From 1974 to 1978 a vicious, sometimes cannibalistic war raged between two tribes in Gombe National Park,Tanzania. On one side was the Kasakela, the other side, the much larger Kahana tribe from the south of the region. They once were one large tribe, but a falling out in 1971 set the stage for this guerrilla war (as in the Spanish word for war – guerra – not the ape) The war would only end when a larger, foreign power stepped in, the Kalande. Our primary source for this tale comes from the primatologist, Dame Jane Goodall, the combatants our chimpanzee cousins.
Shakespeare once said uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, I have no doubt Humphrey knew this first-hand...
In late 1970 the united Kasakela – Kahana tribe were struck by a tragedy. Their leader, Leakey; a chimp well loved and respected by all, died. The mantle of leadership fell on the Kasakela elder Humphrey; a chimp loved by many, but lacking the innate sense of power to be respected by up and coming alphas. Two Kahana brothers, Hugh and Charley, saw Humphrey as weak and began lobbying for the top job themselves. After a series of violent clashes, the tribe split into two factions: Humphrey’s Kasakelas, and Hugh & Charlie’s Kahana.
Duke university anthropologist Joseph Feldblum later fed Jane Goodall’s notes into a computer, which showed a series of relationships – apparent politicing and escalations which looked all too human. Political tensions simmered between the factions, finally escalating to all out war in 1974.
On 7th January 1974, Gobi; a young Kahana male, was sitting in a tree in Kahana territory. While enjoying a feed, six male Kasakela surrounded him, beating Gobi to death in a vicious assault. Expert observers have read the Gobi assassination as an act of instrumental violence – a deliberate declaration of war on the Kahana. The six never ventured to this part of the park. Gobi often did. The assassins, it is believed, sought Gobi out that day with the express intent of sending a message to the Kahana.
What followed was four years of escalating attacks and counter attacks between Kahana and Kasakela. Male chimps were ambushed and beaten to death, females kidnapped and subsumed into the rival group. The series of attacks and ambushes had an eerily strategic nature to them – both sides gathered intelligence in observing enemy movements. Both sides coordinated their attacks. There appeared to be no happenstance. After four long, bloody years King Humphrey’s Kasakela won. The cost? a genocide. All the male Kahana were killed in the war. The Kasakela occupied Kahana territory, until the neighbouring superpower, the Kalande, stepped in. The Kalande forced King Humphrey out and re-established Kahana rule in the south of the park. The women and children of the Kahana would eventually re-populate the territory.
Of the war, Jane Goodall wrote…
“Often when I woke in the night, horrific pictures sprang unbidden to my mind – Satan [one of the apes], cupping his hand below Sniff’s chin to drink the blood that welled from a great wound on his face… Jomeo tearing a strip of skin from Dé’s thigh; Figan, charging and hitting, again and again, the stricken, quivering body of Goliath, one of his childhood heroes,” – (Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe.)
In spite of the occasional madness from the likes of Pliny the Elder, who believed cranes headed south in winter to fight an eternal war with the pygmy of Africa (surely a Tale for another day?); war had seemed a very human occupation for a long time. There were no written observations of such behaviour. Animals hunting in packs? sure. Animals conspiring to systematically eliminate an enemy tribe? This seemed a uniquely human trait. Subsequent observance of animal groups in the wild has since recast their lives as far more complex, far more ‘human’.
Originally published February 13th 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Edited 2020. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow
Edward Bulwer Lytton, a man of letters, once wrote ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. He wrote several other memorable phrases, one of which has led to his name adorning an annual competition, the goal of which is to write the most hilariously bad, convoluted opening sentences ever written. Just go and download an e-book of Paul Clifford and you will see why. It is a great phrase though isn’t it? The pen is mightier than the sword. Think about it for a second.
In 1860 presidential hopeful Abraham Lincoln, then very much a fan of the barber’s chair, got a letter from an 11 year old girl named Grace Bedell. She told Honest Abe his unshaven face looked too thin. He should grow a beard cause “all the ladies liked whiskers”. In 1894 an anonymous letter containing various state secrets was handed to French intelligence. It led to the wrongful arrest of a Jewish officer named Alfred Dreyfus. He would languish on the infamous Devil’s Island until 1906; but lest we forget it was an 1898 public letter “J’Accuse” written by the author Emile Zola which sparked the public outrage that finally freed him. A 1917 telegram sent by German Foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to his counterpart in Mexico, promising them the return of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico to them if they invaded the USA the moment the States entered World War One was a precipitating moment in the Great war. Needless to say it backfired horribly for the Germans when the letter was intercepted then leaked by British intelligence.
Einstein wrote a letter to Franklin Roosevelt, which warned of the dangerous possibility Nazi Germany could build a superweapon. His letter kicked off the Atomic Age. Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, which stated “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, kicked the civil rights movement into high gear. My focus this week, however, is a letter sent by a 14 year old girl at Sligo Junior High School to a man known as CJ the DJ, and how that letter may have changed the course of popular music forever.
On November 22nd 1963 CBS Morning News ran a piece on an all but unknown British band whose very presence back in Old Blighty was a sight to behold. A bona fide phenomenon, girls, and no doubt some boys fell head over heels at the very mention of their name. It may have garnered more attention but for an incident in Dallas that afternoon which would eclipse everything else that day. The Kennedy assassination overshadowed the 95th birthday of Franklin Roosevelt’s former vice president John Nance Garner, the deaths of CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley, and Walt Disney’s announcement of the planned site for Disneyworld. The unnoticed piece on this group of mop topped Liverpudlians was to be re-run that evening on Walter Cronkite’s CBS evening news, but as you could imagine, it got shelved, and passed more or less unnoticed.
The piece would resurface on the evening news, however, on 10th December. Cronkite felt the USA, deep in mourning over President Kennedy, needed something to lighten the mood. What better than a tale on four charming British entertainers you never knew you needed in your life? The piece did not spark a revolution, but Marsha Albert of Silver Spring, Maryland was bowled over by the group. A motivated Marsha wrote a letter to WWDC-AM radio DJ Carroll James jr, which begged him to play some songs by this group, asking “Why can’t we have music like that here in America?”.
(This author chooses to ignore that America was making some fantastic music at the time, when you got away from Fabian and teen idols named Bobby, and that the group in question’s first album contained covers of songs by Arthur Alexander, The Cookies, The Shirelles, Lenny Welch, and The Isley Brothers. Their second album, released in the UK on the day of the Kennedy Assassination featured covers of Peggy Lee, The Marvelettes, Chuck Berry, The Miracles, The Donays and Barrett Strong songs.)
This author too, is a fan of the group in question and, anyway the point is America was missing out on this cultural phenomenon that was taking off across the Atlantic.
Marsha’s letter got CJ the DJ seriously thinking about this, and how to get an advance copy of this record that had been released in the UK but was not planned for any release until early 1964 in the USA. CJ the DJ spoke with station management, then a friend who worked for British Airways, and within a few days had a copy of I Want To Hold Your Hand, in his hot little hand.
On 17th December Marsha Albert was invited to the WWDC-AM studio to introduce the record, by her new favorite band, The Beatles. The US release of their album was brought forward, just in time for Christmas, and they were on their way to massive fame and fortune stateside, and around the world.
Thank you, Marsha Albert, for caring enough to put pen to paper.
Today’s tale is set in the Asiatic town of Libyssa, in Bithynia – on the periphery of what is now Turkey. The date, some time around 182 BCE. Hannibal Barca, perhaps one of the all time great generals in world history is pacing the room like a caged Barbary Lion. His life, from the age of nine had lead to this point – ever since his father made him take an oath he would “Never be a friend of Rome.” At the time Rome was a republic with it’s greatest days ahead of it. The tough, militaristic state had yet to really flex – to show what they were capable of. Carthage, was already a superpower, but one on the decline. The two powers had come to blows over the Carthaginian island of Sicily, now part of modern Italy. For 23 years the two superpowers butted heads. They fought on land and sea – and finally the young lion, the Roman republic, got the better of Carthage.
Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar, had been present at the Peace of Lutatius; where Carthage was ordered out of Sicily for good, to be peaceful to Syracuse and her allies, to pay 56 tons of silver over 20 years as reparations, and to hand over their weapons. A leading general in the war against Rome, Hamilcar agreed to all terms bar one – he and his men refused to disarm under any circumstances. Peace had been a relative term for Carthage, As soon as the first Punic war ended, Hamilcar was sent out to quash several rebellions from their own people. The unsightliness of it left him with a lifelong hatred of the Romans – which he passed on to his young son.
Pacing in that Bithynian compound, one wonders; did Hannibal cast his mind back to his youth. As a young general, he marched an army of 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and of course 38 elephants over the Alps, hitting the Romans where they never saw an attack coming. To cross the alps with an army, and war elephants was madness, utterly suicidal – yet he did it. On the other side, Hannibal’s army wreaked havoc. Though half his army died on the Alps crossing, his remaining force made short work of the Roman’s, time and time again. Ticinus, Trebia, Lake Trasimene. Nothing stood in the way of him sacking Rome itself – other than the fact he left his siege engines in the Pyrenees; and the oligarchs back home refused him the financial backing to build new ones. The war in Italy would eventually wind down to a stalemate.
If, one’s life flashes before your eyes when facing your demise, the battle of Cannae would loom disproportionately large. A masterclass in completely obliterating a much bigger army, military strategists with much greater understanding of such things than myself, still rate Cannae as one of the all-time greatest battles of history. The Romans outnumbered Hannibal and his allies by almost 2 to 1. They were slaughtered at a rate of more than 11 to 1 in the battle. Hannibal’s cavalry encircled the Romans from the outside. Within Roman ranks, a band of 500 ‘deserters’ revealed hidden short swords and cut them to ribbons. Death came from all directions. Pliny would write of 67,000 dead Romans, Polybius of 5,700 dead Carthaginians. In the aftermath, many Roman allies jumped ship. The Romans turned to guerrilla warfare, never again fielding a large army against Hannibal on Roman soil.
The Romans refused all peace treaties, enlisted all their men into military service, and carried on. Carthage’s oligarchs responded indifferently to Hannibal’s requests for the siege engines needed to topple Rome itself. In 202 BC Rome eventually landed a king hit, at Zama, modern day Tunisia. The Roman Scipio Africanus succeeded where Hannibal failed, and the oligarchs declared peace.
Hannibal must have cast his mind back to his middle age, as an avenging, populist politician. He limited the term an oligarch could rule from life, to two one year terms. He taxed them so they would pay their fair share. Just as his reforms were bearing fruit however, the accusation came from Rome that he was colluding with Antiochus III of Syria to overthrow the Roman empire. He would find himself exiled, forced to spend his remaining years on the lam, a soldier of fortune for whoever a. could afford him and b. would be willing to harbor him, knowing Rome could arrive at any time. Antiochus took him in for a while, then Artaxias I of Armenia. For a while he hid out in the pirates’ den which was Crete, before finding employ with Prusias I of Bithynia.
Bithynia would eventually succumb to the Roman yoke, and Prusias would betray Hannibal anywhere between 183 and 181 BC, though they were told to find him themselves. Roman soldiers would track him to his house and demand his surrender. One tale has it, in a ‘live by the sword’ moment, that Hannibal had recently injured his hand by his own sword, and the wound was sceptic. Another tells, in his final moments he downed a vial of poison. Whatever the case, the Romans entered the premises, cautiously, to a deathly silence. The old lion had passed, a note on the table read
“Let us release the Romans from their long anxiety, since it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man’s death.”
Hi all just a quick update across all the socials. The final episode of the Batavia saga has been waylaid by needing to move home. The house I’ve been living at for close to 12 years has recently been sold, although I do have a new house to move to in the coming weeks.
I’ve got a couple of tales set up in reserve, for next week Tuesday, and the week following. I’ll let those drop as planned, so there is a possibility Batavia part 7 may release the same day as one, or even later.
In the meantime, a short tale for this week. As many of you may know the man in the main picture today (sorry email subscribers, I know main photos get lost) was Andrew Jackson. To anyone unsure of who he was, Jackson was the seventh president of the USA. He fought in the revolutionary war, and it’s sequel – the war of 1812 with great distinction. He was a lawyer and land speculator. As president he brought a dozen spittoons to the White House, and a giant wheel of cheese. He fought duels. He was also a monster, responsible for the deaths of a great many native Americans, but that is a tale for another day.
Today’s tale is about an African Grey just like this beautiful creature, below.
On winning the presidency in 1828 Andrew Jackson bought a companion for his wife Rachel; an African Grey parrot called Poll. He would be especially busy. Being relative political outsiders, Andrew worried his wife would be a fish out of water and need some company. Poor Rachel, heavily stressed from the brutal presidential race, would pass from a massive heart attack before her husband took office. President Jackson took on the rearing of Poll the parrot himself. Thinking it hilarious, he taught the young parrot to swear like a trooper.
Old Hickory would stay in office till 1837. He would pass on June 8th 1845 of dropsy and heart failure.
His funeral looked to be a dignified affair, that was until a lone voice reverberated from the back of the church. Someone was volubly swearing up a storm. Poll the parrot, visibly distressed at the gathering, was escorted from the church, all the while swearing up a blue streak.
Hi all this is part six of a seven part series, to pick up anywhere along the way click one, two, three, fourFive.
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.
Hi all this is part five of a seven part series, to pick up anywhere along the way click one, two, three, four.
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.
Hi all welcome back. We just left the tale in the wake of the public embarrassment of skipper Ariaen Jacobsz for his drunken pleasure cruise around the bay. This incident would escalate quickly, in a way that no-one expected.
Furious over being chided by Upper-merchant Pelsaert; Jacobsz, with aid by Jeronimus Cornelisz began to plot a mutiny. If the crews of ships like the Batavia were well treated, or even well rewarded for their efforts it may have been a difficult task to sow dischord and cause a rebellion. However this was far from the case. The men onboard the ship would risk their lives on these voyages for very little in pay. They were sent out carrying well upwards of $10 Million, in modern dollar value, in silver. They came back with $100 Million in goods. The voyage was grueling, and the job in general was a death sentence for most. All of the risk was on them, next to none of the profits. At least the merchants could make questionable side deals, take bribes – even discreetly borrow company funds, lending it out to local farmers at rates of 18% per annum; pocketing the profits – as Pelsaert himself had done in Agra. If Jacobsz and Cornelisz could gather enough disgruntled men together they could seize the ship, then turn pirate for a few years- making everyone rich beyond their wildest dreams. After that a comfy retirement outside the bounds of the VOC would beckon.
A number of attempts to mutiny aboard VOC ships had been made in the past. The vast majority failed for the same reasons – a large ship like an East Indiaman needed a lot of skilled sailors, meaning going outside of your trusted circles, and often speaking to someone you could not trust to keep quiet. Mutineers often misjudged someone completely and found themselves turned in. The sailors and soldiers rarely had ready access to the weapons. Sometimes, the ships travelling in large convoys – The Batavia was in a group of 18 herself – other ships intervened. In 1615 a ship named the Meeuwtje became one of a select few to pull off a successful mutiny. After a failed first attempt they found themselves blown off course by a heavy storm. At first the VOC believed the Meeuwtje had gone to Davy Jones’ locker – but a few years later one of the mutineers was captured, having clandestinely re-entered Holland. The mutineers took control of the ship – looted all of value – then settled in France with their ill gotten gains. The conspirators knew all this only too well. They knew also a failed mutiny meant certain death. Within a few days Jacobsz and Cornelisz had recruited 18 men to the cause, and were quietly sounding out other crew.
This all came to a grinding halt however when Francisco Pelsaert suddenly fell ill, struck down, it would seem with a sudden mystery illness.
For a month the conspirators watched and waited, as Upper-merchant Pelsaert remained on death’s door. If he dies Jacobsz and under-merchant Cornelisz take the ship by proxy. The longer they wait however, if he does pull through, the more likely they won’t have collected the requisite numbers. The mutineers, including boatswain Jan Ezertsz, Allert Janssen – a thug with one murder conviction already, Ryckert Woutersz – another roughneck, and a handful of soldiers including lance corporal ‘Stone Cutter’ Pietersz – all waited. Recruitment and planning put on hold. A month went by and as suddenly as the illness set on, a weak but very much in the land of the living Pelsaert emerged from his cabin. All was lost – unless the conspirators could come up with a plan as audacious as it was just plain odd.
The conspirators agreed they needed an inciting moment – an anonymous crime so egregious Pelsaert would be honour bound to punish everyone on board till the perpetrators owned up. His punitive, malicious action would turn the entire crew against him, fuelling the mutiny. Who or what, they asked would drive him to such unrestrained anger? Conspirators decided they had to target the beautiful, patrician Creesje Jansdochter late at night as she left dinner for her own cabin. The bulk of the crew would be below decks as she left the main cabin. There would be no witnesses to the attack. The conspirators first plan was to slash her cheeks with a knife, though they settled on something less physically disfiguring.
On the evening of 14th May 1629 Lucretia Jansdochter left the company of Upper-merchant Pelsaert, the Bastiaensz’s, and other assorted senior officers. As she strolled through the murky darkness Creesje was forcefully seized by a group of hooded men. Dragged swiftly and violently onto the main deck, she felt her skirts being pulled up and the rough, yet wet and sticky sensation of hands going up and down her legs and face. In an instant her attackers had dispersed – leaving Creesje violated; smeared in a foul concoction of tar and dung. Not unsurprisingly Pelsaert was furious, and investigated immediately – but when his investigations brought up naught he didn’t escalate as Jacobsz and Cornelisz expected. Unbeknownst to the conspirators, Pelsaert had begun to pick up hints a plot was underway to bring him down. Still weak, and with no idea how big the threat against him was, Pelsaert decided the most sensible plan was to bide his time. In a month they would arrive in the boat’s namesake, the port of Batavia – modern day Jakarta, Indonesia. Once on land he would punish Creesje’s attackers. Jacobsz, no doubt had similar thoughts. If the ship got to Batavia he, Evertsz and all the others would be arrested, tried for attempted mutiny, then hung from the gallows. The conspirators, had put the ship on course for the rarely sighted continent we now call Australia. As soon as they could see the lucky country the mutineers would spring into action. They would take over the ship, feeding Pelsaert and the other loyalists to the sharks.
So it was the two men maintained a holding pattern. Little did either expect the coming spanner soon to be thrown into the works. They had been guesstimating just how far they had travelled. 1629 was well before marine chronometers could accurately plot longitude. Sailors estimated largely on hunches, something they referred to as ‘dead reckoning’ – if experienced they knew the kind of animal life you would see in different regions. The color of the sea gave them further clues. They would take regular estimates of their speed and extrapolate from there. All knew they were headed towards the mysterious Terra Australis, and should turn due north soon. Jacobsz knew they were a little further south than planned. No-one knew they had travelled 500 miles further than planned.
At 3am, 3rd June 1629, The Batavia ploughed full speed into the Abrolhos. In an instant any sense of a either man’s plan to get out of this mess was cast, violently across the wicked, and expedient coral below.
Hi there readers, today’s post is a short one. I had a fancy introduction written, but it gave the game away from the offset. Today I want to share a tale of the last Chinese Emperor, a man known simply as Puyi. Puyi came to power just shy of his third birthday in 1908, and would find himself deposed following a revolution starting in Wuhan just four years later. He would enjoy an occasional, brief reign later in life as a useful idiot – first as a figurehead for the warlord Zhang Xun in 1917 – then the Japanese in the 2nd Sino Japanese war/ World War Two (1934-1945). For most of his life he was kept like a bird in a gilded cage. Kept in luxury in palatial surroundings, but without the freedom to go where he chose.
Puyi had a learned tutor named Reginald Johnston. Johnston would, later…
Hi all welcome back to the second part (third blog) of my podcast on the wreck of the Batavia, this is Tales of History and Imagination. My name is Simone. Before we delve into the voyage itself it bears talking quickly about why the Dutch sent ships 15 thousand miles out to South East Asia, laden with millions of dollars – in today’s money – of silver and jewels.
The short answer is rotten meat. Before we had methods of preserving meat, most butcheries in Europe sold rotten food. You rarely could sell a whole carcass before it started to turn. You could at least make rotting meat taste edible by masking its badness with spices.
For thousands of years, traders in the Spice Islands of South East Asia had traded with Chinese, Persians, and other Asian traders. For much of this time some of those goods would pass from trader to trader down the Silk Route till it arrived at Black Sea ports, or Constantinople, or Egypt where the goods would be sold to Europeans at a huge mark up. The price reflected the two year journey that bag of peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, mace or nutmeg had gone on – through many hands, to get there. This all began to change when, in 1498, Portuguese ships first sailed all the way down the East Coast of Africa, past the Cape of Good Hope, and on the riches of the East. There was a lot of risk in the journey, but the rewards made from cutting out the middlemen made it worth the risk. In 1494 Pope Alexander VI presided over the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas – where Portugal agreed to dominate the world to the Eastern side of the Cape Verde Islands, Spain to the West.
Others, such as the Dutch and British would soon look to upset that treaty. Their first challenge however would be to get hold of the sea routes themselves – referred to by the Portuguese as ‘Rutters’. These maps were extremely well guarded, but in 1592 a young sailor named Jan Huyghen van Linschoten- who had found his way to India on his own, managed to finally seize a rutter from a Portuguese sailor. When he returned to Holland he wrote three books on what he knew of the region, between 1595 and 1596. People soon after began planning a commercial voyage to the Spice Islands.
The first fleet was a disaster, though more owing to the crew than anything else. The upper merchant on one of the four ships tried to kill the captain of another ship and was shackled for most of the voyage. The man he tried to kill, Cornelis de Houtman quite possibly deserved the attempt on his life. Upon first contact with the locals he became so enraged at the price of the spices that he ordered a volley of cannon fire into the town. Later he got several of his men cut to shreds in Java, then mistook a friendly welcome in Madura as an act of defiance – again firing on a town and killing the welcoming party. They still managed to make a good profit. Soon there were so many Dutch conglomerates sending ships out though that the competition began to drive up the price of spices. In 1602 the various groups colluded to form one authority, the VOC – and the rest is history. After voyages making up to 1000% profits on return, the Dutch economy boomed. They began to dominate the region. So what can we tell of the characters on the Batavia? How was their voyage up to the point they struck Houtman’s Abrolhos? Let’s find out. Welcome to Tales of History and Imagination Episode 12: The Wreck of the Batavia, Part 2, the Voyage..
Hi all today we’ll look at the voyage, but first I should introduce some of our cast- beginning with Francesco Pelsaert.
The upper merchant, Francesco Pelsaert, was born circa 1595 into a Catholic family in Antwerp, Belgium. He had kept his Catholicism under wraps as the VOC only hired protestants. The company had sent him, aged 20, out to Surat, then Agra, India for nine years – where he showed a great talent for languages. He was well liked by the company, for having established trade for indigo dye with the Mughal Empire. He was, however, looked down on for his womanizing. Sleeping with servant girls would have been one thing, but Pelsaert carried on a number of affairs with married women. One affair in particular could have caused a major international incident, when a tryst with the wife of a powerful Mughal nobleman went disastrously wrong.
One night, at his lodgings the noblewoman drank from what she thought was a bottle of Spanish wine. It turned out to be a bottle of Oil of cloves. Today it is still used in tiny doses in a few countries to manage toothache (if anyone has seen the film Marathon Man, this is what the dentist Szell (Laurence Olivier) uses to numb the pain on Thomas ‘Babe’ Levy (Dustin Hoffman) before drilling another hole into his teeth in the torture scene.) It is highly poisonous, and is today a major cause of child poisonings in the land where everything is poisonous, Australia. The noblewoman died immediately. Pelsaert, fearing the fallout, buried her in the garden – leaving the poor husband and her family to wonder what had happened to her. Pelsaert’s commission in Agra would come to an end, not because of the poisoning, but because they felt he had not done enough to win favor in the Mughal court. This cleared the way for his role on the Batavia.
Pelsaert had first met the skipper of the Batavia, on his was back to Europe, as Ariaen Jacobsz just happened to be the captain of the ship bringing him home. The two men quickly grew to hate one another. As far as I can gather that hatred arose out of Pelsaert’s dislike for Jacobsz’s heavy drinking, an inebriated Jacobsz telling Pelsaert what he thought of what Pelsaert thought of him, and the fallout from the incident which saw Jacobsz being publicly told off by a senior VOC official. You could imagine neither would have been overjoyed to find they were to share a cabin even if it was the biggest cabin by far, let alone that they would have to spend several months at sea together.
In October 1628 the ship loaded up it’s cargo, and crew – all up 340 souls – and prepared to sail. Afore the mast, packed in tightly were the sailors – mostly of the criminal under class of Dutch society. On the deck below them a squadron of soldiers, mostly of German extraction, though including a few Scots and one British mercenary. Mid ships you found the group referred to as idlers, as, all going well they would have very little to do on the voyage. Folk such as carpenters, doctors and the like. Out back, where the cabin space was bigger, and where the ship was less apt to rock about, were the officers, and any important travelers. I concentrate on this group a little more as this is where the authors who have written on the Batavia have concentrated most. Suffice to say one soldier in particular does play a huge role in this tale – but we go with what we’ve got – much as I’d like to get into the primary sources and find out a little more about the soldier, Wiebbe Hayes. As aforementioned Pelsaert and Jacobsz were sharing the largest cabin at the very back of the boat – with it’s ample space, room for a large dining table and latticed windows. The two were neighbors with a few people we need to mention though.
First there was the under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz, then two cabins of important travelers. The first traveler was a Calvinist minister named Gijsbert Bastiaensz, his wife and seven children. Bastiaensz, like Cornelisz, had run his own business – in has case a flour mill, which had gone broke because his found itself a horse powered mill in a land of shiny new windmills. The cost of keeping a horse gradually made the mill uncompetitive, till Bastiaensz eventually had to close up and move on.
The other VIP was a woman named Lucretia Jansdochter – ‘Creesje’ to her friends. Creesje was a woman of around 28 years of age – stunningly beautiful by the accounts of all the authors (diminutive as it may be to relate the ladies looks, without some mention of the blokes – it is nice at least to have some physical description of someone on this voyage. It has been impossible to find even a portrait of anyone in this tale). Creesje was the wife of a merchant based in Burma at the time, and having lost all three of their children – some suggest to a pandemic of some description – she had decided to sell up and join her husband. She had no family to speak of in Holland as her parents had died young. Creesje had a servant with her named Zwaantie Hendricx, the two were temperamentally like night and day and disliked one another.
The voyage began on 29th October 1628, and immediately ran into problems. While still off the Dutch coast they were hit by a heavy storm and ran aground on the Walcheren sandbanks – a hazard which claimed around 1 in 5 VOC ships. With much effort Ariaen Jacobsz managed to free the Batavia and they continued, a little flustered but with next to no damage. From there they sailed for the Bay of Biscay, then out to the Atlantic Ocean.
The first leg of their journey would be cold, wet and the sea would be choppy as winter set in. Sea sickness would be rife among the less experienced on the boat. Cleanliness would also go out the window as water on board was for drinking only, and one learned how scarce the amenities were – there were four latrines for 340 people, two of which were reserved for the officers. The Batavia finally reached the North African coast, where calmer currents known as the Horse Latitudes made for calmer sailing – though this also meant a slower pace for a while. On the upside the Batavia would be regularly greeted by dolphins along this stretch, on the downside the days ambled slowly, one after another. Days would revolve around meal times – though the sailors would often break the monotony with singing, amateur theatre productions, gambling, prize fighting and – if the skipper allowed it, a game they called the ‘execution game’ which I gather was something like chicken, but with the loser being tarred.
There would be a lot of just sitting around and talking about whatever came to mind, which would give Jeronimus Cornelisz an opportunity to share his heretical views for the first time with the crew. This went surprisingly well for Jeronimus – he was extremely eloquent when he spoke and was said to have a hypnotic effect on his audience. Many of the men began to look up to him, and he became good friends with the Skipper, Ariaen Jacobsz. One cannot know for sure what the two men discussed, the authors generally believe the great riches to be made in the East, and how attracted the married Jacobsz was to Creesje were both regular topics of conversation.
The Batavia made an unauthorized stop at Sierra Leone, at the time a country rife with malaria and yellow fever, and from there they sailed on to a current known as the ‘wagenspoor’ or cart track. The wagenspoor would fast track them down to the Cape of Good Hope and their next stop – Cape town. The stop was probably to restock their water supplies, which all the same would get infected with algae and worms. They also picked up a 15 year old deserter from a previous ship named Abraham Gerritsz.
To sum up life on the Wagenspoor, three things are important to know. One, it was unbearably hot – so most nights everyone had to sleep up top in the open air. Bad cases of sunburn occupied the doctor’s time at this point. The decks warped in the heat. Two, scurvy kicked in. The Batavia would have started the voyage with some fresh fruit and vegetables, but their supply was gone by this point. In 1628 no-one knew for certain what caused scurvy – some suspected it had a connection to not eating enough greens, but opinion was divided. The more prevalent theory was scurvy was caused by the foul air below decks. Sailors would get bad gum infections, some would progress to having gangrene and septicemia then would die a painful death as their organs failed. The Batavia lost ten men to scurvy. Third, Ariaen Jacobsz made a pass for Creesje Jansdochter, who politely turned him down. In what seemed a combination of an effort to embarrass Creesje for daring to spurn his advances, and a case of if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with – to quote Stephen Stills – Jacobsz began a very public affair with Zwaantie Hendricx, Creesje’s maid.
On 14th April 1629 the Batavia arrived at the Cape.
Upon arrival upper merchant Francesco Pelsaert went about the task of topping up food supplies with the local Hottentots – who were well used to trading oxen and sheep for iron tools and copper bracelets. Though the terms of the trade was usually excellent in the eyes of both parties it would be hard, time consuming work owing to the massive language distance between any European language and the Khoekhoe language – heavily accented with click sounds – that the Hottentots spoke.
Meanwhile, Ariaen Jacobsz, Zwaantie Hendricx and Jacobus Cornelisz, without prior permission, commandeered a boat and took to exploring the bay. The three went from ship to ship to catch up with other skippers, and have a drink here and there – until the group were rolling drunk. At some point in the night Jacobsz became agitated and got involved in a fist fight aboard another ship. When the three returned to the Batavia looking the worse for wear, the news of the fight preceded them. Knowing not to admonish the three would lead to widespread insurrection among the crew, Francesco Pelsaert took Jacobsz aside the next morning and gave him a dressing down for his behavior. Soon word spread throughout the crew of his telling off. Jacobsz was furious – although there was nothing he could do about it. He felt thoroughly humiliated by Pelsaert admonishing him so. They set sail for the final leg of the journey 22nd April.
So it was one night, the lecherous, fist fighting skipper and his friend the charismatic heretic found themselves on the quarterdeck in private conversation. I quote the following from Mike Dash’s Batavia’s Graveyard. I don’t know how closely this captures the actual conversation – but it certainly captures the mood. Quote.
‘By God’ muttered the old sailor, glancing at the other vessels in the fleet, ‘if those ships were not lying there, I would treat that miserly dog so that he could not come out of his cabin for fourteen days. And I would quickly make myself master of the ship.’…. The two men stood in silence for a while, and the skipper’s words hung in the autumn air as Cornelisz considered them. At length the under-merchant spoke. ‘And how would you manage that?’ he asked.
We’ll be right back after this break (break music)
Hi all welcome back, this is part 2 of a six part series. Part one can be found here.
By way of a little background, Jeronimus Cornelisz was born sometime around 1598 in the remote Northern Dutch province of Friesland. Friesland would have been quite the culture shock to Dutch visitors at the time. It was an arduous trek through bogs and marshes to even get there, and once you arrived you were greeted by a province stuck in the past – largely rural, and lacking in much of the conveniences that came from the vast wealth generated by VOC trade in the east. Many Frisians considered themselves Frisian – not Dutch. Many even viewed the Dutch as invaders who had stolen swathes of land from the former Frisian kingdom centuries earlier. I don’t know nearly enough about the history of the Frisians but have always believed the Frankish king Charles ‘The Hammer’ Martel, not the Dutch, put an end to their self rule in 734 AD – however I’m far from an expert on their history. Many Frisians, whether rightly or wrongly, absolutely hated the Dutch and saw them as oppressors. Friesland was also the kind of place where enclaves of radicalism -particularly religious radicals – held out.
Jeronimus would have been educated. Everyone in Holland had at the least a primary school education – at a protestant school. Prior to declaring their self determination, the Dutch were ruled over by the Spanish wing of the Hapsburg family. Halfway through the 16th century they engaged in a 8 decade long war of independence against the Spanish. In the process they cast off Hapsburg Catholicism for the shiny new Protestantism, doing the rounds of Europe at the time. Schools were used to embed the new religion. Being of an upper middle class background – Jeronimus’ father Cornelis was an apothecary too – Jeronimus went on to higher schooling. He would have been introduced to humanist thought at college – and from there went on to a five year apprenticeship which would have culminated with his ‘masterpiece’. This would have involved the preparation of some potion or other requiring several difficult stages, which showed his mastery of his studies.
A quick sidebar on medicine, and pharmaceutical science in the early 17th century. Medicine was a long way away from it’s current state, and was largely based on balancing your four humours – an idea which was codified by the Greek physician Hippocrates in the late 5th century BC – then further extended by the Roman physician Galen in the 2nd century AD. If you felt unwell doctors believed you either had too little or too much blood, phlegm, yellow bile or black bile in your system. You would be sent to an apothecary to make a potion featuring dozens of ingredients alleged to re-balance these humours. These ingredients could be any number of roots, herbs, animal parts or even human flesh. In this era mummy flesh direct from Egypt – or failing that, the flesh of an executed criminal – was a cure-all. Having completed his masterpiece, Jeronimus married, moved to an exclusive part of the Dutch city of Haarlem, and opened his own shop. To the recently qualified apothecary the world was their oyster. An apothecary could become extremely wealthy in the 17th century, some amassing greater fortunes over a lifetime’s work than some of the nobility, and certainly many merchants.
So what went wrong?
First he and his wife, formerly Belijtgen Van der Knas, had an extremely ill fated pregnancy. At some time in November 1627 Belijtgen had given birth to a baby boy. From late in the pregnancy she had been very unwell, to the point that by her eighth month, certain she would die – the couple called in a solicitor to draw up a will. Both mother and baby survived the birth, though Belijtgen worsened afterwards. The couple had hired a midwife named Cathalijntgen van Wijmen, who appeared to have been going through a paranoid schizophrenic episode around the birth – hearing voices in her head, and sleeping with an axe beside her bed for protection from some inner torment. Her incompetence however was the main concern – having left part of the placenta in Belijtgen’s womb – which caused a horrible infection. With a deadly fever, fighting for her own life, and completely unable to provide milk for the baby – Jeronimus hired a woman named Heyltgen Jansdr, to provide milk for his son. Again Jeronimus chose poorly. Had he asked around he would have realized Heyltgen was known in the neighborhood for having picked up a mysterious illness some years back after cheating on her husband. Soon the baby became unwell and died. The cause of death, syphilis.
As horrifying, and heartbreaking as this must have been for the couple – it would have been an incredibly painful and bloody death for the child. Death by syphilis for a baby generally involved being covered head to toe in sores, and heavy bleeding from the orifices. The death also had a massive impact on his burgeoning business. In spite of Heyltgen’s reputation, Jeronimus and Belijtgen would have come under suspicion as the parties who had passed syphilis to the child. Many patients, not wanting to buy medicine from the potentially syphilitic, would have gone elsewhere. Add to this, throughout much of the 1620s the Dutch were generally a little cash strapped – war had reignited with Spain, costing both countries dearly – Jeronimus was suddenly struggling to make ends meet.
To compound matters he had borrowed a lot of money from a money lender called Loth Vogel – perhaps to start the business. When repayments slowed, Vogel began pursuing the debt aggressively. While Vogel began legal proceedings against Jeronimus, Jeronimus initiated legal proceedings against his wet nurse, Heyltgen Jansdr. As he collected evidence against the wet nurse, of allegations of her illness, and an affair with a syphilitic widower nicknamed ‘Velvet trousers’ Heyltgen herself gathered a posse who loudly and threateningly picketed the shop – telling all in sundry that Belijtgen’s hair had fallen out from syphilis, and yelling abuse up at the couple. This further hampered their efforts to pay off Loth Vogel. On 25th September, by court order Loth Vogel repossessed all of Jeronimus’ worldly goods in lieu of payment.
This was hardly the couple’s only problem at the time. The other involved religion.
The first thing we can say for certain was Jeronimus was brought up an Anabaptist. The Anabaptist church was an offshoot of Protestantism, which had become particularly popular with the working class of Europe. Most Anabaptists in Jeronimus’ time were quiet folk; fiscally responsible, conservatively dressed, hard workers and not the types to share their religious views. However they were generally disliked by the Dutch, occasionally even persecuted. Many people of his time would remember the Anabaptists of just a few decades earlier.
In the early days of Anabaptism, a handful of factions took radical actions recognizable in groups like ISIS today – forming militias and violently attempting to seize cities across Europe. These acts of terrorism were often on a small scale, as when 40 Anabaptists attempted a coup in Amsterdam, 10th May 1535. They killed the mayor and several other bystanders but were soon put down. The most famous, and particularly bloodthirsty example of this was the 1534 Műnster Rebellion – where a group of Anabaptists first led by a local fanatic named Jan Matthys, then the more charismatic Jan of Leiden, took over the city either forcing non believers out or baptizing them. The society within their walls became extremist, polyamorous, a little communist, mostly heavily repressed by the leaders– and very eschatological, believing end times were coming. The siege carried on until 1535, ending in their defeat amid the mass slaughter of the rebels. Much of the reasoning behind this, and other acts of terrorism was they were eschatologically minded, a kind of millenarianism. They believed the end of the world was nigh; they would be the minority saved who would ascend to heaven, but that this was dependent on someone bringing on end times. This was their job. In the wake of this event Catholic and Protestant powers alike began repressing Anabaptists. Some groups redoubled their peaceful ways, like the Mennonites and Amish.
Initially the remaining radicals coalesced under the leadership of a man named Jan Van Batenburg, who turned to robbing travelers on the Dutch border with the Holy Roman Empire. The group would continue to do so after Batenburg’s capture and execution in 1538, at least until 1580. At that point they dispersed, mostly to Friesland. Jeronimus’ parents were Anabaptists – and suspected to have been Batenbergers. He was never baptized. Had he been Protestant he would have been baptized as a child, had he belonged to the Mennonites he would, typically, have been baptized around the age of 18. Most Anabaptists do take baptism as an adult, so it is thought he lost his faith somewhere along the line, or possibly was a hardline Batenberger. He certainly had similar views to them in regards communal property, and the righteousness of killing those different from yourself.
Another influence on Jeronimus was a friend named Johannes van der Beeck, known to many as the Dutch painter Torrentius. Torrentius was an altogether different kind of heretic, having gleaned a number of radical ideas while frequenting a fencing club in Amsterdam, run by a radical thinker named Giraldo Thibault. Thibault’s fencing club was a known hotbed of radical thinking, but largely left alone due to the high number of young adult sons of extremely wealthy citizens who fenced there. How Jeronimus came to know Torrentius is not known. At one point they lived a few hundred yards apart, and Torrentius would have likely picked up art supplies at Jeronimus’ shop, such as white lead, or gold leaf. However they became friends, Jeronimus would become something of a disciple of Torrentius.
So what did Torrentius teach Jeronimus Cornelisz, and how did this lead to Jeronimus’ exit from Haarlem? Starting with the painter’s beliefs.
I guess you could say firstly Torrentius was a known bon vivant. Having become a successful artist he had taken to a life of excess. He wore fancy clothes considered above his station in life. He spent a lot of time, and money carousing in the local taverns – at times with his entourage spending the equivalent of a year and a half worth of wages for an average painter, in a single sitting. He spent a lot of money in the brothels of Haarlem. Torrentius was married, to a well thought of young woman, but when their marriage broke down he refused to pay anything towards his wife’s upkeep – and spent some time in jail because of this. His regular paintings of scenes from pagan mythology, and nudes raised some eyebrows. It was however his loud, drunken conversations which marked him as a possibly dangerous man in Haarlem.
He was known to regularly toast the devil while drinking. He also cultivated a legend that his extraordinary paintings were created by black magic. Torrentius, allegedly, laid out paint and a blank canvas on the floor, then some unseen supernatural force would paint for him. Rumours spread Torrentius often took solitary walks through the forest, talking with the devil. Ghosts allegedly could be heard in his artist’s studio. Some claimed he performed blood sacrifices with hens bought from the market.
The truth of the matter was far simpler. Torrentius appears to have been a gnostic. He had said to people he did not believe in either heaven or hell, the bible was a “book of fools and jesters” and that religion was a tool used by the ruling class to keep the others in check. All the same he did believe in a greater, divine power, and that everyone on earth had some of that power embedded in them. The power was suppressed by original sin, but could be tapped into if you knew how. Jeronimus had picked up Torrentius’ epicurean taste in hard living, and skepticism of the bible – he did however hold a few dangerous views all his own.
Jeronimus believed every action he made in life was the result of God’s will – once stating to friends “All I do, God gave the same into my heart”. This meant that he could live a completely guilt-free life, regardless of what he did. Wherever he picked this idea up, technically he would be considered an Antinominalist, it was a dangerous idea for a psychopath particularly to have. If you were perfect, in a state of grace – already one of the elect – anything you do is divine, no matter how evil. Sabotage a ship full of people? Kill or incite others to murder? You are only furthering God’s plan. This will be important later. Now we have ascertained Jeronimus Cornelisz would have been considered a heretic, let’s take a quick sidebar and discuss how a conspiracy theory would cause further troubles for our antagonist.
In 1625 the artist Torrentius was arrested, initially on suspicion of being a Rosicrucian.
The Rosicrucians, or Order of the Rosy Cross appear to have been more an idea of what a movement could be, which in turn grew legs, than a bona fide movement in its own right. Manifestos from the group began to appear across Europe, first in the German town of Kassel in 1614, then rapidly elsewhere. The alleged group behind them claimed to be a secret society of German mystics who had collected esoteric learnings from a distant past; powerful truths which they believed were the key to great power and greater understanding of the universe – much of which had been suppressed or forgotten through the ages.
The order was, apparently, established in the fifteenth century by a man called Christian Rosenkreuz. Rosenkreuz had travelled throughout the middle east, bringing back ancient wisdom and supernatural powers. When he returned to Germany he established a group with seven other adepts, whose task was to travel throughout Europe and spread this secret knowledge. Like the comic character The Phantom, each of these 8 brethren were tasked to find a replacement as they grew older, basically to step into their shoes. According to the legend Rosenkreuz died in 1484 aged 106, and was buried in a secret location. His tomb would be left for 120 years, then re-opened, signaling the dawning of a new Golden age. Then the Rosicrucians would spread their learnings far and wide throughout society as a whole – ushering in the Golden age. The legend spread, as memes often do, appealing to many a Walter Mitty type and occultist alike. Both types hoped they would be invited to join this exclusive group. You don’t need to imagine too hard how much this concerned local rulers across Europe, many of whom recalled the real world problems from the Anabaptists.
In 1624 the Dutch Republic began chasing the Rosicrucians, claiming they uncovered a secret plot between French and Dutch Rosicrucians to overthrow both countries. A judicial body was established to locate the heretics and bring them to justice. As they investigated two rumors kept coming up. One, Haarlem was ground zero for the order; and two a Thorentius was a leader in the group. It did not take long for them to hear tales of Torrentius’ toasts to the devil, supernatural boasts and antisocial behaviors. Torrentius would be brought in and interrogated five times between August and December 1625. He admitted to joking about having magical powers, and loved saying outrageous things, he held to the assertion he was not a dangerous heretic.
Feeling they were getting nowhere, the justices applied for permission to torture Torrentius. The torture began on Christmas eve 1627. He was hauled into the air by ropes, weights tied to his feet to stretch him. He was put on the rack and stretched further, until his joints all popped out of their sockets. He was beaten up, had his jaw broken, and shot at, but Torrentius kept to his story. The town torturer and executor Master Gerrit could not get a confession out of him.
In January 1628 Torrentius, still unable to walk or stand, was brought before the courts and tried, extra ordinaris – a method which denied him a defense or right of appeal – on 31 charges of heresy. Though the prosecutor wanted him burnt at the stake, he would ultimately find himself sentenced to 20 years in prison. Though the trial failed to confirm his membership of the Order of the Rosy Cross, it did prove his many other heretical acts. The prosecution lit a fire under the authorities however to find any and all heretics in Haarlem, to rid themselves of them.
So it transpired that Jeronimus Cornelisz, his reputation, family and business in tatters – in serious danger of spending his remaining years in jail on account of an urban legend – suddenly realized he needed to get out of town in a hurry. We don’t know the specifics of what followed. We know on 5th September 1628, the burgomasters of Haarlem ordered Torrentius’ circle of followers to sell up and leave the city within weeks or face dire consequences. We know Jeronimus closed his shop and gave all of his possessions to Loth Vogel, abandoned his wife, and by October was on his way to Amsterdam, where he would join the crew of The Batavia. The likelihood is the two were connected.