The Butcher of Banda

posted in: History | 6
Picture of JP Coen statue

I saw in a Dutch paper  that the statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen which has proudly stood in the square in Hoorn for several hundred years, was to be replaced with a less controversial figure. The reason, it seems, was that he wasn’t at all a ‘nice’ man and his treatment of the Javanese when he was Governor of Batavia was dreadful. The Indonesians branded him “the butcher of Banda”.

That’s true. But before we condemn the man outright, we need to consider him within his environment, that is, the early seventeenth century. Europeans saw themselves as better than everybody else, slavery was everywhere and treatment of defeated populations generally cruel. One has only to look at South America and the destruction of the Aztecs, or at the West African slave trade, as two obvious examples. Sure, Coen was tough and brutal, and during his rule he established the stranglehold the Dutch had over Indonesia until after World War 2 – which is why he was Hoorn’s favourite son.

However, it seems he was puritanical and brutal, as well. When he learned a (very) young couple had sex in the Governor’s quarters his retribution was awful. The 12-year-old girl was the half-Japanese daughter of Jacques Specx, a senior VOC official who would ultimately succeed Coen as Governor of Batavia. The 15-year-old boy was the nephew of the town clerk of Amsterdam. Despite their connections, and pleas for leniency on account of their youth, Coen had the lad beheaded and the girl flogged within an inch of her life*. And herein we have the overlap with the sinking of the Batavia.

Commandeur Pelsaert had to report the loss of his flagship to Coen as soon as he arrived at Batavia the city. Coen sent him out again, within days, to find the survivors and with orders to recover as much of the ship’s cargo as he could. Imagine his consternation when he arrived at the islands and learned of the debauchery and murder which had taken place. The main perpetrator, Cornelisz, had been the ship’s under merchant, Pelsaert’s 2IC. Pelsaert must have been beside himself at the prospect of taking that news back to Coen. It’s an important concern when considering the writing of the famous journal created from the proceedings of Pelsaert’s investigation, since Coen was the intended recipient of the report. I have no doubt Pelsaert was appalled at the suffering Cornelisz’s henchmen caused. His later treatment of the guilty was much more lenient than whatever Coen might have meted out. But I feel also that he would have been at pains to direct the Governor’s wrath anywhere but at himself.

As it turned out, Coen was dead before Pelsaert arrived back at Batavia. I suspect that was a matter of some relief to the Commandeur.

The statue? It’s back on it’s plinth in Hoorn.

* Mike Dash, ‘Batavia’s Graveyard’, p174

6 Responses

  1. MonaKarel

    So you’re of Dutch descent, living in Australia, writing about the far distant future where Indians prevail? Works for me.
    And along the lines of the destruction of civilizations by the Europeans we must never forget the Native Americans. Helped the first colonists, thanked by eradication.

    • Greta van der Rol

      Oh, the list would be endless. The native Americans, the Australian aboriginals, what was left of the Mayans, Africans, Indians – let alone gypsies, Jews, Christians. The people in charge always seem to think they’re better than everybody else. Still happens, actually.

      Thanks for dropping by to my other blog 🙂

      • MonaKarel

        When you figure the English Victorians decided dog shows based on appearance instead of function, decided by standards written up by people who’d never seen the dog function…well I just can’t have a lot of respect for what went on. My father’s side goes back to Scottish clans (that would be the Henderson of Glencoe who ran away BEFORE the fight) and my mother’s side went back to Choctaw Indians. Yeah, I’m actually pretty darned well adjusted for an old broad.

        • Greta van der Rol

          That Henderson was a smart man.

          The sad thing is, it never changes. Look at Rwanda, Yugoslavia when it collapsed. Slavery still exists (albeit with another name). I’d love to think we’ll get over tribalism – but I suspect it’s hard-wired. Which is (as you know) in my SF.