Don’t believe everything you read on the internet

1270187Even if you find the same story written in many places. You’ll all have heard the quote from Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” It doesn’t even have to be a lie. If people believe something, they will repeat it.

I received an email yesterday from Bob Sheppard (someone I don’t know) questioning my little article about Abraham Leeman (it’s here). Popular understanding is that Leeman was a junior officer on the Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon) which was wrecked on the West Australian coast in 1656. The story goes that he was in command of the ship’s longboat which made the hazardous voyage up the WA coast then across to Batavia. When he arrived, he was dispatched on the Waeckende Boey to search for the survivors. (And the cargo – the Dutch East India Company was nothing if not pragmatic.) While searching islands not far from modern day Perth, Leeman and the thirteen men with him were abandoned. He had to do that voyage up the WA coast all over again.

It’s a remarkable story. And how do we know all this? Leeman wrote a journal, which was translated and published in James Henderson’s book, Marooned. I read that book many years ago and told the story in that blog post. I saw references to this double trip all over the net. Well, it had to be true, didn’t it?

Bob Sheppard didn’t believe it.

He asked me if I had any primary evidence that Leeman was on board the Vergulde Draeck. And no, I didn’t. Neither, it seems, has anybody else. Bob pointed me at an article he’d written about Leeman which I feel pretty much proves his case. Mea culpa. I do know better. In my research for the Batavia ship wreck I read many stories about a lad being decapitated with one blow from a sword. Reading the primary source (Pelsaert’s journal) the story is clearly not true. Here’s my article about that.

So my thanks to Mr Sheppard for correcting my mistake. Oh, and by the way, that quote from Goebbels? That’s not true, either. Read all about it here.