The story of the Batavia was one of the most mysteries sea disappearances after it vanished in 1629, there had been numerous searches in efforts to locate the Missing ship. It wouldn’t be until 1963 that the wreckage of the missing would be found. Combined with what was found on a nearby island. It became the most horrific mystery in history.
Before I get into the Mutiny of the Batavia, I need to tell you a little bit about the Dutch East India Company or Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie VOC. It was originally established as a chartered company in 1602, when the Dutch government granted it a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. A pioneering early model of the multinational corporation that we have today, the company is also often considered to be the world’s first true transnational corporation. In the early 1600’s VOC became the first company to issue bonds and shares of stock to the general public.
It was also the first to be listed on an official stock exchange. As the first historical model of the quasi-fictional concept of the megacorporation, the VOC possessed quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies. Sounds like a nice place to work. The company was formed to profit from the Malukan spice trade, and in 1619 it forcibly established a capital in the port city of Jayakarta, changing the name to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta). Over the next two centuries the Company acquired additional ports as trading bases and safeguarded their interests by taking over surrounding territory.
So, these guys were the number one in world trade between Europe and Asia. Now we need to know a little bit about one of their ships, the Batavia. It was built in Amsterdam, Dutch Republic, in 1628, and armed with 24 cast-iron cannons and a number of bronze guns.
On 27 October 1628, the newly built Batavia, commissioned by the Dutch East India Company, sailed from Texel for the Dutch East Indies, to obtain spices. It sailed under commandeur and opperkoopman (upper- or senior merchant) Francisco Pelsaert, with Ariaen Jacobsz serving as skipper. There were 322 people on board which included families, children, and soldiers that guarded the spices that were being transported.
The ship was under the command of Francisco Pelsaert and his skipper Ariaen Jacobsz. The ship also carried massive amounts of Gold and silver in order to purchase additional spices. There were multiple chests filled with works of art and jewels that were to be sold to the Mogul of India. The emotions were already at a high due to Pelsaert and Jacobsz not getting along. They previously had a altercation in Surat when Jacobsz became drunk and insulted Pelsaert in front of merchants. He was publicly stripped down and made an example of. It is not known if Pelsaert remembered this encounter, but Jacobsz did.
So the route the VOC ships would take was to leave Amsterdam, head through the English Channel towards the east coast of Brazil, rather than head towards the west coast of Africa where ships could be becalmed for days or weeks. Violent storms in the North Sea separated most of the ship which left the Batavia, Assendelft and the Buren in a group that had sight of each other. As they came to the southern latitudes around 40 degrees south, they would encounter what’s called the roaring 40’s. This would speed them across the southern Atlantic and southern Indian oceans towards the Cape of Good Hope at not quite the southernmost point of Africa. Here they stopped and took on supplies.
As the ship passed the Cape of Good Hope they sailed towards what is now known as the west coast of Australia but Jacobsz intentionally steered the ship away from other two ships in the fleet. His coconspirator was Jeronimus Cornelisz, a bankrupt pharmacist who was fleeing to the Netherlands. They couldn’t take over with just the two of them. So, in order to try and gain sympathy and recruits. They tried manipulating the commander into giving out unfair punishments. One plan was the molestation of a Merchants daughter Lucretia Jans, they had hoped the commander would punish the whole crew, but unfortunately for them, she was able to identify her attackers and were forced to wait until the commander made the arrests.
But Pelsaert had fallen ill and the arrests never came and they didn’t get the sympathy they had hoped for. Moods reached a boiling point on June 4th 1629, but it wasn’t caused by a hostile take over. The ship hit Morning reef (60km or 37miles) off the coast of Western Australia. The women and children were sent on a long boat to a near by island while the rest of the passengers scrambled to reach the island. 40 drowned in their efforts. The troubles were just beginning though, there was no fresh water and their only food sources were sea lions and birds. They got together a group of scouts which included Pelsaert, Jacobsz, a few senior officers, some crew and passengers.
Their goal was to get to the mainland, with no luck they made their way to Batavia. With stops along the way to look for fresh water. After 33 days they found water on the island of Nusa Kambangan at Yardie Creek in Western Australia. They finally reached Batavia, the governer general told them to go back and try to salvage what they could of the cargo on the ship. But they mainly wanted the treasure. Meanwhile on the island, Cornelisz was looking after the remaining survivors. But what they didn’t know was Cornelisz had began a campaign of terror.
Almost immediately after the scout boat was over the horizon, Cornelisz and his team began taking control. They immediately commandeered all of the food supply. Everyone was now at their mercy. Cornelisz then began to take out all who would possibly over throw him. A soldier named Wiebbe Hayes along with his men were sent to a neighboring island in search of water. Cornelisz’s real reason was to exile them in order to take them out of the equation. With them out of the way Cornelisz began his torturous terror, killing everyone who didn’t follow his orders. Him and his crew also slaughtered those they believe would be a waste of limited recourses.
Unfortunately this included women and children. The women that they didn’t kill became their sex slaves. Everyone lived in fear, they were ether savagely beaten or killed for little or no reason at all. Cornelisz remembered when him and Jacobsz were planning their takeover; Jacobsz said that 45 was the correct number of people that could be sustained for a long period of time. Cornelisz was not shy about dwindling their numbers down. Eventually killing over 100 people.
Cornelisz became delusional and thought he could take over the scout ship upon their return. He then would salvage the Batavia for the treasure and with a select few they were going to start their own kingdom. They were drunk with power, and were addicted with the thrill of killing. They believed they were gods, completely invincible and that no one would get in their way. But there was something they didn’t realize. Soldier Hayes and his men. Not only did they survive the doomed mission, but they found ample water and food. Not knowing of the horror, he sent smoke signals back to the others. Survivors saw and in secret made rafts to flee and made their way to Hayes.
Hayes was horrified at what the survivors told him, but that didn’t deter him from taking action. They fashioned weapons whatever they could find. It was only a matter of time before Cornelisz and his men came. Because he knew they had seen the smoke signals. It didn’t take long, with their resources depleted Cornelisz came, they were looking to steal from Hates group and kill them. It didn’t end well for Cornelisz and his men. The mutineers were driven back and Cornelisz was captured. The mutineers suffered a heave loss. However they managed to regroup under the new command of Wouter Lois. They were better prepared the second time around, they were heavily armed with firearms they were able to salvage from the Batavia.
They hit hard and Hayes and his men were almost defeated. But on the horizon Hayes saw the rescue ship. He was able to sneak away and he made his way to the ship. After Hayes explained to Pelsaert what was happening the balance of power shifted. He told of the planned mutiny to all of the senseless death. With combined forces they were able to overcome the mutineers and put an end to the slaughter.
A trial was organized there on the island. Many of the mutineers were sent to the nearby Seal Island and were executed. Cornelisz punishment for his crimes, his hands were cut off and was hanged. He never once showed any remorse for his actions.
Loos and some of the other conspirators were banished to the mainland of Australia never to be heard from again. The remaining mutineers were taken to Batavia to be tried, most were executed. Hayes was hailed a hero and was promoted by the Dutch East India Company
Unfairly, Pelsaert was accused of being careless in his duties. They said he should felt that something wrong. As a punishment, most of his assets were frozen.
Out of the 322 passengers and crew only 68 survived. It wouldn’t be for another 300 years that their story would truly be understood.