Who was the other woman?

posted in: History, On writing | 0
Picture of Batavia fort
Batavia – a painting from the Rijksmuseum collection

After the Batavia ran aground on Morning Reef before dawn on 4th June 1629, the captain ferried as many people as he could to nearby islands and then decided to head for Batavia to fetch help. When the Batavia’s longboat left the Abrolhos islands where the survivors from the shipwreck had been landed, she carried forty-eight passengers. The complement included Commandeur Pelsart and Adriaen Jacobsz, the Batavia’s captain, along with forty-three other officers and sailors – and two women and a babe in arms. One of the women we know was Zwaantie, Captain Jacobsz’s girlfriend. She was an important minor player in the drama of what took place on the Batavia before the ship was wrecked and her place in history was cemented in Pelsart’s journal. But who the other woman was, is unknown.

Women were decidedly second class citizens at this time, although status mitigated their position to some extent. So Lucretia van der Mijlen, a woman of substance who consorted with the upper ranks on the vessel, was accorded respect, as was the wife of the predikant (preacher). The other women we only know about because they were murdered, or because they survived the horrors of the islands.

While Pelsart and history did not deign to mention why the ‘other woman’ was in the longboat or who she was, I did not have that luxury, so I had to work out a plausible reason for her presence. So I gave her a name (Saartje). I knew a lady of that name, a lovely person of whom I had fond memories. And then, why was she there? Zwaantie was a servant, employed by Lucretia van der Mijlen as a lady’s maid for the journey to Batavia, so her friends and confidantes were likely to have been of the same class. Any women not in the stern (where the privileged stayed) would have shared the accommodations with the sailors on the gun decks, who made themselves as comfortable as they could between the canons. I made Saartje the wife of a senior sailor and Zwaantie is the one who persuades a reluctant Jacobsz to bring her best friend and the babe with them on the perilous journey in the longboat.

Needless to say, history has not recorded what happened to mother and child – beyond the fact that both made it safely to Batavia with the other forty-six people.

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