Tale Of Batavia

Head of Quality/ Management Representative/Consultant Marin Engineering, Fiji Maritime Academy. The maritime industry has always learned lessons from the seafaring disasters of old. If Part I, Tale of the WretchedShip
10 Feb 2016 10:09
Tale Of  Batavia

Head of Quality/ Management Representative/Consultant Marin Engineering, Fiji Maritime Academy.

The maritime industry has always learned lessons from the seafaring disasters of old.

If Part I, Tale of the WretchedShip Batavia (Fiji Sun, February 3, 2016) kindled some curiosity,thenit should be intriguing to find out what happened to the 341 souls who left Amsterdam on the vessel Batavia in 1628, and nine months later, found themselves ship wrecked on a desolate, exposed coral island.

By ignoring a look out warning of whitewater at night, the mutinous and ill-disciplined Captain, Ariaen Jacobsz, ran the wooden vessel onto the reef near Beacon Island, 80km off the Western Australian coast.

The flagship of the Dutch East India Company, laden with rich cargo and a fortune in treasures, did not sink immediately. Instead it perched itself on the coral taking in water as the Dutch oak hull slowly disintegrated in the wake of the breaking waves.

There was no recognized emergency drill for anyone to follow. No one had thought of life boats and there was no ‘women and children first’ policies back then.

Many succeeded in scrambling into little skiffs or anything that would float to make their way to one of the tiny atolls in the vicinity, and 40 people drowned (in the 1620s only one in seven people could swim).

Some opted to stay on board in anarchy, ransacking the stores and alcohol and destroying the ship’s journals.

The real saga begins at this point.

The ragged 250 survivors found their way to a landexposed to the elements, with no fresh water and within days, were suffering from severe dehydration.

After a quick survey of the three atolls, theman in charge, Upper Merchant Francisco Pelsaert, made the executive decision to go look for food and water.

He commandeered a 9.1 m longboat andthe vessel built for 30 was cramped with 50, including the Captain of the stricken vessel.

Somewhere along the coast of Australia, the indecisive Upper Merchant made a new plan to sail for Batavia (Jakarta, in Indonesia), leaving the remaining survivors behind.

During this era, sailors frequently commandeered the ship’s boats for themselves and left the passengers to die.

That left the Under Merchant, Jeronimus Cornelisz, in control; an inexperienced, bankrupt, heretic, who had just spent the past few days ransacking the ship’s stores.As Batavia broke apart, he floated his way to shore.

As the highest ranking merchant, Cornelisz, the inexperienced megalomaniac was in charge.

His leadership role, which began with all good intentions, soon turned into mayhem, mutiny and murder.

Cornelisz’s style was simple: divide and rule.   Firstly, he placed the recovered weapons and food supplies under his control.

Assuming that the other islands were as barren as the Batavia graveyard, he transportedmost of thesolders to search for water on what is now known as West Wallabi Island, on the false pretense that they will be brought back when their search was successful.

With the soldiers out of the way, he formed his own murderous guard from those who had shown support for mutiny on the ship before its grounding.

Over a two-month period, the Under Merchant organized his followers to slit the throats, strangle, stab, drown and even behead up to 125 hapless souls.

Like all true stories in life, such a tale of erratic leadership and savagery had to come to a head.

Miraculously, the soldiers, led by Wiebbe Hayes, did find food and water. News of the Cornelisz’s reign of terror reached the soldiersas survivors fled to West Wallabi Island to escape.

Hayes was an experienced leader who had kept discipline, provided for his group so his community was strong and healthy, and better still, hadput together a solid plan to repel an inevitable attack.

Jeronimus Cornelisz’s paranoia meant he had to eliminate even more around him, including the soldiers.What follows is a showdown.

After a failed rouse to fool Hayes into believing a delegation by Cornelisz and his mutineers was peaceful, a decisive battled ensued, with the ill-disciplined and unplannedhenchmen not only being defeated but Cornelisz was captured.

Immediately the mutineers retreated and replaced Cornelisz with the second in charge, Wouter Loos, who was more disciplined as a soldier but had no other plan in place than to follow his former evil leader’s strategy to divide and conquer.

Two weeks later, Loos and his men attacked again.

Meanwhile, after more than with 33 days at sea, Pelsaert’s overloaded long boat had arrived in Batavia, surviving a grueling 2000 km journey.

Preparing another smaller ship with a different captain (Captain Jacobsz was imprisoned on arrival in Batavia), the Upper Merchantbegan his quest back to the wreck site, mainly to recover the company property as priority over rescuing survivors.

As if written by a clever screen writer at the climax of a bloody movie, the Dutch “Jacht” Sardamcame into the horizon as Wouter Loos’ mutinous men set out that day with Batavia’s muskets to combat the fortifiedsoldiers led by Wiebbe Hayes.

As muskets were fired and men were killed, a sail appeared on the horizon. The game was up.

Both warring leaders ran to their vessels and raced to reach the rescue party first to tell their side of the story before the other arrived.

Hayes arrived first quickly warning Pelsaert and fellow rescuers. Right behind them, the mutineers raised their weapons as they reached the Sardam, but to no avail. The mutineers were captured.

About three months had passed since the wretched Batavia hadrun aground.

In a time when seafarers had heard and experienced death, poor food conditions and even mutiny before, Palsaertand later, the known world, had never seen such unbridled barbarism before.

Seven of the mutineers including their leader Corneliz , were hanged on seals island after their hands cut off at the wrist. Others were taken back to Batavia for punishment and execution.

There is much more to be said about the Batavia, the punishments meted out, the rescue of the treasures, the result of leaving two mutineers on the coast of Australia who are said to have integrated with the Aboriginal community, and the fate of those who survived.

The Western Australian Museum — Shipwreck Gallerieshas a wealth of information and much of the treasures from that time.

In addition, there is a whole modern day story that has unfolded as Batavia was located and her graveyard treasurers yielded up, restored and placed on display.

Times are different and we will never see a Batavia again but the lessons that are learned for seafarers, leadership trainers and historians from this wretched mutiny gone wrong have lasted the test of time…and continue.

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