and Batavia's graveyard. Cornelius had some 36 men under his command (as shown on the oath of allegiance of 20th August) although some were obviously not committed mutineers. Wiebbe and his men trained in the use of their new arsenal and waited for the attack.

The first attack came about the 27th of July. Cornelius first sent a cadet named Daniel Cornelissen to the island with a letter to the French soldiers trying to tempt them over to the mutineers. The cadet was taken captive (at least he could not sign the oath of August 20) and the note handed over to Wiebbe. Some days later the attack came, lead by Jacop Pietersz. The defenders were tougher than expected and the mutineers were forced to retreat. The documents mention stones being thrown by catapults and it may well be the soldiers were using home-made staff slings similar to those they would use for grenade hurling.

The second attack came within a week with the mutineers turning out in full force with Jeronimus along to watch. Three boatloads of mutineers attacked the shore of the defenders island. Wiebbe's men advanced knee deep into the water and held the mutineers off. Two muskets had been brought but they failed to fire and the mutineers were taunted by the defenders. There is confusion here as to if this attack happened later as part of the visit of Sept 1 and 2 but reading the translation of Pelsaert's journal and the Predicant's letter as well as the interpretations by Edwards, Goddard and Drake-Brockman I tend to agree with Hugh Edwards that they made this abortive attack before deciding to use guile in the visitation of September 1 and 2.

On the first of September the mutineers sent the Predicant ashore to negotiate peace with the defenders. Two musketeers amongst the attackers attempted to fire at the taunting defenders but the guns did not work. Jeronimus decided to offer wine and blankets in exchange for a small boat previously brought to the island by an escapee. Jeronimus' suggestions were relayed to Hayes via the Predicant and the negotiations were set for the next day.

On September second, Jeronimus and five of his principal mutineers brought the trade goods to the island and attempted to bribe the French soldiers. Hayes had suspected treachery and his men brutally captured Jeronimus Cornelius and the other five men. Jacop Pietersz managed to escape but Coenraat van Huyssen, David Zeevanck, Gysbert van Welderen and Cornelisz Pietersz were killed.

On the 16th of September the rescue yacht Sardam had sighted the islands and was making her way through the treacherous reefs. The very next day saw the final assault on Wiebbe's island. This time the mutineers attacked with operating muskets and four defenders were wounded (one of whom died later). The attackers were still driven back (or retreated) and it was then the rescue ship was sighted.

On September 17 1629 the last battle between the mutineers and Hayes men was in full swing when the rescue ship Sardaam appeared on the horizon. Hayes and some of his men seized the opportunity to leave the battle and taking a small home-made boat they were able to warn the rescuers of the mutiny and murders. The Commodore of the rescue ship was none other than Francesco Pelsaert who had made it to Batavia in the ships boat. In short time the mutineers were all rounded up, questioned and tied. The ensuing trial was extensive, thorough and quite well documented in Pelsaert's own journal. Some mutineers needed to be put to the torture to confess but most seemed only too willing to tell the rescuers what they had done. Some like Cornelius were hanged on one of the islands, two were marooned on the coast of WA and the rest were taken back to Batavia where most of them were executed. Over 120 survivors were killed by Cornelius' men during his brief reign of terror.

(The Grey Company - http://members.iinet.net.au/~bill/batavia.html)