Part Six – Water, Water Everywhere…
This week we’re going to stop and rewind a little. Much of Cornelisz’ actions were predicated on his assumption he was a dead man if Pelsaert and Jacobsz survived the 3,000 kilometer journey from the Abrolhos, up to Java, Indonesia. It was not a sure thing they would. 48 survivors were crammed into a 30 foot lifeboat meant to only hold a maximum 40 passengers, with only around six days’ worth of water. The sea was very choppy and a storm was on the horizon. The boat, overloaded as it was, only had around two feet of clearance from the water. Betting odds on Pelsaert v Ocean would easily favor the ocean. Today let’s discuss the journey aboard the longboat.
On 8th June 1629 the longboat sailed towards the coast of Australia, initially with a mission of finding more drinking water for the survivors. Once they had ferried several weeks’ worth of water back, the plan was to then head for Indonesia and arrange a rescue. From what little they knew for Australia, they knew around 500 kilometers north of Houtman Abrolhos there was a river which flowed into the sea – “the river of Jacob Remmessens” – probably Yardie Creek in Gascoyne, Western Australia. They could refill their barrels there, if they could locate it. This was a long way off however. They were desperately hoping they would come across something long before then. When they sighted the coast on the afternoon of the 8th June they were greeted with a vast wasteland. Beyond the high cliffs stretched an arid desert. To try to get any closer was to take your life in your hands, as a heavy surf crashed against the boulders. On they sailed, out to sea, where it was a little safer. The coast stretched in this way for hundreds of miles. Dangerous surf, cliffs reaching 750 feet, arid land.
On 9th June a violent storm came in, which threatened at once to swamp the longboat, and to dash it against the rocky coast. The sailors fought for their lives to steer the boat to safety. The storm seemed to follow the longboat for the following day and a half – leaving a worn down, heavily soaked crew shivering half to death in it’s wake. It was hardly like they could rest however – the sea was extremely choppy, and threatened to sink them if they didn’t constantly bail water from the boat. They had taken a smaller yawl, full of supplies and empty water barrels, with them. At this point the yawl had to be cut loose before it dragged them down. The boat continued north.
After a week of searching the coast for a source of water; their own supply of water nearly gone, and means of transporting water back to the Abrolhos at the bottom od Davy Jones’ locker, the crew of the longboat were becoming increasingly desperate. On 14th June, smoke was spotted somewhere inland, and there was finally some land where they could beach the longboat. The crew landed and searched for water, to no avail. Heading further north they found another beach the following day. This time, some way inland, they found a dozen pools of drinkable water and a discarded campfire – left behind, one would assume, by a group of Aborigines. Pelsaert and Jacobsz knew they had no way of collecting enough water to return to the Abrolhos with supplies – but they just might have enough to make it to the town of Batavia, Indonesia. After making all the passengers sign an oath of agreement – for this could be seen as dereliction of duty – they headed northwards towards Indonesia. For eleven days they sailed, through much calmer waters. This, all the same must have been an excruciating journey – making six days of water last nearly twice as long; the sun relentlessly beaming down on them. A little rain did fall in the final days, but when they sighted Java on 27th June the longboat had a little over a liter of water remaining. They found a waterfall where they could refill their water barrel, then sailed the final leg to the town of Batavia. On 3rd July the longboat touched down in Batavia – all 48 survivors having survived the arduous journey.
Batavia, Jakarta as it is now known, was very much the image of a Dutch town, from it’s European style architecture to it’s citizens, inappropriately dressed in the same heavy, woolen clothes they wore back at home. It did have a small sector in which the indigenous people lived that had a more Asiatic feel, but on the whole it was like someone had transported a small part of Holland to another galaxy. An enclave of the VOC, it was ruled over by the governor general. The governor general at the time was a rather ruthless and unforgiving man named Jan Pietersz Coen. Coen’s first term as governor had ended in an international incident, after having tortured and executed a group made up of British merchants and Japanese mercenaries. The men were wrongly suspected of espionage. Britain were livid, eventually settling for the removal of Coen from the colony. Back for a second term, under an assumed name, Pelsaert had no reason to believe he would be any less irascible this time. On 9th July Pelsaert was summoned to Coen’s office to explain how he had wrecked the VOC’s flagship, abandoned hundreds of survivors, and left somewhere in the order of 20 million, in today’s value in silver, stuck on a coral reef.
Pelsaert put the blame on the navigators – he kept asking where they were, they kept assuring him they were on track. They abandoned the other survivors out of necessity. He claimed he rescued the silver and jewels before they had left, and set out buoys in the sea, so divers could find the wreck later. Though thoroughly unimpressed, luckily for Pelsaert, Coen had nearly run into the Abrolhos himself, on his return voyage in 1627. He decided to send Pelsaert back to the wreck with a rescue ship, The Sardam. While there he was under orders to bring back as much silver, jewels and expensive equipment as they could salvage. Of course they were to rescue the survivors too. Coen made it very clear to Pelsaert, his future in the VOC depended on him rescuing the money.
He also shared his suspicions of the attempted mutiny by Jacobsz and boatswain Jan Evertsz, the latter of whom Creesje Jans may have actually recognized in the attack. On the 13th July both men were arrested. Under torture Evertsz confessed to the attack of Creesje. Evertsz would be hanged for his part in the assault. As far as the literature states Jacobsz was never charged, possibly never tortured – though he remained locked up for his part in grounding the ship. It appears he died in jail.
The Sardam left the town of Batavia on 15th July. By 10th August they were within 50 miles of the Abrolhos – though it would prove extremely difficult to locate the island chain. August rolled into September. We’ll come back to what Pelsaert discovered on 16th September, but suffice to say for now when we last left Cornelisz a war was brewing. Several people on his island – sometimes called Beacon Island, occasionally Batavia’s Graveyard – had managed to escape to the High Land. The escapees and the soldiers on the High Land had coalesced around a charismatic private, of which very little is known. We know he was probably from Friesland, and in his 40s. Resourceful, tough and highly capable, Wiebbe Hayes would prove the most formidable challenge to the heretic and his mutineers yet. Join us next week for the final installment in The Wreck of the Batavia.