‘Justice’ for the gang

posted in: History | 2

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

2 Responses

  1. MonaKarel

    And these are the people who considered themselves more civilized than the natives. What a thing to read just before bed! And we have to wonder how in the world they could survive 100 lashes with any sort of whip

    • Greta van der Rol

      Very true. On both counts, I think it’s very likely that men ‘severely flogged’ in the tropics would have little chance of surviving. Death rates from disease were huge, anyway. Particularly malaria, because the Dutch actually dug canals to make it more like home. The mosquitoes and rats loved them.

      On 22 November 2012 15:50, To Die a Dry Death

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