Tag Archives: Jeronimus Cornelisz

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

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.

The mind of a psychopath

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S33882, Adolf Hitler retouchedQuite a number of psychopaths have made a name for themselves. Hitler, Napoleon, Stalin. Ted Bundy is another, more recent, example, as is Hannibal Lecter, featured in the movie The Silence of the Lambs. What about Jeronimus Cornelisz, erstwhile under merchant on the merchantship Batavia, who for a few short months in 1629,  strode his tiny island like a colossus, or a God, dealing out death and destruction on a whim. What makes a person a psychopath? How do you pick them from the rest of humanity?

In my novel To Die a Dry Death, I had to try to get into Jeronimus Cornelsiz’s head and understand – or at least explain – his behaviour. So – to try to understand.

To quote from a handout produced by Oregon Counseling;

The psychopath is one of the most fascinating and distressing problems of human experience.  For the most part, a psychopath never remains attached to anyone or anything. They live a “predatory” lifestyle. They feel little or no regret, and little or no remorse – except when they are caught. They need relationships, but see people as obstacles to overcome and be eliminated.   If not,  they see people in terms of how they can be used. They use people for stimulation, to build their self-esteem and they invariably value people in terms of their material value (money, property, etc..).

A psychopath can have high verbal intelligence, but they typically lack “emotional intelligence”. They can be expert in manipulating others by playing to their emotions. There is a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories (i.e., how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may have felt and why). The lack of emotional intelligence is the first good sign you may be dealing with a psychopath.  A history of criminal behavior in which they do not seem to learn from their experience, but merely think about ways to not get caught is the second best sign.

The following is a list of items based on the research of Robert Hare, Ph.D. which is derived from the “The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, .1991, Toronto: Multi-Health  Systems.” These are the most highly researched and recognized characteristics of psychopathic personality and behavior.

  • glibness/superficial charm
  • need for stimulation/prone to boredom
  • conning/manipulative
  • shallow emotional response
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • promiscuous sexual behavior
  • lack of realistic long term goals
  • irresponsibility
  • many short term relationships
  • revocation of conditional release
  • grandiose sense of self worth
  • pathological lying
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • callous/lack of empathy
  • poor behavioral controls
  • early behavioral problems
  • impulsivity
  • failure to accept responsibility for their own actions
  • juvenile delinquency
  • criminal versatility

Michael G. Conner, Psy.D Has this to say.

A psychopath is usually a subtle manipulator. They do this by playing to the emotions of others. They typically have high verbal intelligence, but they lack what is commonly referred to as “emotional intelligence”. There is always a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories. In particular they have difficulty describing how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may feel and why. In many cases you almost have to explain it to them. Close friends and parents will often end up explaining to the psychopath how they feel and how others feel who have been hurt by him or her.

They can do this over and over with no significant change in the person’s choices and behavior. They don’t understand or appreciate the impact that their behavior has on others. They do appreciate what it means when they are caught breaking rules or the law even though they seem to end up in trouble again. They desperately avoid incarceration and loss of freedom but continue to act as if they can get away with breaking the rules. They don’t learn from these consequences. They seem to react with feelings and regret when they are caught. But their regret is not so much for other people as it is for the consequences that their behavior has had on them, their freedom, their resources and their so called “friends.”

They can be very sad for their self. A psychopath is always in it for their self even when it seems like they are caring for and helping others. The definition of their “friends” are people who support the psychopath and protect them from the consequence of their own antisocial behavior. Shallow friendships, low emotional intelligence, using people, antisocial attitudes and  failure to learn from the repeated consequences of their choices and actions help identify the psychopath.


Armed with a description like this, it wasn’t so hard to get into Cornelisz’s head. In some ways it was more difficult to sort out Lucretia, who had to deal with this man at a very intimate level, always conscious that the slightest mistake may have cost her her life.

It still stops me in my tracks to think that this one man was effectively responsible for the deaths of around one hundred people. Put that into perspective. There were about one hundred and eighty people on Batavia’s Graveyard when Pelsaert and Jacobsz  headed for Java. Cornelisz’s thugs killed over half of them. Yet Cornelisz never accepted responsibility, never showed any remorse, always kept coming back to the fact that he himself never killed anybody.

But you know what? The most frightening thing of all was how easy it was for him to recruit people more than willing to carry out his orders.

Ah, the frailty of the human psyche.

Death by hanging

Picture of a hangingOnce Pelsaert had finished his trial of the conspirators who had been responsible for the deaths of nearly one hundred people on the Abrolhos islands where they had hoped for rescue, he passed sentence.

The ring leader, Jeronimus Cornelisz, along with six of his lieutenants, was hanged at the islands. In comparison with what they would have received had these men been taken to Batavia, their end was lenient. (We’ll get to that in another post.)

That said, hanging wasn’t the relatively merciful noose with a short drop when a trapdoor opens, which effectively breaks the victim’s neck. Death by hanging in those times was simply slow strangulation. Pelsaert’s men built a scaffold from driftwood at one end of the long island known as Seal’s Island and the condemned were strung up. In more civilised parts, hangings were sport with no doubt money changing hands over how long a man might struggle. Mike Dash speculates (Batavia’s Graveyard, p230) that Jeronimus would have taken some time to die because he wouldn’t have weighed much when he was strung up.

A number of the condemned were sentenced to have a hand cut off before they were hanged. Jeronimus was to lose both hands but Pelsaert stopped at one. It’s hard to imagine Pelsaert was being nice. Perhaps he felt that dying from blood loss was far too merciful.

It’s interesting to speculate on what caused Pelsaert to mete out punishment at the islands, rather than take the men back to Batavia. Maybe the best answer is that all these desperate men became a risk factor in a small ship carrying too many people and a lot of wealth. Apart from rescuing the survivors from the Batavia, Pelsaert had also been charged with recovering as much as he could of the silver and cargo the ship had carried, and this he had done with considerable success.

The seven bodies were, in all likelihood, left to hang, as was the normal practice throughout Europe. Apart from those executed, Pelsaert sentenced a number of Cornelisz’s thugs to ‘lesser’ punishment. I’ll talk a little about that next time.