The Mutiny on the Batavia, the Massacre
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.)