Tag Archives: torture

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

The ultimate punishment – breaking on the wheel

Picture of breaking on the wheelThe Dutch merchantman Sardam, jammed to the gunwhales with treasure, survivors and prisoners, sailed into Batavia port on 5th December, 1629. The relief of all those people who had survived the wreck of the Batavia on the Abrolhos islands  six months before can only be imagined. But while the heroes of Wiebbe’s island and the handful of victims who had not participated in Cornelisz’s reign of terror might be grateful, those in the hold who had been members of the gang were no doubt more than a little fearful. To be sure, the survivors had a tale to tell and the taverns would have rung with the telling. Pelsaert had dealt with some of the murderers. Cornelisz and his closest lieutenants were hanged back on the Abrolhos islands and others had been keelhauled, dropped from the mast or flogged. Some had begged Pelsaert to sentence them, hoping against hope that his more lenient justice would be the end of the matter.

This would not be the end of the saga for everyone, though. Pelsaert no doubt realised he would have to deliver at least one of the senior miscreants.  Cornelisz’s second in command, an erstwhile lance-corporal named Pietersz, had been kept in chains to await the Governor’s pleasure. Governor Coen who had given Pelsaert his orders to rescue the Batavia‘s survivors and as much of the cargo as he could, had died while the commandeur was away on his mission, but anyone who imagined his successor, Specx, would be more lenient was to be sadly mistaken. Almost all the prisoners who had already been subjected to Pelsaert’s justice were made to face the Governor. Five more were hanged and others punished in lesser ways. Pietersz, as the only surviving member of Cornelisz’s murderous clique to make it to Batavia, received the punishment which would undoubtedly have been meted out to Cornelisz and his senior co-conspirators.

He was broken on the wheel.

Using a heavy mallet, the executioner first pulverised the prisoner’s bones, starting with the fingers and toes and working inwards. The intention was to make all the limbs flexible so that the prisoner could be wrapped around the circumference of a cartwheel. Mike Dash (“Batavia’s Graveyard”, p.238) explains that the executioners took pride in keeping the victim’s skin intact. Lashed in this way, toes around to head, Pietersz would have been left out in the main square in the sultry Indonesian heat to die in front of an audience which would have included the survivors of the atrocities.

Cornelisz’s death might not have been instant but it was a far cry from this torture. And Coenraat van Huyssen and the other conspirators who were killed by Wiebbe Hayes’ men in that abortive attack – well, they were the lucky ones.

Dropping from the yardarm

View of a mastContinuing with the concept of suitable punishments while at sea, if you weren’t keelhauled you could be dropped from the yard. Masts and the accompanying yardarms were common on all ships (of course) and they provided a venue for a simple and very damaging treatment. The victim’s arms were tied behind his back, lead weights were attached to his ankles. A long rope was tied to the wrists (which were behind the back, remember). The man was then thrown off a yardarm, falling fifty feet or so toward the sea. The fall was ended when he reached the end of the rope. Needless to say, the result was usually dislocated shoulders and quite often broken wrists and ankles. As with keelhauling, this punishment was delivered in threes, so the shattered victim was pulled back up on the yardarm and dropped again. And again.

Several of Cornelisz’s accomplices convicted of lesser crimes were sentenced to this punishment. As usual, having survived being dropped, they were then flogged, as well.

Oh, what a wonderful life sailors must have led, going with the bad food, ‘off’ water, cold, damp, crowding and general discomfort.

Well, I’ll be keelhauled

Picture of a man being keelhauledKeelhauling was apparently invented by the Dutch. As I explained in an earlier post, torture was a part of life and if you were out at sea you didn’t have access to the accoutrements available in the better class of dungeon so you made do with what was to hand. An inventive lot, the Dutch.

The process of keelhauling is pretty much as it sounds. A rope is passed under the keel of the moving ship. One end of the rope is tied around the victim’s arms, held above his head, the other around his body. He is then thrown into the water and towed from one side of the ship underneath the keel, to the other. Mike Dash* explains that when this punishment was first conceived, the process almost always resulted in death, either because the victim was cut to pieces on the barnacles and other growth on the wooden hull, his head was smashed in on the way around, or he drowned because he was submerged for too long.

The solution was a special harness made from lead and leather, to which the prisoner was strapped. The metal protected him from the barnacles and by using a flag on the rig and varying the length of the ropes those administering the procedure could be sure the rig was pulled across the beam of the ship and not along its length. All Dutch ships carried these harnesses, purpose built to carry out a punishment the victim would never forget.

Pelsaert sentenced a number of the men convicted of crimes on Batavia’s Graveyard to keelhauling and the punishment was carried out at the islands. Each man was supposed to have been keelhauled three times but for most, once was enough – any more and the victim could well drown. Most people in these times couldn’t swim and were terrified of the water, which would render the process even more frightening.

Having survived the keelhauling, they then each received one hundred lashes before the mast. They would have been very sore boys for a long time.

Harsh as this treatment sounds, it was still better than they would have received in the dungeons at Fort Batavia.

* Mike Dash “Batavia’s Graveyard”, Orion Books, 2002

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.