Mutiny on the Batavia, Postscript
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.)