In my first post on The Netherlands, I touched briefly on the fact that we had the largest East India Trading company for quite some time: The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC for short. We pretty much monopolized the trade for well over a century. Though this was great for merchants, life aboard those ships was far from good. Hunger, abuse, and scurvy were just a few of the things they had to deal with. It is no wonder that on some occasions this led to mutiny, often achieved by brutal means.
This is exactly what happened aboard one of the VOC’s most well-known ships: The Batavia. On October 27th, 1628, the majestic ship set sail for the Dutch East Indies, led by senior merchant, Francisco Pelsaert. Serving under him as as skipper was Adriaen Jacobz. There is some speculation on the relationship between the two men; supposedly they’d met before and didn’t like each other much. Also aboard was junior merchant, Jeronimus Cornelisz, who was on the run from the law because of his heretical beliefs.The Batavia was carrying chests filled with gold and silver, jewels, linens and fine clothing, and also transported 130 big blocks of sandstone destined to be built into a gate for the settlement of Batavia–now known as Jakarta–after which the ship was named.
During the long voyage, Jacobz and Cornelisz planned to overthrow Pelsaert and take over the ship and its riches. They meant to do this by creating an incident which would provoke Pelsaert into having to discipline the crew. Jacobz and Cornelisz meant to turn that incident into a reason for mutiny which they tried to achieve by abusing and molesting one of the more prominent females aboard, Lucretia Jans. This plan failed, however, because Pelsaert was laid up in bed, having fallen ill. The mutineers were forced to wait until he was well enough to make an arrest.
But before that could happen, The Batavia shipwrecked on June 4th, 1629, on Morning Reef, not far from the coast of Australia. Of the more than 300 people aboard, most were moved to nearby Beacon Island, though 40 people didn’t survive the journey. Attempts to loosen the ship from the reef by shifting some of the ballast didn’t work, and the ship was torn apart by waves over the next few days. Pelsaert and Jacobz rounded up 40 people to make the trip to Australia to get food and water. When they didn’t find any there, they decided to continue on to Batavia. It took them 33 days, but all of them made it there alive.
Meanwhile, Cornelisz realised that once Pelsaert reached shore, he would report the mutiny and his part in it would mean his arrest. In a far-fetched plan to avoid this, he first needed to eliminate any possible opponents, which he did by commandeering weapons and the already scarce food supplies. He then led a group of soldiers to nearby West Wallabi Island, under the pretence of searching for supplies, and left them there to die. Cornelisz surrounded himself with known thugs, who tortured and murdered the survivors. At first, they did so claiming the victim had committed some sort of crime, but as time went by, they simply started killing for pleasure. In total they killed at least 110 men, women, and children.
The soldiers who had been left on West Wallibi Island learned of the brutalities through survivors that made their escape to the island. They set up a fort and forged weapons to defend themselves, for that inevitable time that Cornelisz would come for them. When he did, they ended up taking him hostage. The mutineers that escaped regrouped, came back with stronger weapons, and almost defeated to soldiers. They survived, however, and at that same time, Pelsaert came back to rescue the survivors of the shipwreck. The leader of the group of soldiers, Wiebbe Hayes, got to the ship first and was able to present his side of the story, eventually capturing all the mutineers.
After a short trial, the worst offenders were executed. Cornelisz and some of his henchmen had their hands chopped off before being hanged. Several others were marooned. The remaining mutineers were taken to Batavia for trial. Some were hanged, while others were merely flogged. A board of inquiry held Pelsaert partly responsible, blaming him for lack of authority and his assets were seized. He died within a year.
A replica of the ship was completed in 1995, built from the exact same materials as were used back then. It’s currently on display in Lelystad (The Netherlands).
Photo of the replica of the Batavia (above), drawing of a massacre among the shipwrecked (middle), and again the replica of the Batavia from wikipedia.org