Fate Of The Wretched Vessel Batavia

In a dimly lit alcove in the Western Australia Museum Shipwreck Galleries, in Fremantle, there lies a complete skeleton of a man found on Beacon Island, off Western Australia. The
03 Feb 2016 07:30
Fate Of The Wretched Vessel Batavia

In a dimly lit alcove in the Western Australia Museum Shipwreck Galleries, in Fremantle, there lies a complete skeleton of a man found on Beacon Island, off Western Australia.

The victim, in his late 30s, has been struck by a sharp cut in the skull, the jaw was severed on one side and the scapula cut through. He is also missing the right foot.

The well preserved exhibit in the museum is his final resting place.

The remains help articulate a grim story of the fate of a 183cm (6ft) undernourished person who was most likely lame and in constant pain from an earlier pelvis injury.

A few steps away, part of the stern section from the wreck of the vessel “Batavia” is meticulously mountedon the floor for curious visitors to go back to a moment in time.

Forensic study of the skeletal remains in the glass box prove that it is one of the ship wreck survivors of the Dutch sailing ship “Batavia” which set sail from Amsterdam on 27 October 1628.

How did a ship-wrecked sailor end up being murdered?  What happened to Batavia? This is one of the terrifying tales of17th Century shipping history. Fortunately, answers to the questions and the narrative of an unbelievably mesmerizingtale of the aftermath of the shipwreck and ensuing barbaric mutiny are written in journals, and because of the patience and skill of modern day historians, we have been able to piece together the story.

The journals were written by two significant souls from the wretched ship laden with treasures and passengerswith it floundering on 3 June 1929,becoming wrecked on Morning Reef near Beacon Island, off the Western Australian coast.

Seafarers will also know the islands as Houtman’sAlbrolhos.

The grisly tale of mayhem and murder, engineered by one man who took no active part in the killing himself, is a fine example of management gone mad – a practice which continues in the corporate world today but in a seemingly more civilised manner.

The retourschepen (return ship) Batavia, owned by the Dutch East India Company, was 56.6 m long (186ft), 10.5m (34ft) wide and 55m (180ft) high. Crammed into its four decks were 341 passengers and crew.

The diverse bunch of sailors, soldiers, carpenters, cooks, cabin boys, passengers and stowaways were bound for Batavia (present day Jakarta in Indonesia).Among them were no less than 17 women, some of them nursing infants and a few pregnant so that more babies were born en route.

Batavia, a sturdy wooden ship was built out of Danish oak and held together by thick steel nails with a mixture of horse hair and glue to seal the gaps.  It was a flag ship and the pride of the company.  Officer living quarters were completely segregated from the rest of the crew.  The Captain and the Dutch East India Company’s Upper Merchantshared a little luxury with the Minister, the Surgeon and an upper class Dutch lady travelling with her servant.

The Upper Merchant, Francisco Pelsaert,was ranked above the Ship’s Master but lacked in leadership, was steeped in indecision and had been appointed to command the ship’s mission more from being available than from having any talent.

His deputy was the UnderMerchant, JeronimusCornelisz, who was a desperate man with no seafaring experience.

Cornelisz was sailing away to seek his fortune after the loss of his baby son, bankruptcy of his apothecary (pharmacist) business and in fear of punishment for his heretical beliefs.

Both these men represented management and were in-charge of the large booty of money, gold and jewelry being transported to the new province in the east.  Good men were hard to find to staff such a voyage, and there were few “good” men on board Batavia, even if a few were experienced seafarers.

The voyage was to take over nine months with a stop at Sierra Leone and the Cape of Good Hopefor supplies. The food for this long and arduous voyage consistedof salted meat and hard tack (ground biscuits), with adequate water for the coach class passengers, sailors and soldiers. Everything was rationed for the masses but higher ranks wined and dined very well in their qualters.

Below deck, conditions were bad on the newly built vesselalready infested by rats and wetfromswilling sewerage. It was overcrowded, and as the maiden voyage progressed, plagued by multiple deaths from scurvy and tropical disease.

The Captain and company men had access to fresh chicken and goat from livestock onboard and there was an abundance of alcohol to indulge in.

Two significant incidents occurred during the nine months: A mutiny plotted by the Captain in cahoots with the Under Merchant who wanted to seize the treasures onboard, and an anonymous attack on the beautiful Dutch lady, instigated by the same culprits to prompt the Upper Merchant, the man in charge, to treat his troops severely for the deed and thus spark support for the mutiny plot.

Before any action could be taken by the Upper Merchant, Captain Ariaen Jacobsz, navigating with only the aid of longitude information (using an astrolabe, compasses, charts and manuals) and an incorrect time piece, miscalculated his position and disregarding a sighting of white water breaking over the reef, managed to run the Batavia into the coral on aHoutman’s Albrolhos island.

The real story of the Batavia begins in Part II of this treacherous tale.

If you thought the disgusting conditions on board were the worst that these poor ship wrecked souls had to endure, or the lack of water on the island for the many survivors was the worst they would experience, then Part II will shock with a reign of terror brought on from mismanagement, lack of leadership experience and a group of desperate souls who brought the world a story that still shocks today.

Fijisun Ad Space

Get updates from the Fiji Sun, handpicked and delivered to your inbox.

By entering your email address you're giving us permission to send you news and offers. You can opt-out at any time.

Tower Insurance
Advertise here
Covid 19 - SPC
Fiji Sun Instagram