Tag Archives: Batavia

Batavia’s Graveyard is being excavated at last #history

TDADD-ebook-webIt’s been a while since I wrote a Batavia post. It has also been a while since Beacon Island (Batavia’s Graveyard) has been vacated and the fishing shacks removed. With those impediments to a proper investigation out of the way, teams of archaeologists and anthropologists are getting down and dirty, excavating the island for more skeletal remains from 1629, in the aftermath of the ordeal faced by the survivors from the wreck of the Batavia. If you’re not familiar with the story, please check out my historical fiction page, or make a note to do it later.

Here are three articles from the team working on the island.

Fragments point to more skeletons being discovered on island after Batavia shipwreck

Unearthed grave sheds light on Batavia shipwreck mass murder

Batavia mutiny: More human remains uncovered by archaeologists at Beacon Island

I’m hoping the searchers find the remains of the predikant’s family. (Predikant is the Dutch word for pastor) In one horrifying night the predikant’s wife, six of their seven children, and their maid, were slaughtered by men acting on the orders of Jeronimus Cornelisz, leader of the gang controlling the island. The predikant and his oldest daughter were spared – the daughter because she was desired by Cornelisz’s lieutenant and the predikant because he might prove to be useful. Pelsaert’s journal records that the bodies were dumped in a mass grave on the island.

It seems 13 bodies have been found so far. When you consider that many of the victims – numbering around one hundred – were drowned, or their bodies thrown into the sea – that’s a good start.

Here’s a short excerpt from my book To Die a Dry Death. The predikant (Batiaensz) and his daughter Judyck are dining with Cornelisz, his lieutenenant (van Huyssen) and Lucretia. Cornelisz and van Hussen have been talking about hunting with hawks, back in Holland.

________________________________________

Lucretia sipped her wine. Hunting. The animals they chased with hawks were almost as defenceless as the poor people on this island. She heard noises, muffled voices in the night. The cold of dread froze her hand. A woman’s cry, abruptly ended. Then a high-pitched scream that curdled the blood, as quickly silenced.

Judyck jerked to her feet, lips parted, eyes staring. “Roelant.”

Van Huyssen pulled her down. “It’s nothing, dearest. Not your concern.”

“That was Roelant. I’d know his voice anywhere.” Judyck pulled away from van Huyssen, but he held her fast.

“Not your concern,” he said again, the words sharp, commanding.

Lucretia caught the girl’s eye. Hopeless terror. Not fear for herself, but for the child. She wondered if Bastiaensz would say anything but he sat rigid, watery eyes fixed on Cornelisz.

Cornelisz ignored him, ignored Judyck and continued the previous conversation as if nothing had happened. “Did you catch hares, rabbits?”

Chuckles from outside, voices muttered. Lucretia was sure she’d heard Mayken’s name. The knot in her stomach twisted, tightened. Silent, appalled, she signalled to Judyck with the barest shake of her head. Say nothing, stay still.

“With snares.” Van Huyssen kept his hand tight on Judyck’s arm. “Although sometimes we let the dogs loose and let them run. Often, there isn’t much left when they bring the prey back, all battered and bloody.”

Somewhere in the settlement, a scream swiftly ended in a gurgle.

Maybe now the ghosts will rest in peace

Beacon island, Traitor's Island and Morning Reef from the air

Beacon island, Traitor’s Island and Morning Reef from the air

I read today in a newspaper article that systematic excavation of Beacon Island in the Abrolhos group off the West Australian coast has begun with the discovery of a new grave.

That might not mean much to many of you, but it does to me. Beacon Island is the modern name for Batavia’s Graveyard, the site of one of the most despicable episodes in Australian maritime history. In 1629 the Dutch merchantman Batavia was wrecked on a nearby reef. One hundred and eighty survivors managed to make their way to the tiny, desolate coral outcrop we call Beacon Island. The ship’s captain and most of the officers took the Batavia’s long boat and made a perilous journey over uncharted waters to the city of Batavia (now Jakarta) to fetch help. When rescuers returned five months later, they discovered that in their absence about one hundred men, women and children had been murdered. Jeronimus Cornelisz, who had been the Batavia’s undermerchant ( a senior position in the Dutch East India Company), recruited a group of thugs who systematically did away with the old, the inform and the very young. I’ve written more about the history here.

Although many victims were drowned, or were killed and their bodies disposed of in the sea, some were buried. We know this because the facts were recorded in a journal, and some remains had already been found on Beacon Island. However, over the years the wreck of the Batavia passed into the pages of history and the location of the ship, and the island where the subsequent events took place, were forgotten.

The wreck site was finally located in 1963. But by then, fishermen had discovered the rich grounds around the Abrolhos Islands and built shacks on some of them – including Beacon Island. If I remember correctly, one victim’s skull was found when a clothesline was being erected. So excavating this important historical site had to be balanced against the rights of the fishermen who used their shacks in the few months of the fishing season to earn their livelihood.

Now, at last, the shacks are gone.

I’ve heard Beacon Island is not a comfortable place to be, especially at night. It has been called the island of angry ghosts for a reason. I hope the archaeologists find the graves of the Predikant’s wife, six of his children and their maid. They were slaughtered in one hideous attack, and (according to the journal) their bodies buried somewhere in the shallow ‘soil’ of Beacon Island.

Congratulations to the powers that be in Western Australia. Beacon Island should be preserved as a historical site, no less important than places like Port Arthur in Tasmania. Perhaps with some recognition, some of those angry ghosts will rest in peace.

I’ve written a book about the wreck of the Batavia. You’ll find links to the book, an article about why I wrote the book, and a number of historical articles.

I’ve also been privileged to visit the Abrolhos Islands Wallabi Group, where the drama unfolded. Here’s my description.

 

Is Pelsaert’s journal an accurate account of the Batavia shipwreck?

Picture of Pelsaert's journal. His is the first signature

Pelsaert’s journal. His is the first signature

Many ships have been wrecked over the centuries. Most of their names became nothing more than ciphers in the ocean of history. But the wreck of the Dutch East Indies merchantman Batavia on remote islands off the coast of Australia in 1629 is well known in Australia and Holland. Why? Because over half of the people left on the desolate islands of the Abrolhos group awaiting the return of rescuers, were murdered by a group led by a psychopath. Throw into that the incredible journey of forty-eight people crammed into the Batavia’s longboat, sailing from the wreck site two thousand miles over uncharted waters to the city of Batavia (now Jakarta) to seek help.

How do we know all this? Any book about the Batavia is based on one main account of the events – Pelsaert’s journal. Francisco Pelsaert was an employee of the Dutch East India Company, the Upper Merchant in charge of the fleet of which the Batavia was the flagship. So while Adriaen Jacobsz, the ship’s captain, was in command of the ship he was beholden to Pelsaert. (Who was not a sailor.) After the Batavia was wrecked, Pelsaert started a journal to record events. On his return to the Abrolhos islands to rescue the remaining survivors, he documented the trial of Cornelisz and his band of thugs. To read a brief overview of what happened, click here.

Most historians support the notion that the Batavia’s captain, Adriaen Jacobsz, was in a plot with Under merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz, who became the leader of the murderers, to hijack the Batavia, kill Pelsaert and go pirating. But it seemed strange to me for many, many reasons, not least because there is no record of Jacobsz having been executed. Although the journal is that most precious of items, a contemporary source, it’s important to consider the bias of the writer. Pelsaert had a vested interest in recording events in a way that would put him in a good light. After all, as the man in charge, he had ultimate responsibility. If he could blame the captain for being involved in a mutiny, much of the blame could be turned away from himself.

As I read the journal, my picture of Pelsaert soon became one of a man trying to salvage his own reputation. He and Jacobsz had a history, they despised each other. Reading the early part of the journal, where Pelsaert describes the initial wreck, I raised an eyebrow as Pelsaert used ‘I’, implying he gave orders that would have been given by the captain. The same thing happened during the longboat’s journey as Pelsaert claimed credit for things I felt were beyond his knowledge. Jacobsz deserved the credit and received none. It was also important to remember the man for whom Pelsaert was writing this journal – the formidable Jan Pieterszoon Coen, Governor of the Indies. A harsh and puritanical man, he was unimpressed (to say the least) at the loss of a ship and its cargo. One could expect Pelsaert to be at pains to present his own actions in the best possible light.

In contrast, my picture of the captain was of a tough, strong, capable man. A hard drinker, a womaniser sure enough. But a true leader, somebody these hardened seamen would follow. Zwaantie, the young woman who won Jacobsz’s affection, is depicted in the journal as a tart. But again, some of the evidence for that conjecture comes from Cornelisz. I think the mere fact that Jacobsz took Zwaantie with him in the longboat indicates a little more than a casual fling.

The journal reveals Cornelisz as a psychopath, silver-tongued, charismatic and an accomplished liar who would say anything to save himself. The main evidence for the existence of the piracy plot implicating Jacobsz comes from Cornelisz. There is corroborating evidence given by some of the other henchmen, but men said things like “I didn’t know about a plot until after the wreck” or evidence was extracted through torture. I began to wonder if I could build a case that Cornelisz deliberately wove a tale of a plot to seduce his followers. He needed sailors to pull off his plan to capture a rescue ship and he was a merchant. What better way to add validity to his plan than to implicate the popular captain? Pelsaert, of course, jumped at the notion of a plot.

Many books have been written about the Batavia, both non-fiction and fiction. There has even been an opera. Most writers agree with the notion of a mutiny involving the captain. As I said, I don’t. So my book, To Die a Dry Death, doesn’t quite sing along with the chorus. I’m absolutely delighted to announce, after a considerable delay, the novel is once again available as an ebook. Please do take a look.

A triumph for an amateur historian

This hole is the exact spot where the Batavia lay

This hole is the exact spot where the Batavia lay

Fifty years ago, the last resting place of the Dutch merchantman Batavia, which hit a reef on the Abrolhos islands off the coast of Western Australia in 1629, was finally found.

Fifty years. It had taken three hundred and eighty-four years before the wreck was finally found. It wasn’t as if the incident hadn’t been recorded. It wasn’t as if nobody went looking. In fact, a number of times people thought they’d actually found the right wreck. That’s how the Abrolhos’s Pelsaert Group got its name – people thought that’s where the Batavia lay. I must say, it seems odd that anyone believed something so obviously incorrect. The Zeewyck went down in the Pelsaert group in 1727, almost one hundred years after the Batavia. The Batavia could not have carried coins minted after 1629, which (of course) the Zeewyck did.

So why was it so hard to find the Batavia‘s wreck site? In a word, longitude. No precise method of calculating longitude was available until the late 1700s at best. I had a few things to say about longitude and how the Batavia was wrecked, here. However, mariners always attempted to record latitude and longitude for specific locations, and Adriaen Jacobsz, captain of the Batavia, was no exception. He recorded the location of the wreck as best he could. But he was wrong, so the ship’s hulk disappeared into the reef, becoming a home for sea creatures. The Abrolhos Islands themselves continued to be a hazard for sailors. As mentioned, at least one other Dutch ship, and many other vessels, were lost on these wind-swept islands, their surfaces just a few meters above the sea.

For several centuries the islands were left to the sea birds and the ghosts. Then fishermen from Geraldton, the closest town on the mainland, discovered that the warm Leeuwin current flows through these islands. Corals grow there, and pearls. Fish abound, along with the much sought-after rock lobster, known in the West as crayfish. The fishermen established fishing shacks in the Wallabi Group for the few months of the cray fishing season, but other than that, the islands kept their secrets to themselves. My guess is that the fishermen knew very well about the wreck on Morning Reef. On a clear, calm day they would have been able to see the shapes of the cannons and the tell-tale timbers. But they kept that information to themselves.

Beacon island, Traitor's Island and Morning Reef from the air

Beacon island, Traitor’s Island and Morning Reef from the air.

The person who finally told the world where the Batavia lay was Henrietta Drake-Brockman. Born into a prominent pastoral family in the Geraldton area, she researched the events surrounding the shipwreck there in 1629. She had Pelsaert’s journal translated into English, contacted Jakarta and Amsterdam for more information and – most importantly – she thought about what she’d read. She obtained a copy of Predikant Bastiaenz’s letter after his rescue, in which he described the locations he’d visited during his ordeal. From those descriptions Henrietta identified Beacon Island as the journal’s Batavia’s Graveyard. And from Bastiaenz’s remarks about sitting on a little beach from which he could see the Batavia’s two remaining masts jutting above the reef, she knew the ship was on Morning Reef.

In 1963 a team of divers, accompanied by a local fisherman, finally found the wreck site, and told the world, an absolute triumph for an amateur historian. Henrietta died not long after her book about the tragedy, Voyage to Disaster, was published in 1968.

Since the discovery, many artefacts from the vessel have been raised and brought to Fremantle’s Maritime Museum. Beacon Island’s shacks are finally deserted. Soon archaeologists will be able to excavate Beacon Island properly. I’m certain there will be more to find.

If you’d like to read more about the Abrolhos islands, I talk about my visit there, here. Do take a look at my novelisation of the wreck of the Batavia, and the fascinating, gruesome, aftermath, To Die a Dry Death.

The world has continued to turn

It’s always interesting returning to a place you knew very, very well. You have a picture in your head, a deep memory in glowing technicolour. The beach, sunset on the river, summer days, winter storms, road junctions, how to get to places. But it’s a moment in time, a photograph. Since you recorded those memories the world has continued to turn.

The coastal plain north of Perth

The coastal plain north of Perth

That’s how it is with me and Perth. I grew up there, lived there, worked there until I finally left in 1996 and haven’t been back since 2005. Even then, it had grown, creeping up and down the coastal plain between the Darling Ranges and the Indian Ocean. So we head out of Geraldton along the coast road, into increasingly familiar territory. Down there, the red sandstone gives way to limestone covered in bright white sand. Grass trees (black boys in my day – politically correct can be so inane) share the scrub with cycads and low, gnarled banksia trees. Spring is beginning and the yellows and purples of early flowering species brighten the drab grey-green of the tough Australian bush.

The ocean is as I remember it. Reefs and low islands line the coast, providing safe nesting sites for sea birds, rich grounds for fishermen – and a deadly snare for one Dutch ship. We drop into the small fishing village of Leeman for a comfort stop. There’s a story in that name – I’ll tell it to you later. But even here, the whisper of the approaching, encroaching city is in the air. Properties for sale for half a million? Out here? In the scrub?

We have fish and chips for lunch at Jurien Bay, sharing the last chips with the seagulls. Back home in Hervey Bay the ibises are the scavengers, but here the sea gulls hang around, awaiting their chance. A pile of chips disappears under a squawking, screeching flurry of grey and white wings. But only for a few seconds. The food gone, they disperse.

Fishing boats and a rocky islet

Fishing boats and a rocky islet

On to Lancelin and Two Rocks. Back when I was a girl, coming out here was a bone-shuddering odyssey through farm land to a deserted beach where the spear fishing was good. Not anymore. Suburbia has created a beach head. The freeway and the railway follow close behind, providing the logistical feed from the city by the Swan.

We swear a lot at the god-awful GPS in the car which seems to think we give a rats about what servos there may be near the freeway to the extent said information covers half the screen, with no findable option to turn the feature off. Because we want ROAD DIRECTIONS we resort to an old, printed map and sign-reading to avoid the city. We only just manage to avoid having a major, in-car war but sense prevails and we make the eastern suburbs without spilling blood on the car seats.  I’m coming down with a cold. What bliss. Being ill on the road isn’t nice, and I have no wish to share my germs with my relatives, who are in complete agreement.

Sunday is with us. I try hard to stay in bed and rest but I’m not sleeping and the antihistamines are masking the worst of my symptoms so we head on out. If I infect anybody, they won’t know it was me. The city to surf ‘fun run’ is on, so we avoid the city and King’s Park. I have to wonder why they’re called fun runs. This one claimed two lives. Anyway – off to Fremantle, Perth’s port.

Fishing boats against angry lightMy dad worked there when I was young, a grimy, sleepy, industrial port with some lovely old buildings nobody noticed. Then Alan Bond won the America’s Cup and Freo became all the rage. The old buildings were cleaned up, the markets became a Mecca, boutique breweries, quaint shopping precincts in quirky lanes, all kinds of restaurants rose up to support the pre-existing fish and chip shops at the fishing boat harbour. I wonder how much the years have changed her.

I’m pleased to see that Freo is all of those things, only more so. The city is packed with people enjoying the day, despite (or maybe because of) the threatening clouds on the Western horizon. We buy coffee at the fishing boat harbour, which now boasts sit-down venues with fancy fish tanks. Back in the day, you bought your chips wrapped in paper and took them back over the walkway to the park to eat them on the grass under the pine trees. They cost a lot less then, too.

We go and visit the Maritime Museum (what a surprise) and see the mortal remains of the Batavia’s hull on display with its ballast cargo, a portico destined for the fort at Batavia.

A model of the ship stands beside timbers from the real vessel's hull recovered from her resting place.

A model of the ship stands beside timbers from the real vessel’s hull recovered from her resting place.

And here I encounter an old friend, a skeleton I first saw when I was about ten, the victim of Jeronimus Cornelisz’s thugs. I recalled that long-ago meeting when I explained why I wrote To Die a Dry Death. I also think about my recent visit to the site of the tragedy, the Abrolhos Islands just off Geraldton. This man died far from the green fields of his home land.

The remains of one of the murder victims on the Abrolhos

The remains of one of the murder victims on the Abrolhos

We are too late to get on board the replica of the tiny yacht Duyfken but we can at least marvel at the size of the ship which had arrived on Australia’s northern shores from Amsterdam in 1606. Wow, those guys were tough.

The Duyfken (little dove), the first Dutch ship to visit Australia (1606)

The Duyfken (little dove), the first Dutch ship to visit Australia (1606)

And those threatening skies? They provide me with a perfect photo opportunity.

IMG_2795

That’s one ticked off the bucket list

These islands are incredibly low. No wonder mariners didn't see them at night.

These islands are incredibly low. No wonder mariners didn’t see them at night.

A visit to the Abrolhos Islands has been on my bucket list for a long time and now I’ve finally done it. On a picture-perfect day we flew out of Geraldton airport on a small plane, headed for the Abrolhos archipelago, 55 to 60 km off the coast.

I’ve seen the maps and other people’s pictures but seeing the place for yourself is very different. The islands are spread over a long distance, organised in four groups. We flew over the Pelsaert Group and the Easter Group before heading for the Wallabi group, which is where the VOC ship Batavia was wrecked in 1629. That was my focus; how well had I depicted the setting in my book To Die a Dry Death, and what effect would this place have on me.

To start with, we flew over West Wallabi, where the soldiers under their inspirational leader Wiebbe Hayes, defended themselves against Jeronimus Cornelisz’s thugs. There, I took a picture of the ‘fort’. Fort is the wrong word, I think. They probably built a shelter to protect them from the everlasting wind. Our visit took place on a rare day when the wind didn’t blow.

Wiebbe's fort on West Wallabi

Wiebbe’s fort on West Wallabi

Then we landed on East Wallabi. If anything, I think I underestimated the term ‘High Island’. Certainly East and West Wallabi are much higher than anything else out there – but most of the islands are pancake flat, little more than reefs left exposed above the sea. The High Islands are low sandhills built on a limestone platform. That said, they’re positively spacious in comparison to Beacon Island (Batavia’s Graveyard), the Long Island and Traitor’s Island. Wildlife is abundant. We saw lizards everywhere, a number of the resident wallabies, sea birds, dolphins cruising the reefs, every variety of fish. Because of the Leeuwin current, the water is warmer out there, so coral gardens grow in the shallow water.

A wallaby on East Wallabi island

A wallaby on East Wallabi island

The plants on the islands are another story. All the growth is stunted, with most bushes not much more than knee high. A few plants grow a little higher but shade would have been hard to find. I stood on the highest point of East Wallabi and looked across the sea to the line of bright sand which was the Long Island and the smaller low island which was Batavia’s Graveyard. Yes, I’m sure Wiebbe would have posted lookouts here when he learned of Cornelisz’s reign of terror.

If you look carefully you'll see the Long Island on Batavia's Graveyard on the horizon. Taken from East Wallabi.

If you look carefully you’ll see the Long Island (right) and Batavia’s Graveyard (left) on the horizon. Taken from East Wallabi.

We flew over Batavia’s Graveyard on the way back and also saw Traitor’s Island, where the survivors were first landed from the shipwrecked Batavia. It was from here that the ship’s longboat, loaded with all the senior officers, set sail for the city of Batavia (now known as Jakarta), leaving the rest of the survivors to fend for themselves. The fishing shacks on the islands are now empty and the plan is to remove them so that this island where so many horrendous events took place, can be properly excavated and its ghosts left in respectful peace.

Batavia's Graveyard. Behind it, just under the wing is the spec that is Traitor's Island. Beyond that is the reef.

Batavia’s Graveyard. Behind it, just under the wing is the spec that is Traitor’s Island. Beyond that is the reef.

After nearly 400 years, the hole the Batavia gouged in the reef is still visible. Batavia wrecksiteThe Dutch ships Batavia and Zeewijk are just two of a large number of ships wrecked on these treacherous islands. On a normal day, when the white caps would cover the ocean, it’s easy to imagine mariners in peril of running onto these reefs. At night – well, it’s hardly surprising.

And me? What did this trip do for me? It was sobering. It was so easy to imagine people from another world landing here, maybe grateful to be alive but faced with the enormous problem of survival in a harsh, uncaring land. Complicate that with a psychopath and you have a horror story that no novelist could have dreamed up in a nightmare. Yet it’s also a story of great courage, ingenuity and the strength of the human spirit. Seeing what those people faced all those years ago simply highlights those qualities.

If you’d like to know more about the wreck of the Batavia, check out my history page.

It’s back!

PrintI’m delighted to announce that my historical fiction novel, To Die a Dry Death, is back on Amazon. Fingerpress has released to paperback first, but the e-book should be available shortly. It’s the same great, true story with a fabulous new cover.

280 survivors. One tyrant. The true story of the Batavia shipwreck.

The chilling, true story of the shipwreck of the Batavia could so easily have been the template for William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

In June 1629, the Dutch merchantman Batavia, laden with treasure and the riches of Europe, smashed into an uncharted reef thirty miles off the coast of Terra Incognita Australis-the unknown Great South Land. 200 survivors-women and children, sailors, soldiers and merchants-scrambled ashore on a small group of uninhabited, hostile islands, with little food or fresh water. Desperately seeking help, the ship’s officers set out in an open boat to make a two-thousand-mile journey to the nearest port. While they were gone, from the struggle for survival on the islands there emerged a tyrant whose brutal lust for power was even deadlier than the reef that wrecked the Batavia.

Amazon US and Amazon UK

A place like home

picture of map of BataviaAlthough the vast majority of the action in To Die a Dry Death happens on the Abrolhos Islands, some of it takes place in the city of Batavia itself. Pelsaert had a meeting with Governor Jan Pieterszoon Coen to inform him the ship Batavia had been wrecked, Pelsaert had a second meeting with the new governor, Jaques Specx, when he returned with the survivors, and there were some brief scenes involving Captain Adriaen Jacobsz and the people in the longboat, both within the city and in the fort. To write those scenes with any conviction, I needed to be able to visualise the rooms, the harbour, the town square, and the dungeons in the fort.

While I’d been able to find plenty of information about the ship, the longboat and the Islands, the 1629 city of Batavia was another matter. I gleaned what I could from reading, and visited the website of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to find maps and paintings of the period. Then I used Google Earth to find the remains of Old Batavia in the city of Djakarta, looking up landmarks in plans I found to get a realistic idea of how the city was laid out. The formidable fort in which Jacobsz and the surviving members of Cornelisz’s gang were incarcerated had been torn down in Indonesia’s wrestle for independence after WW2. There’s no trace of it, now. The site is a railway yard. But the sea is close by, now, as it was then.

So what did Batavia look like? Go to any city in the ‘new world’ that was colonised by Europeans and you’ll see the new settlers tried to transplant what they knew into their new surroundings. You’ll find terrace houses lining streets in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Fremantle, to name just a few. There are no doubt examples all over America, too. The Dutch were no different. They built the city in the Dutch style, although of course, they had to cater for the heat and humidity, so their houses were more open. They also dug canals, just like in Amsterdam. This turned out to not be the best move. Relatively still water in the tropics leads to mosquitoes and mosquitoes lead to malaria and other diseases, which led to the deaths of many, many people.sketch of a market scene in Batavia

As for clothing, the Indonesians themselves wore loose, light garments but the Dutch tried to hold onto the dark, stiff clothing they would have worn in Europe. This sketch I found in the Rijksmuseum’s catalogues illustrates the difference between the locals and the newcomers. The Dutch held onto the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’. Dutch men who decided to marry a local at any of their trading ports could not bring the wife or any resulting children, back to Holland. Such a man was Governor Specx, who married a Japanese woman. His daughter, Saartje, was left in Batavia when he returned to Holland for a visit, where she became involved in a scandal with a young man.

So I had to show a city set firmly in Indonesia which was at the same time as close to ‘home’ as the Dutch could make it. I also had to take into account that the city of Batavia was besieged in 1629, while Pelsaert was off on his rescue mission to the shipwreck victims. Coen had the countryside past his city walls burnt. Unable to supply their troops, the besiegers withdrew – but this action had an impact on the food supply to the city. It’s a small detail, but small details matter. Don’t you think?

Murder most foul

picture of map of Abrolhos islandsIn a couple of previous posts, I’ve described how Jeronimus Cornelisz gradually built up his power base in the Abrolhos Islands, before starting his reign of terror in earnest. First, he took control of the ship’s council, which governed the survivors. Then, he divided his flock, sending those most likely to dispute his rule to the most remote islands, where he hoped they would die of hunger and thirst. Honey-tongued as ever, he asked their leader, a soldier named Wiebbe Hayes, to light three signal fires if they found water, well aware that the islands to which he sent the soldiers had already been searched for water twice without success.

Meanwhile, Cornelisz ordered his men to kill people surreptitiously.

The first broad daylight murders occurred on the 9th July, when the people who had settled on Traitor’s Island suddenly launched their rafts and headed off into the channel. Cornelisz flew into a rage and had his men intercept them. Some were brought back to Batavia’s Graveyard, where Cornelisz ordered them put to death – for defying the Council’s authority. Several men and two children were put to the sword. One man was killed with a pike through the throat. The Undermerchant’s thugs then took the three remaining women into the channel and threw them overboard, where they drowned. All this took place in front of the other survivors. Those on the Seal’s Island would also have been witness to events.

The question is why? What happened to cause Cornelisz such consternation, and why did the people on Traitor’s Island launch their rafts?

Pelsaert’s journal doesn’t say, but Mike Dash, doing what historians should always do, examined other events at the same time, and came up with a compelling argument. It seems the folk on Traitor’s Island moved at much the same time as smoke from three signal fires was seen, coming from the High Islands. The soldiers had found water, a good reason for the people on the miserable hillock that was Traitor’s Island to put to sea. This should have been a cause for celebration for all the survivors, but it threw Cornelisz’s plans into disarray. If the soldiers had water, and more survivors joined them, his rule was in jeopardy. He could not allow his ‘subjects’ to escape.

Like many tyrants before him, and after him, his behaviour moved to murderous tyranny. From this time on, no-one who was not aligned with Cornelisz’s bunch of thugs, was safe.

The first murders

Picture of Abrolhos killingsIn my last post, I described how Jeronimus Cornelisz, arch-villain of the Batavia shipwreck survivors, divided his flock by setting up settlements on different islands. He’d promised all of them to supply them with provisions from the central store, a promise he never intended to keep.

Before he could do much more, however, Cornelisz needed support, and he found willing conspirators amongst the young men who had shared the stern section of the Batavia with him. Several were younger sons of noblemen, sent off to make a name for themselves in the Indies.

Now to gradually reduce the number of people on Batavia’s graveyard in more permanent ways, while at the same time cementing his authority.

The first death was an apparently legal execution and demonstrates how Cornelisz used the authority he had gained as leader of the Island Council to do what he wanted. A soldier and his friend were accused of secretly tapping a keg of wine for their own use. This was theft of communal goods and Cornelisz sentenced the pair to death by drowning. While the island Council supported the judgement on the thief, councillors felt his companion, who had not stolen the wine although he’d helped consume it, should receive a lesser punishment. The thief was duly drowned, but Cornelisz used the councillors’ dissension as an excuse to dismiss then, and appoint men who supported him. The very fact that Cornelisz was able to take this radical step was an indication of the strength of his position.

That very night, four men were secretly taken away on a raft . Anyone who asked was told the men had joined the soldiers on the High Islands. In fact, three of them were drowned. A fourth was spared, on condition that he joined the gang, which, of course, he did. This became a pattern in the gang’s dealings with people on the islands. They often forced people to join them or die, and often forced otherwise innocent folk to kill or be killed. I’ve referred to this practice in an earlier post, entitled ‘kill or be killed’.

Cornelisz was becoming increasingly confident. The clandestine killings continued but the first broad daylight massacre was coming soon.