Local legend in the Kingdom of Mysore tells the following tale.
One day, a young prince named Tipu went out hunting in the jungle with a friend – sometimes portrayed as a French mercenary in the service of the prince’s father – the fearsome Hyder Ali. While tracking a local deer or antelope the two men were surprised by a giant tiger leaping out at them from the undergrowth. As stealthily as they had been while stalking their prey; the tiger had been even quieter, more stealthy, more cunning. The beast seized Tipu’s companion by the throat, crushing his windpipe and severing his jugular in one fell swoop. Before Prince Tipu could react, the big cat spun around on him, knocking his gun from his hand. Tipu drew his sword, but the tiger leapt, striking him full force in the chest; sending the sword flying.
Pinned to the canopy, the Prince and the tiger wrestled on the ground for what seemed like an eternity. When he finally successfully grasped his sword, Prince Tipu – bloodied and beaten – mustered the strength to stab the tiger. The Prince stabbed and slashed, cut and thrust till the tiger lay dead.
This, at least, is the tale explaining why Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, from 1782 – became known as ‘The Tiger of Mysore’. Tipu would adopt the tiger in his art and architecture, military uniforms (striped), even his signature.
The Kingdom of Mysore was an empire in the South of India, established at the end of the 14th Century by the Wadiyar dynasty. By the middle of the 18th century, power had passed to Tipu’s father, Hyder Ali – an Indian born soldier of possibly Iraqi or Arabian descent. Through military and political prowess Hyder Ali ascended to the throne in 1761. Father and son ruled in extremely turbulent times.
From the middle of the 18th Century, the Indian Mughal Empire began to lose much of their power, and the British East India Company – originally in India just as merchants – began vying with France to fill the power vacuum. The following series of conflicts became known as The Carnatic Wars. The British corporation, led by the sociopathic Robert Clive, won the war, taking over tax collecting rights for swathes of India and kicking British colonialism into a higher gear. This also set the scene for a conflict between the East India Company and The Kingdom of Mysore.
This tale is not about the Anglo-Mysore wars – well it is only tangentially so. The East India Company fought four wars against the Kingdom, from 1767 to 1799. These wars were bloody, and anything but one sided. While it is easy to imagine the British having the upper hand technologically, Tipu’s kingdom came to the battle with Mysorean rockets, quite possibly the first true rockets used in war. Towards the end of the war there was also a very real concern Mysore would ally with Napoleon. They only didn’t due to Bonaparte’s defeat at the Battle of the Nile of 1798 forcing him out of the region. The first war almost went Mysore’s way, the second was fought out to a very costly status quo antebellum – a draw. The third went against Tipu, costing him close to half his empire.
The fourth Anglo- Mysore war would cost The Tiger of Mysore his life. This brings us to the topic of this Tale.
On 4th May 1799 the fortress of Seringapatam fell. The Tiger of Mysore was killed in the battle. Looting was rife in the city. While going through a music room the British found a remarkable device. To quote from a note compiled for EIC Governor General, Marquis Wellesley
“In a room appropriated for musical instruments was found an article which merits particular notice, as another proof of the deep hate, and extreme loathing of Tippoo Saib towards the English. This piece of mechanism represents a royal Tyger in the act of devouring a prostrate European. There are some barrels in imitation of an Organ, within the body of the Tyger. The sounds produced by the Organ are intended to resemble the cries of a person in distress intermixed with the roar of a Tyger. The machinery is so contrived that while the Organ is playing, the hand of the European is often lifted up, to express his helpless and deplorable condition. The whole of this design was executed by Order of Tippoo Sultaun. It is imagined that this memorial of the arrogance and barbarous cruelty of Tippoo Sultan may be thought deserving of a place in the Tower of London.“
Known widely as Tipu’s Tiger, the automaton depicts a near life-sized white man being mauled by a large tiger. From pipes within the device you can trigger sounds like a man screaming, and a tiger roaring. There is also a keyboard, which you can use to play the automaton as a pipe organ. It is believed Tipu’s Tiger was built some time around 1795. The British have long been convinced it depicts the 1792 mauling of EIC General Sir Hector Munro’s son by a Bengal tiger. I don’t know nearly enough about the history of the region to comment, though I do have to wonder if the British have it right? One day, legend tells us, a young prince and his European companion went hunting in the jungle after all.
Hi all welcome to the final chapter of the Batavia saga. Apologies to the readership for the delay in finishing this tale… I had to move out of a house I’d lived in and rented for a little over a decade (the Coronavirus pandemic gave the owners time to rethink priorities, one decision was to cash in their chips on their rental property… Fair enough, I wish them well). I hope you all enjoyed the two unused tales and the re-writes I posted in the interim.
Of course a resurgence of COVID cases in Auckland, New Zealand made the move a real joy – as I waited on tenterhooks in the days up to the move to see if we were even allowed to move in the lockdown level. We were. I’m writing from my new home/office
Over several weeks we followed the wreck of the Batavia. We discussed how and why motley troupes of young Dutch citizens sailed around the world for spices and other Asian goods. We followed the heretic Jeronimus Cornelisz gradual takeover of Beacon Island, and the spate of murders that followed. We also looked at the perilous journey of Francisco Pelsaert, Ariaen Jacobsz and the crew on the lifeboat as they explored hundreds of miles of unforgiving cliffs, devoid of life – before finally finding water; then sailing for Indonesia. You can pick up the tale at parts one, two, three, fourfive or six on the links.
Once more we must rewind several weeks, to the High Land, and the party of explorers Cornelisz left there to die. It is time we introduced Wiebbe Hayes to the tale.
We know little about Wiebbe Hayes. He is presumed a lifelong soldier, though at this stage in life he was still a private in rank. Friesian by birth. Middle aged at the time of the wreck. Despite his rank he was clearly a man who could lead a group. He was also resourceful, with a knack for surviving in extreme environs like the Abrolhos. While stuck on the Abrolhos, others – including officers of much higher rank – turned to Hayes for leadership. Cornelisz likely saw those qualities in him, which was why he sent him without supplies to find water on an island both his own men and Pelsaert believed had none.
Unfortunately for Cornelisz, Hayes and his team found a couple of deep wells which were covered by slabs of limestone within a few days. They also found abundant fish off the coast of the High Land, and Tammars – a kind of wallaby they referred to as ‘cats’. Hayes may have wondered what Cornelisz was up to when his signal fires, lit to announce their discovery, went unheeded. He certainly knew trouble was brewing days later, when eight men escaped the massacre at Seal Island in the second week of July. Over the coming weeks the number of refugees on the High Land swelled, as dozens took their chances, a few at a time, at paddling over on home-made rafts. As an invasion from Cornelisz looked inevitable Wiebbe Hayes had 50 survivors on his island at his disposal; all aware of the prior massacres, and ready to fight to the death if need be. Hayes turned the attentions of his camp to fabricating weapons and defenses with whatever flotsam and jetsam there was available. He knew Cornelisz and his mutineers would arrive armed with swords, pikes, home-made morning-stars and a couple of guns. Though he had a slight advantage in numbers, they needed to match like with like as best they could. They turned long planks into pikes – tipped with sixteen inch long nails salvaged from the wreckage. Morning stars were cobbled together. They came up with a catapult or slingshot, which the men christened a ‘gun’, which could hurl large chunks of coral at the mutineers. Hayes built lookout posts allowing advanced warning when Cornelisz’ men landed on the mudflats; and a small fort.
War is often a continuation of diplomacy through other means, it should not surprise anyone that Jeronimus Cornelisz’ first move was a diplomatic one.
In the final week of July, Cornelisz sent a young cadet named Daniel Cornelissen to the High Land. In his possession, a letter warning Hayes that the sailors on his island were plotting against him. He proposed Hayes capture the sailors and hand them over to him. Not surprisingly, Hayes saw the letter as an attempt to divide and conquer, and took Cornelissen captive. A few days later two dozen mutineers, led by Daniel Zevanck, landed, intending to take the island by force. Zevanck and his men landed on the mudflats and strode through the mud, only to find Hayes defenders ready and waiting for him on the other side. The specifics of the first battle went unrecorded, though we know neither side suffered casualties this time, and Zevanck’s men were forced to retreat.
On 5th August, Zevanck, backed by Cornelisz’ whole force, took another shot at taking the island. Again there was a skirmish, followed by a retreat by the mutineers. For close to a month nothing further happened. Cornelisz’ men were in no fit state to take on the better fed, well prepared defenders. Wiebbe Hayes kept his holding pattern, having no plans to attack Cornelisz’ camp. As each day passed however, pressure built up on the mutineers to take out the High Land. A number of mutineers began complaining about their need to ration food, while the defenders ate so well. Some also thought it likely a rescue ship was on it’s way, and if the ship reached the High Land first, then all was lost. Not fancying direct conflict with the defenders, Jeronimus Cornelisz came up with yet another plan. He would travel to the High Land himself, and make a peace offer – bearing much needed clothes, wine and blankets for the defenders. When they let their guard down a few days’ later, he would order the mutineers to cut them down. In the meantime, others in his party were told to try to bribe members of Hayes’ defenders to join them.
On 1st September, Cornelisz sent the preacher Gijsbert Bastiaensz over with an offer to meet and discuss peace the following day. The meeting was agreed to by Hayes. Jeronimus Cornelisz arrived at the High Land on 2nd September. Although he landed with just a small party of trusted lieutenants, Cornelisz had the remaining mutineers placed on an embankment several metres offshore. Landing with David Zevanck, Coenraat van Huyssen, Gysbert van Welderen, Wouter Loos and Cornelis Pietersz, the mutineers were greeted by a similarly sized group of defenders. Goods were exchanged, wine passed around. Cornelisz did his best to convince Hayes they meant the defenders no harm. The uneasy truce suddenly broke however, when one of the mutineers offered a defender 6,000 guilders a man to turn on Hayes. On this suggestion Hayes’ defenders seized the delegation, except for Loos – who managed to break free and run towards the mutineers on the embankment. Knowing in a few minutes they would be inundated by mutineers, and need all hands free to fight back, Hayes gave the order to kill all captives but Cornelisz. They were run through with the pikes, and left to bleed out on the beach.
The sight of their leaders being run through with sixteen inch long spikes was enough to bring the mutineers – some mass murderers well used to blood and gore– to a dead stop. The mutineers fled back to Beacon Island. The defenders took the cloth, wine, and the heretic Jeronimus Cornelisz back to their camp. Thrown into a limestone pit, Cornelisz was put to work plucking the carcasses of sea birds.
Meanwhile, on Beacon Island, the 32 remaining mutineers elected Wouter Loos their new leader, and began to plot a revenge attack. They would attempt to take the High Land again on 17th September, and this time they would bring the guns.
Now it is worth mentioning that guns in those days were muskets; capable of firing a shot a minute, muzzle loading, with a maximum effective range of around 100 yards. All the same, when the mutineers landed around 9am on the 17th with two muskets, the ball was finally in their court. Over the next two hours Loos’ musketeers fired at the defenders from a distance. The defenders took cover behind their fortifications. Neither side attempted to charge the other. This tactic worked best for Loos, whose musketeers hit four defenders, killing one and badly wounding three others. If they could keep up their war of attrition the day would be theirs – Either sooner or later they would pick off all the defenders, or the defenders would get desperate enough to charge them. Loos believed in open combat the mutineers superior weapons would give him the advantage. All they had to do was keep their nerve…
Just then Pelsaert arrived, Deus Ex Machina, on the Sardam.
The sudden arrival of the upper merchant over the horizon suddenly changed everyone’s game plan. The mutineers left the battlefield for Beacon Island in disarray. The knew they stood a chance of taking the defenders out, then surprising the rescuers with a little space between the actions – but to fight on both fronts only led to death. Wouter Loos gave up, however Stone Cutter Pietersz rallied a number of mutineers behind him, and loaded into a boat with a plan to sail to the Sardam and take her over. The defenders could be dealt with later. Wiebbe Hayes decided the best plan was to lead a party across the High Land with their best raft and head for the Sardam to warn them. The rescue ship would be operating on a skeleton crew to allow for as much booty and survivors as possible, but if warned they would have superior weapons to the mutineers. At this stage the Sardam was docked off the northernmost tip of the High Land, Pelsaert having come ashore on a lifeboat. He was unaware of the two parties racing towards him with very different purposes.
Finally Pelsaert was greeted by a boatload of survivors
“Welcome, but go back on board immediately, for there is a party of scoundrels on the islands near the wreck, with two sloops, who have the intention to seize the jacht”.
Hayes arrived first, only just. Pelsaert had barely enough time to get back on the Sardam and order crew to point their guns at the mutineers – who had just arrived armed and ready for a fight. After an intense stand-off, the mutineers threw their swords into the sea and surrendered.
In the wake of the surrender Pelsaert learned of the original plot between Cornelisz and Ariaen Jacobsz to take the Batavia, and of the massacres of 120 men, women and children on the islands. The following day several crew of the Sardam, alongside a group of defenders landed on Beacon Island to capture the half dozen mutineers not yet in custody. Though much effort was made to salvage the treasure on the Batavia, several treasure chests got left behind.
So, what happened to the survivors?
In the days following their surrender, a council was convened on the island chain to try the mutineers. Under water torture the mutineers admitted to their crimes. Cornelisz did his best to claim he was simply a follower of Ariaen Jacobsz and David Zevanck, until other mutineers were brought in to point the finger at him. He would not be broken till 28th September. Most of the other mutineers confessed freely, to avoid being tortured. On the 28th Cornelisz was sentenced to have both his hands chopped off, then to be hung from a gallows erected on Seal Island. Jan Hendricxsz, Lenert van Os, Allert Janssen and Mattys Beer would all lose a hand before hanging. Jan Pelgrom, Andries Jonas and Rutger Fredricx would be allowed to be hanged – their hands still intact. All would forfeit all their worldly possessions to the VOC. Without trap doors their deaths would all be prolonged, painful affairs.
… well almost. Jan Pelgrom begged to be spared – to be marooned in Australia; at this time uncharted, very largely unexplored by Europeans. Completely without European settlers. Wouter Loos would also be marooned in Australia. Almost 160 years before the British, at James Cook’s botanist Joseph Banks urging, began dropping of criminals in Botany Bay, Pelgrom and Loos were the lucky country’s first convicts, and first European settlers. They were dropped off on a beach which showed signs of Aboriginal settlement, but no-one knows what became of the two men.
A further nine mutineers would be taken back to Java to face punishment. Nineteen others, who had perhaps signed up with the mutineers for fear of death if they didn’t were free to go, on the provision no further evidence arose against them. In all 14 mutineers would be imprisoned in the dungeons under Castle Batavia. Five of them would be hanged. Others were flogged and exiled into the Indonesian wilderness. Stone Cutter Pietersz was broken on the wheel – tied to a giant cart wheel, then to have his arms and legs so crushed that his limbs could be tied around the curve of the wheel itself. The wheel would then be hoisted upwards, and Pietersz left to bleed out. The skipper Ariaen Jacobsz would be held in prison and questioned till 1631. He was never officially charged, never gave in to torture. After this he just disappears from public records.
Wiebbe Hayes was promoted to sergeant while on the Abrolhos, and given a large salary bump. He would go on to become a national hero, as word of the massacre made it back to Europe… but of the man himself? He disappears from the history books soon after. On arrival at the town of Batavia he would be promoted to the officer class. From there no records of Hayes exist. The defenders were all rewarded also by pay increases, and a cash bonus.
Four mutineers from the original plot before the wreck were, unbeknownst to Pelsaert, on the longboat which sailed back to Java. They would be exposed in the investigation on the Abrolhos, but managed to escape justice on the return of the Sardam, having already sailed for other ports.
Pelsaert, before he could face a tribunal for his carelessness, would be censured when caught having an affair with a married woman in Java. He would be sent to Sumatra on other business, but be dead of a mystery virus by mid September 1630. His illegal trades while in India would be uncovered on his death, and his fortune would be seized from his family by the VOC.
The preacher Gijsbert Bastiaensz would face close scrutiny over his alleged innocence in the mutiny by the VOC. He would eventually be cleared, would remarry, and move out to the Banda Islands – the nutmeg capital of the world – where he would preach for less than two years. By 1633 he would be dead by dysentery. His only surviving daughter Judick would marry twice, and be widowed two times by 1634. The VOC, feeling sorry for her struggles, gave her a substantial cash payout which got her back to Holland.
Finally Creesje Jans, the famed beauty who had travelled out to join her husband, arrived in Java to find her husband had died some time before July 1629. It is not known what became of him, but he had been sent to the Burmese port of Arakan a few years earlier to buy slaves for the VOC. She would re-marry to a soldier – something seen as beneath her station in life – and stay on in Indonesia till 1641, when she moved back to Holland. Independently wealthy, she appears to have lived a comfortable and uneventful life after this. She is believed to have lived till 1681, into her late 70s, making her the last survivor of the wreck of the Batavia.
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, 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.
Today’s tale begins in all but uncharted territory somewhere out in the Indian Ocean, at around 3am, 3rd June 1629. Aboard the Dutch East Indies new flagship – the Batavia – two men are having a furious disagreement. Launched 211 days earlier in the icy waters of Northern Europe; sailing southwards around the coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, then out towards the Spice Islands the Batavia had endured an epic voyage. Having withstood extremes of heat and cold, rough seas, and most recently terrible storms, the weather was just becoming temperate, the seas calm. One gets the sense life aboard the Batavia must have been hell. Historian Mike Dash, my primary source for this tale, states just how inhospitable ships of this era were. He states any fresh food they had was long gone by now, the water onboard had become a breeding ground for worms, and below decks would smell of a horrendous aroma of stale breath, unwashed bodies and urine. Knowing they were a month from their destination of Java, modern day Indonesia, had to be massively of comfort to all on board.
But, back to our two men. The ship’s lookout, Hans Bosschieter insisted he had seen white water in the distance – a sure sign they were at risk of running aground if they didn’t alter course. The other man was the skipper, Ariaen Jacobsz – a well thought of middle aged sailor, who had distinguished himself in several prior voyages east. Brilliant as he was, he was also a difficult and scary guy – quick to temper, and once he had made up his mind he would not be swayed. He was also quite lecherous towards female passengers, but more on that later. Jacobsz was convinced they were safe, as yesterday morning they were still 600 miles from known land. In his opinion that thin white line in the distance was nothing more than moonlight reflecting off the waves – so on they rolled.
The Batavia would roll on for a few moments more, suddenly – violently – brought to a bone crushing halt. With a deafening thud, the bottom of the ship collided with a coral reef, just 15 feet below the surface. A second and a half later the bow of the ship struck the reef proper. Lurching forward and to port; Jacobsz, Bosscheiter and the others who made up the midnight watch were tossed across the deck like rag dolls. Below decks the 270 crew and passengers were in for a rude awakening, as overhead compartments rained down their contents on them. They made their way up to the deck to find the Batavia stuck tight on the reef; bow all smashed up, perched over, with all the weight on the front of the boat – the back half now raised out of the water. They were shipwrecked, in the dark, and so far off the charts they had no idea where they even were. Little did they know just how awful things would get for them soon however. Welcome everyone to Tales of History and Imagination Episode 11, The Wreck of the Batavia.
Hi all just saying up front, this one is going to run over three podcast episodes, running to half a dozen blog posts. There is quite a bit of background needs to go into this tale to really make sense of it. In the first (podcast) episode I want to set the scene, and introduce the main characters. In Episode two we’ll look at the voyage, then in the third what happened to the survivors on the Houtman Abrolhos chain. I will also say up front that this is probably the most bloodthirsty tale I have told yet, either on the podcast or on the blog. I feel I need to mention this as I know I have some readers on the blog do follow for the quirkier character pieces, while some like the horrible history content. Believe me there is no offense taken if the Batavia is not your cup of tea.
That said I do need to cover off a few things before we start getting into background information, and pick up from before the theme music.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, everyone on board would have been absolutely shocked and horrified. In the first instance all hands were on deck, tossing anything with any significant weight overboard, to try to stop the ship from snapping in half. Measurements of depth were taken from all around the Batavia to try and work out if they could manipulate her backwards off the reef. They hoped dangling their two heaviest anchors off the elevated stern of the ship might tip them back into the sea, and allow them to sail away. The water however was just as shallow all around them, no more than 16 feet deep. If at low tide they might have a chance later in the day. It turned out they had crashed, and plumbed the depths, close to high tide.
Their next concern was to try to stop the ship springing a leak. The sea was rough, and bouncing the Batavia up and down onto the reef with great force. Their mainmast was acting as a force multiplier. 180 feet long, made of one massive piece of Scandinavian pine – the mainmast ran through the middle of the boat through four levels, and settled atop the ship’s keel. Every time the ship hit the reef, the mast acted like a jackhammer on concrete. The decision was made to chop the mainmast down from the upper deck. Using an axe they chopped through the mast, which came down with a heavy thud, not into the water but straight onto the deck. No one was killed but they now had a tangle of ropes, damaged decking and sails to work around.
As the sun rose the crew could finally take a proper look at their predicament. They were on the southern end of a crescent shaped coral atoll. The only habitable land was at the other end, around six miles north. As rough as the sea was it did look possible they could lower one of the two boats onboard the ship and explore the reef. At around 7am Ariaen Jacobsz took a crew of men out on the yawl and explored their surroundings.
On exploration he discovered several of the northernmost islands shouldn’t disappear below the waves on high tide, giving a reasonable chance of saving the crew and passengers yet. Jacobsz first had to convince the ship’s upper merchant – and true head of the expedition – that this should be their first move. The upper merchant, Francisco Pelsaert, was a Belgian citizen with plenty of company experience, having worked for Dutch East India company in Agra, India – but little sailing experience. Less still of commanding a ship. While Jacobsz worried first and foremost about getting everyone to safety, Pelsaert insisted they first save the cargo, chests full of precious jewels and silver carried to trade for local goods. Common sense won out, Pelsaert was convinced by the reality he’d be murdered by the crew if he so much as moved a chest before everyone was safe. Thus they began the arduous process of moving the survivors through the choppy waters, to a flat, inhospitable lump of coral lacking cover, vegetation or water. A dozen crew tried to swim across, but were all pulled under and drowned by the currents.
Just as the first boatload left for the island, the Batavia finally sprang a leak, one which would prove too large to caulk up. By the end of the day 180 shivering souls were split across two coral islands; 150 pints of worm infested water, and 12 barrels of stale bread between them – and of course one casket of treasure – at Pelsaert’s insistence. Pelsaert had intended to go back for the rest, but weather worsened and a dozen chests of silver had to be left on the deck unguarded.
That evening the remaining crew still on the ship began to rebel. A gunner named Allert Janssen raided the officers’ liquor cabinet. Others soon joined, and – all having barely touched a drop for eight months – became violently drunk. A cadet named Lenert van Os broke open the chests of silver and threw handful after handful of silver coins overboard to spite the officers. Another sailor named Cornelis Janssen helped himself to rows and rows of knives and stalked the decks with his gleaming weapons on display. Another, Ryckert Woutersz, rifled through upper merchant Pelsaert’s belongings. The next morning several more survivors escaped to the island, leaving around 70 rebelling sailors still on the Batavia. Knowing he was risking his life going back for the silver, Pelsaert shouted orders to the men on ship to make a raft and make their own way to the island, and left them to it.
After a second night on the islands, Pelsaert and Jacobsz put their heads together and discussed scenarios. They were probably on an uncharted, but very occasionally sighted atoll known as Houtman’s Abrolhos, 2,000 miles south of Indonesia. They were miles from the west coast of Australia, but we are decades before anyone would add the lucky country to a map. Thirteen years earlier the adventurer Frederik de Houtman had almost wrecked on the Abrolhos. His story is one which bears telling sometime – but suffice to say for now, the guy was jailed by the Sultan of Aceh on Sumatra for two years. In that time he learned to speak Malay and Malagasy, gleaned much of their customs, and made several astrological observations then unknown to the Northern hemisphere. He didn’t pin down the exact location of the Abrolhos, but he brought a lot of other useful information back to the VOC. The two men made a prolonged search for water, to no avail. They then gathered a crew of 40, which included their best sailors, and began equipping their longboat for the 2,000 mile journey north.
Four days after washing up they set sail for Indonesia.
Meanwhile on board the Batavia several dozen desperate men remained. They honestly had to be desperate to set sail in the first place. The stakeholders of the VOC made a killing from Eastern trade, but the crew saw very little of that wealth. Furthermore, once you had signed up, the average life span of a VOC sailor was just three years. Sailors were often plucked from the criminal classes, or people who, for one reason or another, needed to abandon their former lives. All but one of the men still onboard were lowly ranked sailors, but the one officer which remained – the under merchant, second in charge to Pelsaert was a desperate man for his own reasons. A former apothecary lately out of Haarlem- Jeronimus Cornelisz paced alone with his dark thoughts. Though more typical of the class who sent men out to die on the other side of the world to make themselves wealthy, Cornelisz’ life had suddenly been thrown into turmoil. His business gone, he was possibly also a fugitive from the law back in Holland. I will discuss Jeronimus and his downfall next week, in episode two – The Heretic.
This Tale is a script for an episode of the Tales of History and Imagination podcast. Click here for the episode
Hi all thanks for joining me. Our tale begins today close to it’s chronological end, in September 1593. We’re at Greenwich palace, a now long demolished royal residence on the river Thames- it’s now the site of a naval hospital if anyone’s wondering- and there waits England’s fairy Queen, Elizabeth I. She’s there to meet with a rival queen who she has been at loggerheads with since 1574, her own fault as she has encroached on the latter queen’s lands from as early as 1558. No, if you’re wondering, we’re not talking of Mary Queen of Scots – at this point Mary was dead, in her grave for a little over 6 years, nor was she meeting with some Spanish Infanta. While making notes for this episode something the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said kept coming back up… Quote.
“Piracy and war gave place to trade, politics and letters; the war-lord to the law-lord; the privilege was kept, whilst the means of obtaining it were changed”
One queen, by Emerson’s reckoning would have been pretty much the Law lord, this is Elizabeth – Her ancestors had violently ascended the ladder to the top, and while her reign was notable for a number of battles, she had the privilege of letting others spill blood for her. Was she the stereotypically genteel image we would associate with her now? Not so much so. Elizabeth had rotten, brown teeth. Her skin was constantly covered in Venetian ceruse, a thick mask of white lead and vinegar, which must have smelled… like a mixture of white lead and vinegar. She wore this mask more to cover terrible pock marks left from a bout of smallpox, and the lead content may well have caused her death not too long after this tale. In itself venetian ceruse was known to have a disfiguring effect on others. I don’t intend to say this to be mean, but mention this as a number of tales paint the other queen as something far more savage – I am not convinced 21st century eyes would have viewed them that differently from one another.
The other queen, however was still very much a warlord, a bona fide pirate queen who made her name leading her ships into battle, raiding enemy ships and towns, and looting with the best of them. She knew how to fight with the best of them. The queen about to make dock was none other than Grace O’Malley, leader of the Irish region of Connaught. Today I want to look at her remarkable life, and how it lead to this fateful meeting. Welcome folks to Tales of History and Imagination, Season 1 Episode 6, Grace O’Malley- Pirate Queen.
(theme music Ishtar The Enemy Within)
Grace O’Malley, aka – and sorry I’m going to butcher some if not all of these Gaelic pronunciations- Grainne Mhaille was born some time around 1530 to Eoghan and Maeve Mhaille – John and Margaret in modern speak. Eoghan was the feudal lord of Umhaill, a territory in Connaught, now County Cork, Ireland. As a local aristocrat whose family held power in the area he was far more in the vein of the warlord than the law lord – He provided protection for the locals, taxed their income, and actively drew income as a privateer and occasional merchant. For all their lineage, it was their ability to inflict violence on any challenger which kept them at the top of the pile. In the West of Ireland they were well beyond the pale – the outer border of the Dublin region then under English rule, but during his lifetime Eoghan would see Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII encroach upon his land, till Henry had enough of the land to crown himself of King of Ireland in 1542. Grace would grow up viewing the English as the aggressive imperialists next door. Henry VIII would rule until his death in 1547, passing the crown to his 9 year old son, his only son, Edward VI, who in turn died in 1553 – the cause of death most likely the disease of the previous episode, tuberculosis. Lady Jane Grey, a relative from another branch of the family tree held the crown for nine days, before getting locked away in the tower of London. The crown then passed to Henry’s eldest daughter, Mary I, known as ‘Bloody Mary’ for her persecution of the protestants. She died of, likely ovarian or uterine cancer in 1558, passing the crown to Queen 1 in this tale, Elizabeth.
Grace’s tale of her rise to power is quite different from Elizabeth’s. Eoghan had an elder son from a previous relationship, Donal na Piopa. Because he was considered the bastard son, the title would eventually pass to Grace. This was lucky for Connaught in a way; legend has it Donal was well liked, and a born entertainer who would break into song on the drop of a hat. He wasn’t interested in the piracy and pillaging that was his father’s stock and trade though. Grace on the other hand lived for the seven seas. From a young age she showed an interest in seafaring, and legend has it when she asked to join her father on a trading journey to Spain the other sailors laughed at her stating her long hair would get caught in the ropes. As a result she cut her hair off, embarrassing her father into let her go. It turned out she was a natural, and would regularly sail with her father after, learning the trade. Aged 16 she would marry Donal O’Flaherty, the son of another local chieftain, and would bear her first child with Donal at 17. Contrast to Elizabeth, she may have found love- it is most often suggested she was lovers with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and son of the guy who managed to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne for nine days – but she faced such a tangle of competing networks and interests it would have been very difficult for Elizabeth to ever marry, whether for love or otherwise – without upsetting some faction or other. Of course Grace’s marriage was not apolitical though – it led to the consolidation of quite a large region under one family. She would have two sons and a daughter with Donal, and for a time retired from the sea. She did not have a long marriage to Donal. In the 1560’s, I have read a dozen books and articles and anywhere from 1560 to 1565 are quoted (1560 seems most trustworthy however) – Donal came to a messy end fighting with the neighboring Joyce clan over a long disputed castle on the shores of Lough Corrib. Grace, ever the warrior queen, retaliated – invading the castle and ousting the Joyces. While many in the tribe were impressed by how capable Grace was as a military leader, sexism came into play and Donal’s titles and land were passed to a cousin. She returned to her family with a small army in tow, set herself up on nearby Clare Island, and returned to piracy – something she later described to Elizabeth as ‘maintenance by land and sea’, I guess in a way similar to how Tony Soprano summed his work up as ‘waste management’? Now in time she would pick up her father’s titles however, and her sons recapture their father’s lost chieftainship.
As with much of Grace’s life, there is little by way of documentation as to what specifically she was doing at this point, but what exists shows she had put together a standing army of 200, with which she would do battle with certain neighboring chiefs, as well as carrying out regular raids along the coasts of Scotland. She had a business transporting ‘Gallowglasses’, Scottish mercenaries, to Ireland for allied chieftains in their battles, and according to one 1593 report from an English governor, had begun fomenting an opposition to English encroachment by this time. One story which does survive from this time, in 1565 a ship floundered off nearby Achill Head, on a particularly stormy day. Looking to salvage whatever she could from the wreck Grace set off into the storm. The texts I have read don’t say what treasure she may have found there, but she did find one Hugh De Lacey, shipwrecked sailor and son of a Wexford merchant. Grace took Hugh as a lover, but not for long, as he was killed by the McMahon clan. Enraged, Grace took revenge on the McMahons, murdering the perpetrators and taking over their castle, Doona, on the coast of Erris. The tales don’t make much of her being now twice unlucky in love, but all point out she now had two strategic points where she could capture a lot of passing booty – and it is at this point that she begins to become both very well known, and extremely wealthy.
Much of her tale at this time really is more folklore than history. One tale has it that Grace chased one neighboring chieftain who had tried to steal from her to a small island which contained just a church and a hermit. When the chieftain took refuge in the church Grace besieged the church and threatened to stay there till he starved to death if need be, but the chieftain dug a tunnel to safety. This is generally brought up to point out how godless Grace was, apparently.
One tale which was meant to show her in a different light goes as follows. One night returning from a raid Grace found herself needing to take rest at the town of Howth, near Dublin. They had run low on provisions and needed water particularly to get them home. She called upon the local lord, St Lawrence Earl of Howth, only to find the castle gates locked and a porter with a message that the Earl is not to be disturbed. He was dining. Sent packing she just so happened to come across the Earl’s grandson, and on a whim, kidnapped the boy. They boarded and headed for home. Not too long after they were visited by the Earl himself, distraught and willing to pay any price for the boy’s return. Grace agreed to his return, not for money but for a promise that in future the Earl would always leave his castle gates open to visitors, and when he dined he would always keep a chair free, for any passing traveler who stopped by – a tradition which remains to this day. The sources tell this as an example of her daring and level headedness- I think it is an interesting window into the heavily honor bound society she lived in where small sleights would often escalate into clan warfare, to a degree does show some level headedness – and does serve as a reminder of how different a time they lived in than us. One just has to think back to the Chibok schoolgirl kidnappings in Nigeria April 14 2014- by members of Boko Haram – and the subsequent worldwide condemnation of the act. We’re not so quick to make heroes of kidnappers these days.
In 1566 she remarried, to another chieftain, Richard ‘Iron Dick’ – for his ironworks of course – Bourke. While married to Bourke she continued a life of plunder – story has it they soon divorced, but not before bearing Richard a son – known as Toby of the Ships as he was born onboard a ship while away pirating. Legend has it that a day after giving birth, somewhere off the Irish coast they were boarded by Barbary pirates of Algerian origin who had strayed a long way from home. These Barbary picaroons were shocked to find themselves greeted by this half naked, angry lady with a musket – furious not just by their presence but that they dare arrive while she was breastfeeding. They fled for their lives. Grace O’Malley’s life continued in much this manner till 1574, which we’ll discuss right after this break.
Hi folks welcome back, so things take a turn for the worse around 1574. Now one might appreciate when Henry VIII laid claim to Ireland in 1542 it was largely a nominal thing, not of any great importance to people beyond the area which England controlled – the area known as the pale. Without digressing too far, when he made the proclamation it was not too long after England had officially brought Wales in, ad he had turned his attentions to Scotland. In 1544 Henry found himself at war with France, and soon after all but bankrupt from that war. Had he lived longer he may have taken a shot at the 60 independent chieftains in Ireland, but the stars were never to align for Henry. For Elizabeth, she would move in that direction, but didn’t make any serious moves against the O’Malleys’ until they became too big a problem to ignore anymore. This would happen in 1576.
Now this is not to say Elizabeth I didn’t think of an all out takeover of Ireland before this time. In 1565 it was mooted. Catholic Spain began to get very concerned over growing protestant numbers in the Netherlands, then under their control. Protestant England started to worry about a Spanish invasion, and the very real possibility they would take over Ireland as a home base. England didn’t have the resources at the time to launch an invasion – though they had a number of subjects they could resettle there, just to make the place more English. Like any colonization this meant an arrival of second sons of the gentry intent on building a fortune for themselves denied by primogeniture – the practice of passing everything to the first born son, of chancers, adventurers, and of the kind of bad men who can facilitate a land grab off the locals. Ireland quickly found itself overrun by these craven, desperate characters who viewed the native Irish in much the same way as the Spanish Conquistadors say, or the Jamestown settlers viewed the people of the Americas- savage, backwards, and unless you were talking about them as a cheap source of labour – then they were otherwise an impediment to progress. By 1569, in spite of active opposition by the chieftains, the English had established a military Governor – Sir Edward Fitton- to wield a big stick in Connaught. He had backing by a counterpart in Sir John Perot, in Munster. Both men had sizeable military support, and they began to work out how they would carve up Grace’s kingdom.
Many of the chieftains put up a resistance. The MacWilliam of Mayo (something like a chief of chiefs), the O’Flaherty’s, Richard Bourke, and the O’Malley’s included. The MacWilliam had given in by his death in 1570, handing much of Connaught to the English. In the face of an opposition still choosing to scrap it out, in 1576 the English Lord Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, arrived in Connaught to make the chieftains an offer they couldn’t refuse. Stop fighting now. Pledge allegiance to the crown, including paying the crown tax and complying to their laws. Get rid of the Gallowglasses in the area. Provide a contingent of Irish soldiers to the crown. If you doo all of this you will get your titles back, and some of your land. If you choose to keep fighting, then the offer is off the table. This was put to the chieftains in a meeting in Galway. In 1577 Grace met with Henry Sidney and pledged her allegiance to the crown. She also spent quite some time in conversation with Henry’s son, the poet Sir Philip Sidney – who recorded how remarkable he found O’Malley, but not what they discussed. In a book of his aphorisms collated long after his death Sir Philip Sydney would say “The only disadvantage of an honest heart is credulity.” He may have felt more than a little credulous, foolish – when almost immediately afterward she launched a raid on a rival chief, the Earl of Desmond, who had sold out to the English early on in the piece. This raid did not go as well as her raids usually did however, and Grace was captured and jailed for 18 months for the attack. In 1581 both her and Richard Bourke officially pledged their fealty, and were rewarded with British titles, and things may have settled to a point – no doubt the two would continue to provide low key resistance, but Ireland would likely have remained a safe place for the British colonizers and the sell outs – but in 1584 a new governor arrived. The new governor was a hard nosed ball breaker by the name of Sir Richard Bingham – yes the same family as the later John Bingham, Lord Lucan – who became infamous in 1974 when he botched a murder attempt on his wife, killing the nanny – then disappearing without a trace. Well Richard Bingham was determined to put down all opposition whatsoever by the chieftains, and he saw Grace O’Malley as especially dangerous.
Bingham, first undermined Grace’s title – which he saw largely based on her marriage to Bourke (their divorce was only temporary), Bourke died in 1583, leaving Grace yet again a widow, and now ruled by a law which stripped widows of their titles in favour of their children. He then went after her children – murdering her eldest son Owen, having two of Richard Bourke’s sons from his previous marriage executed for treason, kidnapping the beloved youngest child, Toby of the ships – and finally Bingham had Grace arrested with the intent of having her executed also. Grace’s son in law offered himself up in Grace’s place, which Bingham did allow, for some reason. Seizing the opportunity Grace O’Malley loaded up a ship, and out of desperation sailed for London. She knew she could not fight Bingham – he had been using similar tactics with other chieftains, decimating all opposition – but she knew Bingham had a boss – a lady who, like her had made it to the top of the ladder in a system which heavily favoured men. She was somewhere around the same age Grace is believed to have been born in 1530, Elizabeth in 1536. For their warlord- law lord divide they must have experienced similar trials and tribulations. She might just be willing to talk queen to queen.
Which brings us full circle- back to that meeting at Greenwich palace in September 1593. As typical of much of this story, their meeting wasn’t sufficiently recorded. We don’t know the specifics of their conversation, though we do know they did have a long conversation in Latin- Grace spoke no English, Elizabeth no Gaelic- both spoke the lingua franca of the time however. We know they were expecting Grace to show up looking like a stereotypical peasant, but when she arrived she had recently bathed – no mean feat in Elizabethan England – but that is a whole other topic. She also showed up wearing a fine gown to rival any courtier – although she caused a scandal when she refused to bow to Elizabeth, was found to have a knife on her ‘for her protection’ and, at one point had Elizabeth’s court horrified when she took a lace handkerchief from a lady in waiting to blow her nose -then disposed of the handkerchief in a lit fireplace. We do know she did state she was a loyal subject who was being unfairly targeted by Bingham – who had robbed her of her title, lands, even her extensive herd of cattle. She argued that Bingham was stopping her pursuit of legitimate maritime business, and holding her son captive. Elizabeth sided with Grace, ordering Bingham to leav her and her family alone – and to release Toby of the ships immediately. Grace, now well into her 60s, did return to piracy – leading to further conflict with Sir Richard Bingham. Again Grace returned to see Queen Elizabeth, in 1595 – this time not just getting her backing, but for a time getting Bingham removed from his post. Though this was very far from a happily ever after for the people of Connaught – it did not take a terribly long time for Bingham to regain his title, and things would only go from bad to worse for the Irish – Grace O’Malley, a warrior pirate queen who lived by the sword would live to a ripe old age for those times of 72, and die of natural causes in 1603 – the same year that Elizabeth I passed on.
Thank you for tuning in all, this one is a bit of a personal one for me – though I’m no aristocrat I do have family ties back to Ireland- and according to a DNA test have quite a bit of blood from Connaught. I’ll be back on the podcast in a few weeks’ time with a new tale. I will have a new blog post up on the in between week at historyandimagination.com. Please like, share, follow us on Facebook – or Instagram, both under Tales of History and Imagination. If you liked this episode please share us around. Music this week as always provided by Ishtar- a former New Zealand based hard rock group who, if they could be Grace O’Malley or Elizabeth I would have been Grace any day. Take care folks we’ll be back soon.