Tag Archives: justice

Who deserves Justice?

(c) Depositphotos_73325631

You might recall a few blogs ago I wrote a review for ‘They all love Jack: Busting the Ripper’ by Bruce Robinson.

It’s a dense book, packed with names and details, and I’ve read it again to pick up the details I inevitably missed the first time. I’ve also dwelt on its themes and what I think it’s REALLY about. For me, that comes down to one word: JUSTICE. The fact that the book is about the Jack the Ripper murders is almost incidental. They are graphic, horrific, revolting events, but they almost pale in comparison with the way the killings were treated by the Establishment. Whether or not you accept Mister Robinson’s argument that Michael Maybrick, much-lauded icon of the Victorian musical world, was the Ripper, the author has in my opinion proved the case that the Ripper murders were parodies (if that is an appropriate word) of Freemasonic ritual. Jack was either a Freemason, or someone who knew more than he should about Freemasonry. Robinson argues that the identity of the murderer was deliberately covered up by the Metropolitan Police, and through its leadership (Sir Charles Warren), the political system to which it answered.

I could not help but feel that our current Establishment is not very different.

My mind kept returning to the cover-up of child abuse in institutions set up to care for children. Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals covered up for paedophile clerics, moving these predatory monsters from parish to parish to PROTECT THE CHURCH. Never mind the kids. I can imagine one of these bastards rubbing his hands with glee as he took up his post in a new parish. Ahahahaha new blood. The hypocrisy of the leadership of these organisations beggars belief. Never mind the men whose lives were ruined because, as eight-year-old boys, they were routinely buggered by a pervert. If they  complained to the hierarchy (as some did) they were  called liars, making things up. We must protect the good name of the Church. In 1888, it was never mind the disgusting low-born whores, (there are plenty more where they came from), we must protect the secret rituals of the Freemasons.

It’s not just the church. In our day, in Western society anyway, the church is not the mighty edifice it was in Victorian times. Now, large institutions rule the roost. Remember the deaths of thousands of poor Indians in the Bhopal gassing? The owners were convicted of negligence and effectively slapped on the wrist with a minimal fine and a few paltry criminal convictions. Or the tragic story of men working with asbestos who contracted mesothelioma. The dangers of asbestos and its link to cancer were well known, yet even now sufferers have to fight a company for a share of inadequate compensation. These days, of course, we have the other side of such cases of industrial mismanagement, as lawyers offer to make claims against offending companies.

Coming closer to home, what about the Global Financial Crisis? It happened because of the greed of moguls in Wall Street and other financial hubs. Governments paid billions (and more) to prop up teetering banks. The cascading effect ruined the aspirations of millions of people: ordinary people trying to buy a house, or small companies trying to earn a buck were bankrupted. Jobs disappeared, rents skyrocketed, superannuation funds lost money. Many, many people took their own lives. The losers were, inevitably, the little people. The people who created this debacle might have spent a sleepless night or two. Maybe. But their wealth and position in society remained unaffected. There are plenty of programs dissecting what happened in 2009. Here’s a link to just one. I need hardly add that nobody went to jail. Oh- I tell a lie. One person was charged with insider trading, I think. Only the Iceland Government had the balls to cancel the debts and charge the bankers.

Okay, I’d better get off the soapbox.

I’ll finish with one more aspect of Robinson’s book. He claims that Michael Maybrick murdered his brother, James, and framed James’s American wife, Florence, with the murder. Be that as it may, reading the details of this travesty of a trial is gut-wrenching. Once again, Robinson argues that it was in the interests of the establishment that Florence should be effectively silenced by being convicted of a murder that she did not commit. This perhaps foolish woman was lucky to escape the death penalty, but was sentenced to life in prison. She was released after fifteen years. Here’s a Wikipedia article about the case.

It’s not hard to find modern examples of where justice was meted out to the wrong person. The case of Darryl Beamish is just one. Another case more pertinent to the Establishment is that of the Birmingham Six, convicted of planting IRA bombings during the Irish terrorism of the seventies.

I guess in such cases as Beamish and the Irishmen, justice has finally prevailed. Unfortunately, the greedy bastards who caused the GFC won’t get their come-uppance.  Such a pity. And certain cardinals and bishops will escape justice, too – let alone the disgusting perverts whose deeds they covered up. Many of them have died, and presumably Rest in Peace. It’s one of the few times I regret my lack of religion. I’d like to imagine one of those priests fronting up at the Pearly Gates and getting his ticket for the elevator downstairs, where I hope he rots for all eternity.

Pretty pictures. I’m sure I’ve got some.

To the victors the spoils? Or maybe not

Batavia riggingI’ve written at some length in previous posts about how punishment was meted out to Cornelisz’s band of cut throats. The lucky ones, you might say, met their end at the Abrolhos Islands. (see death by hanging) The VOC took its vengeance on those unfortunates who made it back to Batavia. It is hard to imagine anyone surviving the aftermath of any but the mildest of punishments such as keelhauling or dropping from the yard in the tropical heat of the Indonesian islands.

But what of the survivors, the innocents?

Pelsaert, his reputation in tatters, was shunted off to Surat as second in command of an expedition, while his case was considered. He was dead by September 1630, having survived Jeronimus Cornelisz by less than a year. Evidence indicates he probably died of the same disease that had kept him in his bunk on both the Batavia and the Sardam.

Wiebbe Hayes, unlikely leader of the band of soldiers Cornelisz had contrived to isolate so he could carry out his plans, was promoted to officer. Given his stirling performance in leading the soldiers and later refugees from Cornelisz’s excesses, the promotion was a no-brainer (IMO). Members of his band were given a small reward for services rendered. But from there, the record ends. Most likely Hayes went off to the Company’s wars and died of wounds or maybe disease.

Predikant Bastiaensz, whose wife and all but one of his seven children were murdered, did not impress the church with how he had led his flock. In particular, questions were aksed about how he had come to sign his allegiance to a heretic. Batavia’s Governor Specx was very critical of Bastiaensz’s record and it tool some time before the cleric was absolved of all blame for the events on the Abrolhos. He remarried two years after his wife’s death but died of dysentery, still in the islands, in 1633.

Judyck, the predikant’s only surviving child, who was effectively given as a sex slave to one of Cornelisz’s main accomplices, had little choice but to find a husband as soon as possible. She married soon after her arrival in Batavia, but her new husband died within 3 months. Two years later she married again, moving with her husband to the island of Ambon. This marriage also ended in widowhood. Finally, the VOC repatriated her to Dordrecht in 1634, where she lived in relative comfort. There is no record of her death.

Lucretia van der Mijlen, the beautiful woman Cornelisz had lusted after, was in a different situation. Unlike Judyck, she had means as well as beauty. She married a soldier – a sergeant who Mike Dash speculates was Lucretia’s step brother-in-law– and remained in Batavia until 1635, when they returned to Holland.

And what of Adriaen Jacobsz, captain of the Batavia?

He was imprisoned almost immediately on his arrival in the longboat, accused by Commandeur Pelsaert of plotting mutiny, intending to steal his own ship. Pelsaert also implicated him in a crude attack on Lucretia van der Mijlen. There is no doubt he was tortured but resolutely proclaimed his innocence of all charges. The last reference to him was a letter written by Governor Specx in June 1631, in which he noted Jacobsz’s refusal to admit any guilt and asking to be released. There is no record of the captain’s death. I have noted elsewhere that given the VOC’s penchant for revenge, it’s an interesting omission. That he survived the dreadful, malaria-ridden dungeon of the fort of Batavia for nearly a year is remarkable in itself. However, much as I’d like to give at least one happy ending, he probably died of disease. Similarly, his girlfriend Zwaantie was tortured without result. History has not recorded what happened to her after she left the fort.

There are no happy endings in this dreadful tale of human misery. But that was life in the seventeenth century.

As usual, I’m indebted to Mike Dash “Batavia’s Graveyard”, Orion Books, 2002 and Henrietta Drake-Brockman’s ‘Voyage to Disaster’, UWA Press, 2006 for having researched the lives of these people.

‘Justice’ for the gang

In previous posts I spoke about the punishments meted out to the members of Cornelisz’s gang of cuthroats, starting with the execution of the main ringleaders and then the lesser punishments (if that’s what you want to call keel hauling and dropping from the mast) suffered by many of the others on the way back to Batavia.

I’ve also mentioned the horrible death of the remaining senior member of Cornelisz’s gang by breaking on the wheel. But the courts in Batavia were not finished with the miscreants. Reading about the punishments handed out* is a fascinating indictment of the concept of ‘justice’ at that time.

Five more men were hanged, most of them deservedly. But Cornelisz was a truly evil man. He killed no one himself, just caused them to be killed. A favourite technique was to give a man a choice; kill or be killed. Salomon Deschamps, Pelsaert’s clerk, had been made to strangle a half-dead baby. Deschamps was one those hanged, while some enthusiastic murderers were at least allowed to live. One man who had killed three men was severely flogged and made to wear a heavy wooden halter around his neck. Why he escaped the gallows is hard to understand.

Then there is the case of Claas Harmansz, a fifteen year old lad. He and two other cabin boys managed to avoid the slaughter of the people on Seals Island (it’s the long, narrow island directly across the deep channel from Batavia’s Graveyard) by hiding in the shrubs. But the day came when Cornelisz ordered them caught, and drowned. In the boat on the way back from Seals Island Harmansz, tied up and awaiting death, was given a choice; throw the other two overboard, or die himself. He chose to live. Pelsaert sentenced him to 100 lashes after being dropped from the mast three times. The lad received a further flogging in Batavia.

The courts could not decide what to do with two of the youngest, most impressionable of the gang, two lads aged seventeen and fifteen. In a truly twisted piece of logic, they had the two draw lots. The loser was hanged, while the other was severely flogged and made to watch the hanging with a noose around his neck.

I’ve mentioned Jan Pelgrom, the eighteen year old who was spared the death sentence at the last moment, and was marooned instead. I wonder if he ever realised how lucky he was?

* Mike Dash, “Batavia’s Graveyard” , 2002, and Henrietta Drake-Brockman, “Voyage to Disaster”, 1963

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.

Water torture the Dutch way

In the seventeenth century the use of torture to extract confessions and the like was de rigeur. Everybody did it. The rack, thumb screws, weights on chest, iron maidens – you name it. You’ve all seen these things in the horror movies.

In these more enlightened times we don’t do things like that, restricting ourselves to more humane activities like water boarding, or deprivation of sensory stimuli. At least we have the sense to know that torture doesn’t necessarily illicit the truth. Be that as it may, in 1629 torture was routinely used when criminals were brought to trial and the Dutch were actually rather good at it. I’ll share a few of their inventions over the next few posts, but I’ll start with Pelsaert’s interrogation techniques when he brought Jeronimus Cornelisz and his cronies to trial for the murder of the Batavia’s survivors.

In the better dungeons, such as those in Batavia’s castle, or back home in Holland, Pelsaert could have used some of the items mentioned above  and pictured at left but this was a bunch of arid islands in the middle of an uncharted ocean so he made do with what he had to hand.

He used a form of water torture. The prisoner was trussed up in an upright position with a waterproof canvas collar in the shape of a cone fastened around his neck. It would have reached the level of the man’s eyes – that is, water poured into the funnel would cover the mouth and nose. The victim would have no choice but to drink the water to stop himself from drowning. But of course, a point would come where the person just couldn’t drink any more. Then the interrogation would cease so the victim could be forced to vomit, then they’d start all over again. Given the scarcity of drinking water both on the ship and on the islands, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Pelsaert used sea water for his interrogations. Stalwarts who hung out in the face of this technique could be bloated to twice their normal size, as well as exhausted and breathless.

Is this a good way of establishing facts? It would seem, reading Pelsaert’s journal of the trial, that it was a good way of getting the prisoners to condemn each other and an excellent way for the interrogators to apparently confirm any pre-conceived notions they might have had. I think they did derive some facts. Men dobbed each other in and activities such as the way in which their victims were murdered has been verified, in some cases, because the skeletal remains were found.

Still, I have my doubts. Me, I’d confess to anything to get them to stop pouring icky water over me.