Australia’s first white inhabitants

posted in: History | 0

There is little doubt that Commandeur Pelsaert was much more lenient in his treatment of Cornelisz’s band of thugs than his masters in Batavia would have been. As mentioned in previous posts, Cornelisz and his major henchmen could count themselves lucky to just have been hanged. Others who were keelhauled or dropped from the yardarm were not necessarily considered immune from further punishment.

But perhaps the luckiest of Cornelisz’s cut-throats were two men who were marooned on the Australian mainland. They were Wouter Loos, who took over command of the gang after Wiebbe Hayes captured Cornelisz, and Jan Pelgrom, who had been a cabin boy on the Batavia‘s last voyage. Why Pelsaert took it into his head to spare these two is a moot point. Loos, a seasoned soldier, had taken part in more than one murder, including the slaughter of the predikant’s family. Pelgrom, a lad of eighteen or so, evidently became enamoured of being a part of the gang. In the blink of an eye he went from being one of the lowest on the social rank to a strutting young peacock, waving a sword around and threatening death to cowering survivors. Let’s not be too merciful, though. Eighteen was quite grown-up in Europe of the time; some of the lads forced to kill at Cornelisz’s command were thirteen or fourteen. Pelgrom wasn’t forced – he begged to kill and cried when one of the older men dealt the blow, instead.

He also cried and wet himself when they took him to the gallows. Maybe Pelsaert was sick of death because he granted Pelgrom a reprieve at the last moment. Pelgrom and Loos were taken to one of the estuaries Pelasert had discovered on his journey up the coast all those months ago in the longboat. The men were left with a skiff (one of those built by survivors on the islands), supplies and trinkets for the natives.

Exactly where they were left is debated. Some say it was at Wittecarra gully, near the Murchison River, others say the Hutt River estuary is more likely. Be that as it may, they were certainly the first white settlers to arrive in Western Australia. How long they lasted is a matter of conjecture. I’ll talk about that another time.

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