Batavia (ship)

Batavia ([baːˈtaːviaː] (listen)) was the flagship of the Dutch East India Company. It was built in Amsterdam in 1628. Batavia sailed on her maiden voyage for the capital of the Dutch East Indies, Batavia (now known as Jakarta).

Dutch Republic
Namesake: Batavia, Dutch East Indies
Owner: Dutch East India Company
Completed: 1628
Maiden voyage: 29 October 1628
On board:341 heads
Wrecked:4 June 1629
Location:Wallabi Group, Houtman Abrolhos
General characteristics
Class and type: East Indiaman
Tonnage: 650 tons
Displacement: 1,200 tons
Length: 56.6 meters (186 feet)
Beam: 10.5 meters (34 feet)
Height: 55 meters (180 feet)
Draught: 5.1 meters (17 feet)
Sail plan: Full-rigged
Sail area:3,100 m2 (33,000 sq ft)
Speed: 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph)
Armament: 24 × cast-iron cannon

The ship wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos off the coastal regions of western Australia. The wreck killed approximately 40 of its 341 passengers. A mutiny amongst the survivors led to a massacre.

Mutiny on the Batavia


On 27 October 1628, the newly built Batavia, commissioned by the Dutch East India Company, sailed from Texel[1] for the Dutch East Indies, to obtain spices. It sailed under commander and senior merchant Francisco Pelsaert, with Ariaen Jacobsz serving as skipper. These two had previously encountered each other in Surat, India. Some animosity had developed between them in Surat after Jacobsz became drunk and insulted Pelsaert in front of other merchants, leading to a public dressing-down for Jacobsz by Pelsaert.[2] Also on board was the junior merchant, Jeronimus Cornelisz, a bankrupt pharmacist from Haarlem who was fleeing the Netherlands, in fear of arrest because of his heretical beliefs associated with the painter Johannes van der Beeck, also known as Torrentius.

During the voyage, Jacobsz and Cornelisz conceived a plan to take the ship, which would allow them to start a new life somewhere, using the huge supply of trade gold and silver on board.[3] After leaving the Cape of Good Hope, where they had stopped for supplies, Jacobsz deliberately steered the ship off course, and away from the rest of the fleet. Jacobsz and Cornelisz had already gathered a small group of men around them and arranged an incident from which the mutiny was to ensue. This involved molesting a high-ranking young female passenger, Lucretia Jans, in order to provoke Pelsaert into disciplining the crew. They hoped to paint his discipline as unfair and recruit more members out of sympathy. However, the woman was able to identify her attackers.[4][5] The mutineers were then forced to wait until Pelsaert made arrests, but he never acted, as he was suffering from an unknown illness.


On 4 June 1629, the ship struck Morning Reef near Beacon Island, part of the Houtman Abrolhos off the Western Australian coast.[1] Of the 322 aboard, most of the passengers and crew managed to get ashore, although 40 people drowned. The survivors, including all the women and children, were then transferred to nearby islands in the ship's longboat and yawl.

An initial survey of the islands found no fresh water and only limited food (sea lions and birds). Pelsaert realised the dire situation and decided to search for water on the mainland. A group consisting of Captain Jacobsz, Francisco Pelsaert, senior officers, a few crew members, and some passengers left the wreck site in a nine metres (30 ft) longboat (a replica of which has also been made), in search of drinking water. After an unsuccessful search for water on the mainland, they abandoned the other survivors and headed north in a danger-fraught voyage to the city of Batavia.

En route they made further forays onto the mainland in search of fresh water. In his journal, Pelsaert stated that on 15 June 1629, they sailed through a channel between a reef and the coast, finding an opening around midday at a latitude guessed to be about 23 degrees south where they were able to land, and water was found.

The group spent the night on land. Pelsaert commented on the vast number of termite mounds in the vicinity and the plague of flies that afflicted them. Drake-Brockman suggested this location is approximately 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) north of Point Cloates where water has subsequently been located. Pelsaert stated that they continued north with the intention of finding the "river of Jacob Remmessens", identified first in 1622, but owing to the wind were unable to land. Drake-Brockman has suggested that this location is to be identified with Yardie Creek.[6][7][8]

It was not until the longboat reached the island of Nusa Kambangan in Indonesia that Pelsaert and the others found more water.[9] The journey took 33 days, with everyone surviving. After their arrival in Batavia, the boatswain, Jan Evertsz, was arrested and executed for negligence and "outrageous behavior" before the loss of the ship (he was suspected to have been involved). Jacobsz was also arrested for negligence, although his position in the potential mutiny was not guessed by Pelsaert.[10]

Batavia's Governor General, Jan Coen, immediately gave Pelsaert command of the Sardam to rescue the other survivors, as well as to attempt to salvage riches from the Batavia's wreck. He arrived at the islands two months after leaving Batavia, only to discover that a bloody mutiny had taken place among the survivors, reducing their numbers by at least a hundred.[11]


Jeronimus Cornelisz had been left in charge of the survivors. He made plans to hijack any rescue ship that might return and use the vessel to seek another safe haven. Cornelisz made far-fetched plans to start a new kingdom, using the gold and silver from the wrecked Batavia. However, to carry out this plan, he first needed to eliminate possible opponents.[12]

Cornelisz's first deliberate act was to have all weapons and food supplies commandeered and placed under his control. He then moved a group of soldiers, led by Wiebbe Hayes, to nearby West Wallabi Island, under the false pretense of searching for water. They were told to light signal fires when they found water and they would then be rescued.[12] Convinced that they would be unsuccessful, he then left them there to die, taking complete control of the situation.

Cornelisz never committed any of the murders himself, although he tried and failed to poison a baby (who was eventually strangled).[13] Instead, he coerced others into doing it for him, usually under the pretense that the victim had committed a crime such as theft. It has been suggested that Cornelisz sought "novelty and stimulation" after having ordered numerous murders by ordering more "perverse atrocities".

The mutineers had originally murdered to save themselves, but eventually they began to kill for pleasure or out of habit.[14] Cornelisz planned to reduce the island's population to around 45 so that their supplies would last as long as possible. He also feared that many of the survivors remained loyal to the VOC.[15] In total, his followers murdered at least 110 men, women, and children.


Although Cornelisz had left the soldiers, led by Wiebbe Hayes, to die, they had in fact found good sources of water and food on their islands. Initially, they were unaware of the barbarity taking place on the other islands and sent pre-arranged smoke signals announcing their finds. However, they soon learned of the massacres from survivors fleeing Cornelisz' island. In response, the soldiers devised makeshift weapons from materials washed up from the wreck. They also set a watch so that they were ready for the mutineers, and built a small fort out of limestone and coral blocks.[16]

Cornelisz seized on the news of water on the other island, as his own supply was dwindling and the continued survival of the soldiers threatened his own success. He went with his men to try to defeat the soldiers marooned on West Wallabi Island. However, the trained soldiers were by now much better fed than the mutineers and easily defeated them in several battles, eventually taking Cornelisz hostage. The mutineers who escaped regrouped under soldier Wouter Loos and tried again, this time employing muskets to besiege Hayes' fort and almost defeating the soldiers.[17]

But Hayes' men prevailed again, just as Pelsaert arrived. A race to the rescue ship ensued between Cornelisz' men and the soldiers. Hayes reached the ship first and was able to present his side of the story to Pelsaert. After a short battle, the combined force captured all of the mutineers.[18]


Pelsaert decided to conduct a trial on the islands, because the Sardam on the return voyage to Batavia would have been overcrowded with survivors and prisoners. After a brief trial, the worst offenders were taken to Seal Island and executed. Cornelisz and several of the major mutineers had both hands chopped off before being hanged.[19]

Wouter Loos and a cabin boy, Jan Pelgrom de Bye, considered only minor offenders, were marooned on mainland Australia, never to be heard of again. This unwittingly made them the first Europeans to have permanently lived on the Australian continent.[20] This location is now thought to be Whitecarra Creek near Kalbarri, though another suggestion is that nearby Port Gregory was the place.[9] Reports of unusually light-skinned Aborigines in the area by later British settlers have been suggested as evidence that the two men might have been adopted into a local Aboriginal clan. However, numerous other European shipwreck survivors, such as those from the wreck of the Zuytdorp in the same region in 1712, may also have had such contact with Indigenous inhabitants, making it now impossible to determine whether the Batavia crew members were responsible.

The remaining mutineers were taken to Batavia for trial. Five were hanged, while several others were flogged, keelhauled or dropped from the yardarm on the later voyage back home.[21] Cornelisz' second in command, Jacop Pietersz, was broken on the wheel, the most severe punishment available at the time. Captain Jacobsz, despite being tortured, did not confess to his part in planning the mutiny and escaped execution due to lack of evidence. What finally became of him is unknown. It is suspected that he died in prison in Batavia. A board of inquiry decided that Pelsaert had exercised a lack of authority and was therefore partly responsible for what had happened. His financial assets were seized, and he died within a year.

On the other hand, the common soldier Wiebbe Hayes was hailed a hero. He was promoted to sergeant, which increased his salary, while those who had been under his command were promoted to the rank of corporal.[21]

Of the original 332 people on board the Batavia, only 122 made it to the port of Batavia.[22] The Sardam eventually sailed home with most of the treasure previous housed on the Batavia aboard. Of the 12 treasure chests that were originally on board the Batavia, 10 were recovered and taken aboard the Sardam.[20]


Surveying the north-west coast of the Abrolhos Islands for the British Admiralty in April 1840, Captain John Lort Stokes reported that "the beams of a large vessel were discovered", assumed to be the Zeewijk, "on the south west point of an island", reminding them that since Zeewijk's crew "reported having seen a wreck of a ship on this part, there is little doubt that the remains were those of the Batavia".[19]

In the 1950s, historian Henrietta Drake-Brockman argued from extensive archival research, that the wreck must lie in the Wallabi Group of islands. The wreck was first sighted in 1963 by lobster fisherman David Johnson. Many artifacts were salvaged in the 1970s, including port-side stern timbers, cannons and an anchor.[23] To facilitate the monitoring and any future treatment, the hull timbers were erected on a steel frame. Its design—and that of a stone arch, also recovered—was such that individual components could be easily removed.[24]

In 1972, the Dutch government transferred rights to Dutch shipwrecks in its waters to the Australian government. Excavated items are on display at the Western Australian Museum's various locations, though the majority of cannons and anchors have been left in situ. The wreck remains one of the premier diving sites on the West Australian coast.[25]


The Batavia carried a considerable amount of treasure. Each ship in the Batavia class carried an estimated 250,000 guilders in twelve wooden chests, each containing about 8,000 silver coins.[26] This money was intended for the purchase of spices and other commodities in Java. The bulk of these coins were silver rijksdaalder produced by the individual Dutch states, with the remainder being mostly made up of similar coins produced by German cities such as Hamburg.

Pelsaert was instructed to recover as much of the money as possible on his return to the Abrolhos Islands, using divers "to try if it is possible to salvage all the money [and] the casket of jewels that before your departure was already saved on the small island".[27] Recovery of the money was far from easy. Pelsaert reported difficulties in pulling up heavy chests, e.g. 27 October 1629, when a chest had to be marked with a buoy for later recovery. On 9 November, he recorded sending four money chests to the Sardam, and three the next day but then abandoned further recovery work. By 13 November, Pelsaert recorded that ten money chests had been recovered—about 80,000 coins—leaving two lost since there had been twelve loaded originally. One was jammed under a cannon, and one had been broken open by the mutineers.[28]

The Batavia's treasure also included special items being carried by Pelsaert for sale to the Mogul Court in India where he had intended to travel on to. There were four jewel bags, stated to be worth about 60,000 guilders, and an early-fourth-century Roman cameo, as well as numerous other items either now displayed in Fremantle and Geraldton, or recovered by Pelsaert.


A Batavia ship replica was built from 1985 to 1995, using the same material and methods utilized in the early 17th century. Its design was based on contemporary accounts, recovered wreckage, and other contemporary ships such as Vasa.

See also

  • Shipwrecks of Western Australia
  • Shipwreck!" a play by Colin Ryan, directed by Robert Chuter about the incidents on the Batavia was produced at La Mama Theatre, Carlton, Victoria in 1988


  1. "Batavia". Department of Maritime Archaeology Online Databases. Western Australian Museum. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
  2. Dash 2002, p. 57.
  3. Dash 2002, p. 87.
  4. Dash 2002, p. 99.
  5. "VOC ship Batavia". Archived from the original on 10 April 2011. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  6. Drake-Brockman 2006, pp. 300–304.
  7. Godard 1993, p. 156.
  8. Dash 2002, p. 150.
  9. Godard 1993, pp. 186–187.
  10. Dash 2002, pp. 161–162.
  11. Dash 2002, p. 162.
  12. "Batavia's Graveyard". Houtman Albrolhos. Perth: VOC Historical Society. 2008. Archived from the original on 10 April 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
  13. Dash 2002, p. 140.
  14. Dash 2002, p. 138.
  15. Dash 2002, p. 122.
  16. Dash 2002, pp. 176–179.
  17. Dash 2002, pp. 182–183.
  18. Dash 2002, pp. 188–190.
  19. Kimberly, W.B. (compiler) (1897). History of West Australia. A Narrative of her Past. Together With Biographies of Her Leading Men. Melbourne: F.W. Niven. p. 10.
  20. Leavesley, James H. (2003). "The 'Batavia', an apothecary, his mutiny and its vengeance" (PDF). Vesalius. IX (2): 22–24.
  21. "Batavia's History". Western Australian Museum. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  22. Ariese, Csilla. (2012). Databases of the people aboard the VOC ships Batavia (1629) & Zeewijk (1725) : an analysis of the potential for finding the Dutch castaways' human remains in Australia. Australian National Centre of Excellence for Maritime Archaeology. Fremantle, W.A.: Australian National Centre of Excellence for Maritime Archaeology. p. 5. ISBN 9781876465070. OCLC 811789103.
  23. Green, J. (1989). The loss of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie retourschip Batavia. British Archaeological Reports. 489. Oxford: BAR Publishing.
  24. Richards, V. (2002). "Cosmetic treatment of deacidified Batavia timbers". AICCM Bulletin. Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material. 27: 12–13.
  25. Souter, C. (2006). "Cultural Tourism and Diver Education". Maritime Archaeology. Boston: Springer: 163–176. doi:10.1007/0-387-26108-7_13.
  26. Dash 2002, p. 55.
  27. Drake-Brockman 2006, pp. 257–258.
  28. Drake-Brockman 2006, pp. 218–220.


  • Dash, M. (2002). Batavia's Graveyard. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9780575070240.
  • Drake-Brockman, H. (2006). Voyage to Disaster. Perth: UWA Press. ISBN 9781920694722.
  • Edwards, H. (2000). Island of Angry Ghosts: The Story of the Batavia. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780732266066.
  • Godard, P. (1993). The First and Last Voyage of the Batavia. Perth: Abrolhos Publishing. ISBN 9780646105192.

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