Today we pick up where the first episode left off. If you recall, Jacobsz and Pelsaert had evacuated most of the survivors on to one of two islands in the Abrolhos. They seized a few days’ worth of supplies, then set sail in a lifeboat for Indonesia with a group of 46 others – mostly made up of the best sailors. We’ll check in on them later.
Meantime 70 men remained on the wreck of the Batavia itself. Sensing most of these men had turned on him, Pelsaert had shouted to them to make rafts and make their own way to the Abrolhos. The 70 would remain on the ship for nine more days, till 12th June – when the Batavia would finally break up and toss the men into the ocean. Some built makeshift rafts in the days leading up to the disintegration. Others attempted to swim ashore. Just 25 of the 70 would make it to the island in one piece. Jeronimus Cornelisz was the last survivor to make it to safety. He had clung to the bowsprit (the beam at the very front of a ship) as it broke loose, and managed to float to within earshot of the island. The people on the island were very glad to see him alive, carrying him to the camp and finding food and dry clothes for him.
Jeronimus awoke to find a population of 208 men, women and children on the Abrolhos. The final destruction of the ship had washed hundreds of gallons of water and wine ashore in barrels, but food was scarce – the survivors had all but killed off the sea lions which once inhabited the Abrolhos. The surgeon Frans Jansz had brought a council together to manage resources. Jansz had formerly been the highest ranked person on the island but Jeronimus washing ashore immediately changed the pecking order in Jeronimus’ favor. Jeronimus Cornelisz reign started well enough – it would soon descend into an unspeakable bloodbath.
He fretted if Jacobsz and Pelsaert made it to Batavia, Indonesia; Pelsaert would report the attack on Creesje, leading Jacobsz to spill the beans on the plot to mutiny. Jeronimus knew if this happened he would be done for, unless he could gather a crew of mutineers ready to act when the rescue ship arrived. He also realized having so many survivors would deplete the supplies, making them too weak to mutiny when the ship arrived. To ensure he had no opposition on the island, and that they would be fighting fit, a lot of people must die. To complicate matters, by late June a rumor began to circulate that Jeronimus and Jacobsz were planning to mutiny, before the wreck.
By the end of June Jeronimus had gathered two dozen men behind him and his plan, many being original mutineers. This group included the German mercenaries Jan Hendricxsz and Mattys Beer. Lance Corporal ‘Stone Cutter’ Pietersz, Jacobsz’ friend Allert Janssen, and a young upper middle class kid with a nasty disposition called David Zevanck. Jeronimus gathered the mutineers into two tents, clear of the others, so they could freely plot. He stopped the ship’s carpenters from building rescue boats out of flotsam – and began planning to break the survivors into several, manageable groups over the islands. Having first sent a group out to scout the other islands for water, Jeronimus put his plan in place.
First the mutineers dropped a group of around 45 on an island they had named Seal Island. A smaller group to another island named Traitor’s Island. Days later Jeronimus announced his plan to send a group to another island they called the High land, with a mission to find water. The high land had been checked twice, without luck, for water already. A group of 20 men, mostly tough soldiers who were thought to be company loyalists were sent to the high land with instructions to set signal fires if they found a well or stream. This group included one Wiebbe Hayes.
The murders began in the first week of July. Two soldiers, Abraham Hendricx and Ariaen Ariaensz, were caught drunk on stolen wine. Hendricx was the actual thief, Ariaensz only crime was of consumption. Jeronimus insisted to the council both men should be executed. The other councilors felt execution was a fair punishment for Hendricx, but not Ariaensz. This was exactly what Jeronimus wanted, on the 5th July he replaced the councilors with mutineers and immediately had Hendricx executed. The same day Jeronimus accused two of the carpenters of trying to steal a home made boat, so they were executed too. The three men were run through by the mutineers sabers. The next day he sent several reinforcements out into the sea, allegedly on a mission to help Wiebbe Hayes on the High Land. He announced four men would be ferried across each day. Once clear of the island the men were bound, and three of them tossed into the water to drown. The fourth, cadet Andries Liebent, begged so convincingly for his life the mutineers spared him taking him on as a fellow mutineer. Two days later another journey was made in the direction of the High Land. It played out in exactly the same fashion; this time a young man named Andries de Vries was spared from Davey Jones’ locker.
On the 9th July something unexpected happened. Wiebbe Hayes’ party found water, lighting signal fires on the shore. This was a game changer. For one, when Jeronimus didn’t send a raft for Hayes it would be clear Jeronimus was up to no good. Second, a water supply on the High Land ensured the soldiers survival. Third, the signal fires caught the attention of the survivors on Traitor’s Island – who had built rafts and were now furiously paddling to the High Land. Seven of the mutineers were sent off in a flotsam yawl to stop them. The mutineers boarded one raft, causing four of the men to jump off in a panic and drown. The rafts, led by Peter Jansz, were ordered back to Jeronimus’ island. Once in the shallows Jeronimus came out to greet the party. In plain view of all he gave the order to kill. Jansz and his compatriots were immediately hacked to death. Four men did manage to escape the raft and wade ashore. They plead for Jeronimus mercy as Jan Hendricxsz and Andries Jonas caught up with them and ran them through. Three women, no doubt in deep shock, were left alive on the raft. Jeronimus ordered them to be rowed back out into the deep, choppy waters and thrown overboard to drown.
So it was, in full view of the survivors, that the terror began. In all 50 survivors would be killed by the middle of the month. This included young Hilletgie Hardens. Hilletgie was the daughter of Hans Hardens, a German soldier turned mutineer in the wake of the Jansz killing. On 10th July, Jeronimus invited Hans and his wife Annekan to his tent to have a few drinks and a meal. He then sent Jan Hendricxsz to strangle Hilletgie. The following day a heartbroken Hans, all the same, swore an oath of fealty to Jeronimus. Andries de Vries, recently spared, was sent into the medical tent where eleven survivors lay gravely ill. He was given orders to cut their throats. Possibly in fear of his own life he did the bloody deed. He would be sent back a few days later to kill 4 more survivors who had since turned for the worse. On the 12th Jeronimus gave orders to kill Passchier van de Ende and Jacop Drayer on charges of theft – though both men were physically imposing, and thus a threat. Hendricxsz, Zevanck, Van Os and Lucas Gellisz were sent to dispatch the two men.
Two distinct camps had developed on the island. One, the mutineers – well fed, a little bored, propagandized by Jeronimus to believe their future held adventure on the high seas and great wealth. The other, everyone else, constantly terrified they may say the wrong thing – even look at someone wrong- and find themselves on the receiving end of a mutineer’s saber. By mid July the mutineers were also doling out vicious beatings on a whim.
Jeronimus then turned his attentions towards Seal Island. The Seal Island group was made up of a handful of men, pregnant women and mostly, cabin boys. Led by Cornelis Jansz and Corporal Gabriel Jacobszoon, the group numbered around 45. Jeronimus sent a group of seven mutineers over in the yawl to murder all the men and boys, but leave the women alive. They arrived on the 15th and began hacking and slashing away from the offset. The Seal Islanders had seen the previous killings and built boats in preparation of an invasion. Jansz, alongside 7 other men escaped to the High Land. 15 of the cabin boys managed to outrun the attackers and find hiding places for themselves. One young man on the island, Abraham Gerritsz, whom Pelsaert had saved in Sierra Leone turned mutineer, killing one of the cabin boys. The mutineers would leave with Gerritsz, only to return a few nights later to finish off all but three of the cabin boys, who again successfully fled. On a third trip back to the island, 24th July, the mutineers finished the job – capturing the final three boys. On the journey back one of the three threw the other two overboard to drown, thus taking the oath and joining the mutineers.
Jeronimus himself had yet to kill anyone, but desired to know the feeling of taking a life. His victim? a baby who had been born aboard the Batavia on the voyage out. His method? Using his apothecary’s kit he put a poison together. Surprisingly the poison failed to kill the infant, instead putting the child into a coma. A few days’ later he sent another mutineer who had likely joined him to avoid being killed, the clerk Salomon Deschamps, to strangle the child.
On 21st July Jeronimus turned his attentions to the family of the preacher Gijsbert Bastiaensz. Bastiaensz, you may recall, was travelling with his large family (he and his wife Mary were travelling with 7 of their 8 children) and were one of the VIP families who sat at the Head Merchant’s table. The family were looking for a fresh start after the failure of their mill, and had some worth to the VOC as a lay preacher. Bastiaensz’ eldest daughter Judick had caught the eye of a mutineer named Coenraat Van Huyssen. Van Huyssen was smitten. Judick didn’t want to die at the hands of a man who had killed half a dozen passengers already, so the couple got engaged. Jeronimus wasn’t aghast at their love story, and saw some use in having a preacher around – but decided the rest of the family must die. On the night of the 21st Judick and Gijsbert were summoned to Jeronimus’ tent for a meal and some wine, while a group of seven mutineers entered the Bastiaensz tent and stabbed Mary and the remaining children to death.
Speaking of very dubious ‘love stories’; we have not checked in on Creesje in some time. If you remember she had been travelling with her servant Zwaantie Hendricx, and over the course of the journey had a falling out with Zwaantie. Married skipper Ariaen Jacobsz made a pass for also married Creesje, only to be rebuffed. Jacobsz then turned his attentions to Zwaantie – who was taken aboard the lifeboat headed for Indonesia with the skipper and head merchant. Creesje was left to fend for herself on the island. Well, technically she was one of a group of seven passengers who were in an especially precarious position. Seven women from the Batavia remained alive on the island – the pregnant women of Seal Island were massacred in a subsequent raid for the cabin boys. Judick Bastiaensz was one. As she was engaged to Coenraat Van Huyssen, the only unwelcome advances she had to deal with were from Coenraat himself. Five of the women, all wives of soldiers and sailors, were kept alive to serve the sexual needs of all in sundry. Creesje had been claimed by Jeronimus himself. Whereas the five soldiers’ wives were subjected to rape whenever a mutineer felt the urge, Jeronimus spent weeks wooing Creesje with sonnets and boozy meals by candlelight. Creesje kept him at arms length until, one night David Zevanck threatened to move her to the tent with the other five women unless she show Jeronimus some affection. That night she yielded to Jeronimus’ ‘charms’.
Throughout July, and into August the killings continued, at this point seemingly only to keep the mutineers entertained – as by now the island was providing enough food and rainwater to keep everyone going. A small handful of artisans were spared, as they were seen as necessary. Of course Jeronimus realized he had the problem on the High Land to deal with. Six weeks earlier he’d sent a large group of soldiers and other able bodied men over to the island to die, believing it contained no natural resources. This proved to be far from the case. Within a few weeks they had discovered two wells. There were birds aplenty to catch. A flourishing fishing spot lay just off the High Land, and a member of the wallaby family called a Tammar hopping round the island in large numbers. From the second week of July, Wiebbe Hayes and the occupants of the High Land were aware of Jeronimus’ mutiny, when escapees from Seal Island landed on their home-made rafts. Hayes began preparing for the inevitable battle with Jeronimus and the mutineers.
Hey all, I think we’ll need two more weeks in total to conclude this Tale – join me next week for the penultimate episode of The Wreck of the Batavia.