Daily Event for June 4

June 4, 1629 the sailing ship Batavia was wrecked off the Abrolhos Islands in Western Australia, the ship did not sink for a week but, while abandoning her forty people drowned. This was only the beginning for this event began a tale human brutality which lead to the deaths of over 120 men, women and children of the ship's 318 passengers and crew. In Charles Darwin's theory only the strongest survive, on the islands off Australia the strongest murder the weakest.

The Batavia was the flagship of a fleet of seven bound for Java with general cargo and of course, money. Sometime after resupplying at the Cape of Good Hope she was separated from the rest of the fleet in a storm but, continued her journey, alone. As the flagship Batavia carried the fleet commander, Francois Pelsaert so under his command captain Ariaen Jacobsz, who apparently had no love for Pelsaert, continued until the time of the wreck.

Jacobsz was on watch the night of the wreck and was blamed for the loss of his ship by Pelsaert and was placed under arrest and Pelsaert took a boat and several dozen men and set sail for Java to arrange a rescue. Java however is over 1,200 miles from the Abrolhos Islands and considering the chances of over 40 men in a small boat actually reaching Java there was opportunity for crimes unabated by any human laws.

Jeronimus Cornelisz, a Dutch merchant and the senior company man still on the island took control. Cornelisz it seems was a megalomaniac and murderer now loose and under no restrictions. Without laws and penalties to restrict human behavior, the most debase and animistic tendencies emerge. The survivors were dying from thirst and Cornelisz, sensing he could use this to his advantage, sent twenty or so soldiers to another island to find water. He had done this because he thought they would die and no longer be a threat to what he had in mind for the others.

He selected a group of young ship's officers and soldiers who he persuaded to join him and his new dictatorship. Then began a reign of rape and murder which took the lives of over 120 of the survivors. Fearing nothing because he had sent the soldiers to die on another island and, because he believed the fleet commander would never return, he and his band of thugs killed for fun, raped at will and plundered what ever they could from those who survived.

It was not long before the soldiers, who had been sent to die looking for water, lit a smoke signal which was seen by Cornelisz, and before too long a small war was being fought between Cornelisz and the soldiers. The first attack was soundly repelled as were several others before a ship was sighted on the horizon.

On Sept. 17, 1629 during the last battle the yacht Sardaam was seen and some of the defenders took a small boat to warn them of the mutiny and of the murderous reign of Cornelisz. When the arrived at the Sardaam they found the ship to be under the command of the Francois Pelsaert who had in fact made it to Java, and returned to rescue the survivors as he said he would. To his horror he was told of Cornelisz and what had become of those left behind. He was surely stunned but took immediate action to round up all of the men involved, including Cornelisz.

Trials were held and Cornelisz was executed after having his hands cut off, several others were also executed on the spot. Of the remaining mutineer's two were abandoned on Australia and the rest were brought to Batavia  where many were executed. The executions came after some had hands cut off, some were whipped and at least one was broken on the wheel. In total 210 people died before this terrible episode was concluded.

© 2006 Michael W. Pocock

Batavia replica
(Photo courtesy of Peter F. Williams)
© Peter F. Williams all rights reserved