The Nightmarish Remains of a Shipwreck

Earlier this month, on an island off the Western coast of Australia, archaeologists have uncovered a mass grave associated with a shipwreck that is infamously gruesome. Despite being a strong, flagship of the Dutch East India Company, the Batavia sank on its maiden voyage from the Netherland to Java. 

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The ship began its life in Amsterdam in 1828 and was armed with 24 cannons, bronze guns, and swarthy men. It departed October 27th, 1828 and its goal was to obtain spices in the Dutch East Indies. However, two people who had some tension were the most important on the ship: Francisco Pelsaert and Ariaen Jacobsz. Plesaert was the commander and also a fairly successful merchant.  

Tension began because of some drunk comments by Jacobsz. Jacobsz made the mistake of making these disparaging comments in front of other merchants, which then lead Pelsaert to push back in a very serious way and insult him twice as worth. However, this was well before the Batavia took off, and it is unclear if Pelsaert recognized Jacobsz.

With this awkward backstory, Jacobsz had every reason to want to strike back. He aso had an accomplice, Jeronimus Cornelis, who was fleeing the Netherlands in fear of arrest because of his heretical beliefs.  They thought if they were able to take the ship, they could start a new life...thanks to a huge cache of gold and silver on board. So, the plotting of the mutiny against Pelsaert began.

First, the dynamic duo steered the ship off course after leaving the cape of Good Hope to lead it away from the rest of the fleet. After this, they gathered a small group of men and began the inciting issue: assaulting a high-ranking, young female passenger. After this, they hoped that Pelsaert would discipline the crew severely, and that Jacobsz ad Cornelis would be able to turn the men against them by convincing the rest of the crew that Pelsaert was a tyrant. But, the woman identified her attackers, meaning Pelsaert wouldn't have to discipline the entire crew.

Before the next plan for mutiny could be made, the Batavia struc on a reef on June 4th, 1629 near Beacon Island. Many of the people were able to swim to Beacon Island, however 40 men drowned in the initial wreck. Little did the survivors know that those who had died first might be the lucky ones.

After searching the island for food and water and coming up empty-handed, it began sinking in how bad their situation was. Pelsaert, accompanied by Jacobsz and others, decided to try and find fresh water. After 11 days of searching in the long-boat, they found it in an unpleasant spot and were unable to land. Pelsaert decided to carry on further on the longboat to try and get to Batavia (modern day Jakarta).It was a 33-day journey and they were able to reach the mainland, despite the difficult open boat journey. Once they reached, Jacobsz was arrested for negligence while Pelsaert was given command of another ship, the Sardam, to return to rescue the other survivors.

However, almost 2 months had passed and Cornelisz had self-appointed himself in charge of the rest of the survivors. Being paranoid because of his attempted-mutiny, he feared Pelsaert would return and arrest he began a plan to hijack the rescue ship and escape. He took control of the remaining food and supplies, and sent some soldiers who posed a threat to his rule to the West Wallabi Island...where he thought they would die.

As the days since Pelsaert had left grew more and more, so did Cornelisz's paranoia. He began killing and trying to get killed anyone he considered a threat. Although it should be noted that some accounts say he only killed one person himself, all the other killings were just under his command. But what about the women aboard? Unfortunately they were not treated as ladies and were kept in so-called "rape tents." 

His goal was apparently to whittle down the island survivors to 45 in order to maximize food and supplies. Cornelisz and his gang killed over 100 men, women, and children. It is said at first, Cornelisz gave reasons for the murders (they were evil, thieves, etc) but eventually the mutineers began to kill for pleasure and entertainment. 

Let me interrupt the story of debauchery quickly - remember those soldiers he sent to West Wallabi Island in hopes of their death? Well, after a couple of weeks they did manage to find water and food...and they survived. However, they were completely unaware at the carnage back on the other island. They sent smoke signals to alert the others about their success in finding food and water. Some lucky survivors were able to escape and flee to that island, where they informed the soldiers about the horrors happening. So, the soldiers began to prepare to defend their strong hold, and built a small limestone/coral fortress.

Sadly, these well-meaning soldiers were no match for the blood-thirsty insurgents and they lost the battle. However, some still survived. 

Soon after the small battle, the rescue ship could be seen...and so a race between Cornelisz's group ad the soldiers, led by Wiebbe Hayes, began. Luckily, Hayes arrived at the Sardam first and told Pelsaert everything that had transpired in the two months since he had first left on the longboat. A short battle between Cornelisz's group and the Sardam occured, but all the mutineers were quickly captured. They were brought ashore and all the mutineers were punished accordingly.

But, recently, a grave containing five of the passengers of the Batavia were found. The bodies were buried neatly in a row and showed no signs of the violence that the Batavia is now infamous for. It is likely they died soon after the initial wreck from dehydration or another natural causes. 

This is not the first gravesite to be found of Batavia passengers, in fact one skeleton was missing the top of his skull from a sword blow. His body was dragged and not given a nice and neat burial that the newly discovered other passengers were given.

Lisbeth Smits, who is currently working on Batavia victims was able to learn even more about the people who suffered after the shipwreck. You are what you eat takes on a whole new meaning, as Smits was able to measure the skeletons' "precise elemental compositions, which chemically hint at the victims' diets and home countries." This study revealed that passengers came from all over - Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to name some. Smits says that scholarship will be published in the next year, so scientists are working on the case as we speak.

However, some of these skeletons died so gruesomely that it must be hard work, decides the 100+ years that have passed since this horrendous event. Smits says, “I have been doing this work for a very long time, so I’m used to violent know exactly what happened to them and how gruesome it was, [so] it does come close, but you always remain objective.”


This image is of Beacon Island, liscensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) by Guy de la Bedoyere