The Mutiny on the Batavia, Shipwrecked
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.)