Tag Archives: Ariaen Jacobsz

The Wreck of The Batavia (part 6 – Water, water everywhere…)

Hi all this is part six of a seven part series, to pick up anywhere along the way click onetwothreefour Five.

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.

The Wreck of The Batavia (part 1 – The Wreck)

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.

Taken from a Swedish vessel…. but it sets the mood.


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.


(Theme music)


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.