Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘Abrolhos Islands

Mutiny on the Batavia, Postscript

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This is the third and final article in a series that started with the shipwreck of the Batavia, and the ensuing mutiny and massacre. Well, despite all the carnage the surviving crew and passengers of the Batavia were lucky in one sense, they were eventually rescued. In 1711 another Dutch ship, the Zuytdorp, also wrecked upon the same remote coast. Actually many Dutch ships had disappeared before along this coast, which was bad news for the Zuytdorp, because when she didn’t make it to Indonesia, no search was made. Presumably becasue of the expense of previous fruitless searches. This was unfortunate for the Zuytdorp,  because some survivors made it ashore. Starting in the 1920s when westerners started penetrating this remote area of coast, many artifacts from a shipwreck were found, some clearly having been carried to cliff tops with unmistakable evidence of habitation found as well. And while the survivors may indeed have tried to signal passing ships, even if they were seen most likely ships simply regarded them as fires set by aborigines.

Both the wreck and the land sites were excavated in a  series of digs over many decades, and many artifacts discovered. Coins dated 1711 very early pegged the site as the Zuytdorp, it was carrying a cargo of said coins, and in fact when the site was first visited by divers, they reported  a “carpet” of silver coins. The excavation took decades because the location is so treacherous that only a  few days a year is it safe to dive. And even on land the airstrip is extremely windy and dangerous. It was done though, and many artifacts were recovered. The big question, what happened to the survivors, was never answered. Did any of them join with the aborigines? Could there be aborigines with 17th and 18th century Dutch DNA in them? Remember, two of the Batavia mutineers were also marooned on this coast, and no doubt other unknown survivors made it ashore in the centuries that Dutch ships hugged this coast. Alas, a 2002 DNA study concluded, not likely.

As for the wreck of the Batavia, it was discovered in the sixties, and in pretty good shape all things considered. It was excavated in the early seventies, one of the first great underwater shipwreck excavations. It inspired laws to protect such sites, and many further recovery efforts. Much of the stern of the ship was recovered intact, as well as a stone archway intended for a Dutch fort in Indonesia. Both can be seen above, as they are on display in the Fremantle Maritime Museum, in Fremantle Australia. Human remains were recovered as well, and I read that some of them are on display too.

And on the islands where the actual fighting and battles took place, there have been excavations. The remains of the fort and the well built by Wiebbe Hayes and his men are still to be seen, and are in fact the oldest European built structures in Australia. Yes, the “barren” island Wiebbe Hayes and company had been left on actually had an aquifer, and a shallow well provided fresh water. And they had discovered that they could wade at low tide to another nearby island, East Wallabi Island. And on said island,  some sort of small island wallaby lived. They were delicious.

That was one of many details I left out of a fascinating but complicated story. Complicated in and of itself, and complicated by the fact that I had trouble finding good images or even maps of the area. I did find some pictures of Wiebbe Hayes Fort here. Unfortunately the images show two stone structures, with no explanation as to which is what. Still, the fact that the earliest structures built by Europeans in Australia are still intact shows nicely just how remote the Abrolhos Islands, or more properly, the Houtman Abrolhos, really are.

I got most of my information about the event from the Wikipedia article on same. Their article on Wiebbe Hayes also contained additional details. A reader sent in this link, which helps illustrate one of the points I was aiming for in this story, how this single event still reverberates today. The wreck of the Batavia happened over 400 years ago, yet multiple threads from this event are still unravelling.

It probably goes without saying that Jeronimus Cornelisz was a psychopath/sociopath. The link above says he was a devil worshipper, which may or may not be true, it’s suspected but not proved that he had links with Johannes van der Beeck, a Dutch artist who was executed for atheistic and Satanistic beliefs. I suspect without Jeronimus Cornelisz the mutiny would never have happened or been a much more bloodless thing. A case can be made that many if not most of the murderous mutineers only became murderers because they got trapped on a deserted island with a psychopath. Imagine Gilligan’s Isle if Gilligan had been a psychopath. Yikes. This is why I never get in an elevator with strangers.

Thanks for the thoughtful and informative comments on this series of posts. More such posts are planned, it’s a nice diversion from current events. And all sorts of stories like this are to be found in the pages of history.

(The above image came from Wikipedia and is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. And it also appears to be some version of Public Domain image, it’s not being used for profit in any event. It’s also kind of dark and hard to see, but at least this shows how much trouble I had finding good images for these posts.)

Written by unitedcats

September 2, 2010 at 6:12 am

The Mutiny on the Batavia, the Massacre

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This is a continuation of the prior post, Mutiny on the Batavia. When we left off Captain Pelsaert had sailed to Indonesia with his officers to arrange a rescue ship, leaving (unbeknown to him) Jeronimus Cornelisz, the chief plotter of the incipient mutiny, in charge of the survivors. Cornelisz,  having abandoned Wiebbe Hayes and other loyal soldiers on a nearby island to die, then put his evil plan into action. And the killings began. Cornelisz figured he only wanted about 40 people left to make his limited supplies last as long as possible. His ultimate plan was to ambush the rescue ship when it returned, and it was important that his men be well fed and strong for the fight. And thus two months of butchery and savagery and rape unfolded for anyone unfortunate enough not to fit into Cornelisz’s evil plan. Men, woman, children, babies, it didn’t matter. Over 100 people were killed in all. Cornelisz himself tried to strangle a baby, but was unable to do so. He just ordered others to carry out his monstrous wishes, and apparently all too many were willing to do so.

Following all this? This all really happened, I couldn’t make up this stuff. Three weeks into his savage plan, Cornelisz got a rude surprise. Weibbe Hayes and his men announced with smoke signals that they had indeed found food and water on a nearby island. And continued to send smoke signals, perplexed as to why Cornelisz didn’t immediately send a boat to rescue them. They weren’t perplexed for long though, because everyone on Cornelisz’s island had seen the signals, and a handful of people who had yet to fall victim to Cornelisz’s slaughter managed to make their way to Wiebbe Hayes and his men. They were appalled of course, and at this point they officially made Wiebbe Hayes their leader, even though other soldiers outranked him. And Hayes was up to the task, he knew that as long as he and his men lived they were a threat to Cornelisz’s plan. They fashioned weapons out of nails and wood that had washed up from the wreck of the Batavia, and hastily constructed a fort on top of the highest hill on their island out of coral blocks. And they waited.

They didn’t have to wait long. Cornelisz knew he had to kill Hayes and his men, and he was running low on food and water himself. So he formed up a makeshift army armed with whatever weapons had been on the ship and sailed to Hayes’ island to do battle. Hayes was badly outnumbered, what could go wrong? Well, as long time readers and others no doubt realize, numbers isn’t everything when it comes to battle. Hayes and his men were well fed and well rested for one thing, the mutineers were neither. Hayes and his men were professional soldiers as well, while the mutineers were mostly disaffected upper class and middle class youth who had zero weapons and military training. And not to mention that Hayes and his men were fighting for their lives, while Cornelisz’s men were fighting for their dinner. Three pitched battle were fought over the course of many weeks, and Wiebbe Hayes and his men won all three. In fact the third battle went so badly that Cornelisz’s three top lieutenants were killed and Cornelisz himself was captured!

Two months had gone by now and the remaining mutineers were desperate, but they didn’t give up. Reorganizing themselves under a new leader, one Wouter Loos, they launched a new and different style attack. Instead of attacking with hand weapons, they attacked from long range using the ship’s two remaining muskets. It was a good plan, and it almost worked. Hayes and his men would have to leave their fort and fight in the open, and the still numerically superior mutineers would then have the advantage. And, just like in  the movies, literally when things were looking darkest for the good guys … a sail appeared on the horizon. Yes, Captain Pelsaert had returned! The mutineers and Wiebbe Haye’s men knew there was only one thing to do, they must be the first to reach the rescue boat. The mutineers to surprise and capture it, Wiebbe Hayes to warn them. Both parties rushed to their boat (Hayes having captured one in previous battles) and began furiously rowing toward the rescue ship. The race was on!

Pelsaert may not have been the most competent captain, but seeing not one but two boats full of men obviously racing towards him, he knew something was up. He ordered “guns on deck,” and his crew armed themselves and prepared for battle. As it was Hayes got there first and was able to confirm the worst. And that pretty much was that, with Pelsaert’s men were armed, rested, and well fed … in no time at all the mutineers were captured and what hostages remained alive were freed. And seeing as the voyage to Indonesia would be crowded and difficult enough as it was, the mutineers were tried on the spot. Cornelisz and his top henchmen had their hands cut off and were hung. Two slightly less culpable men were marooned on the Australian coast, and the rest of the mutineers brought back for trial to Indonesia. Five of them were executed there, and the rest flogged. Ariaen Jacobsz was arrested and tried, but apparently there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. It’s believed he died imprisoned anyhow. And Captain Pelsaert, despite his rescue, was blamed for not preventing the whole mess in the first place. His assets were seized and he died a broken man within the year.

The man of the day was Wiebbe Hayes, the leader of the soldiers who fought (and won) three battles with the mutineers. He was rightly hailed as  a national hero and when he returned to Holland was feted accordingly. He also got some nice promotions which quintupled his salary. And after that he vanishes from the pages of history, but I’m hoping that he lived happily ever after. Of the original 322 people on the Batavia, only 68 made it safely to Indonesia. It was a hell of a thing, but at least they were better off than the passengers and crew of the Zuytdorf, another Dutch ship that wrecked on the same coast in 1711. That however is a tale for another day.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, as it predates the USA by over a century. It’s the executions that took place after Pelsaert arrived with the rescue ship. Justice was a nasty business in those days, although in this case I think even the most modern of us can understand. This was not only the crime of the century, it was actually the bloodiest known mutiny in history. God rest the souls of all those who sailed to a new life in Indonesia, only to fall victim to the madness of one evil man.)

Written by unitedcats

September 1, 2010 at 8:11 am

The Mutiny on the Batavia, Shipwrecked

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28 October 1628, the newly built Batavia, pride of the Dutch East India company, sailed for Indonesia with 322 people on board. It was a trade and passenger ship, and carried a cargo of gold and silver that would be used to buy spices in Indonesia.  It sailed under one Captain Francisco Pelsaert (his actual title was something along the lines of  “Master Merchant,” but we’ll go with Captain for this narrative. His skipper, the man who actually sailed the ship, was one Ariaen Jacobsz. Among the many passengers, of high birth and low,  was a high status Haarlem merchant, fleeing persecution for heresy in Holland, named Jeronimus Cornelisz. Also on board was a young and hitherto unremarkable soldier named Wiebbe Hayes, and about 70 other young soldiers bound for five years of garrison duty in the Dutch East Indies.

After the voyage began, Jacobsz and Cornelisz hatched a plot to mutiny, and use the ship’s gold and silver to start a new life somewhere.  Or even to begin a career as pirates with the Batavia. They quietly began recruiting other members from the passengers, and Jacobsz surreptitiously mis-navigated the ship to the south towards Australia instead of Indonesia. At one point they arranged for  a high status woman to be assaulted, hoping that the captain’s discipline could be painted as unfair as an aid to recruiting more mutineers. The woman recognized her attackers, forestalling the captain punishing the entire crew as the plotters had hoped, and even then the captain didn’t act, forcing the mutineers to wait.

And while they were waiting, the Batavia struck a  reef and sank near the desolate Abrolhos Islands near the west coast of Australia.  There’s no doubt Jacobsz the skipper was responsible, when being informed there were waves breaking on a reef ahead of the ship, he concluded it was just the reflection of the Moon. 40 people drowned, but the other nearly 300 got ashore to find themselves on a waterless and barren island. The Captain and selected crew sailed to the nearby coast of Australia, but found no water there either. Western Australia is and was a barren desert coast. So Captain Pelsaert took his officers and best men and set out for Indonesia in a  30 foot open boat. He also took Jacobsz with him. The voyage lasted 33 days, but all survived,  it’s  one of the great European feats of navigation in an open boat. Upon arrival, Pelsaert had one of his men arrested and executed, and had Jacobsz jailed for incompetence as well.  Pelsaert didn’t know exactly who the mutineers were or what they planned, but he knew something was afoot. The governor gave him a rescue ship, and off they went to rescue the survivors. (And incidentally recover as much of the gold and silver from the Batavia as they could, this was a commercial endeavour after all.)

However, two months passed on the islands while Captain Pelsaert was away. Cornelisz had been left in charge, and he confiscated all the weapons and supplies.  He knew that the incipient mutiny would be investigated, I mean, the ship had been mis-navigated and sunk as a result, this was already a big deal.  His first task was to get rid of any possible resistance, and the first order of business was Wiebbe Hayes. Hayes had shown himself to be a natural leader during and after the wreck, and a number of competent and upstanding survivors and soldiers had gravitated to him. So Cornelius arranged for Hayes and about twenty men Cornelius selected to be taken to a nearby island to search for food and water, and to leave their weapons behind on some pretext. Cornelius fully expected them to die of hunger and thirst, or at best return unarmed and walk into a trap. He even arranged smoke signals for them to use to signal when they had found food or water. Suspecting nothing apparently, Hayes and company set about to find food and water.

With the captain and his officers gone, and Hayes and loyal soldiers out of the way, Cornelisz and his plotters put their plan into action. Their new plan, as the Batavia was no longer around to commandeer, was simple. Kill everyone who they didn’t need to conserve their supplies, and ambush the unsuspecting (they hoped) rescue ship when it returned. A plan that even by the standards of the time was evil incarnate. How did it turn out? That’s tomorrow’s post.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image, arguably the opposite. Credit and copyright: Wooden Ship Models. The ship pictured above isn’t a model though, it’s a full sized replica of the Batavia built in Holland. It was built as an employment program for Dutch youth over a period of ten years, which frankly strikes me as a pretty good way to give unemployed youth some excellent work experience. Not to mention pride.)

Written by unitedcats

August 30, 2010 at 4:37 am