Batavia (Dutch pronunciation:
[baːˈtaːviaː]) was a ship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
It was built in Amsterdam in 1628, and armed with 24 cast-iron
cannons and a number of bronze guns. Batavia was shipwrecked on
her maiden voyage, and was made famous by the subsequent mutiny
and massacre that took place among the survivors. A
twentieth-century replica of the ship is also called the Batavia
and can be visited in Lelystad, Netherlands.
Mutiny on the Batavia
Departure and voyage
On 27 October 1628, the newly built Batavia, commissioned by the
Dutch East India Company, sailed from Texel for the Dutch East
Indies, to obtain spices. It sailed under commander and
opperkoopman (upper- or senior merchant) Francisco Pelsaert,
with Ariaen Jacobsz serving as skipper. These two had previously
encountered each other in Surat, India. Although some animosity
had developed between them there, it is not known whether
Pelsaert even remembered Jacobsz when he boarded Batavia. Also
on board was the onderkoopman (under- or junior merchant)
Jeronimus Cornelisz, a bankrupt pharmacist from Haarlem who was
fleeing the Netherlands, in fear of arrest because of his
heretical beliefs associated with the painter Johannes van der
Beeck, also known as Torrentius.
During the voyage, Jacobsz and Cornelisz conceived a plan to
take the ship, which would allow them to start a new life
somewhere, using the huge supply of trade gold and silver then
on board. After leaving Cape Town, where they had stopped for
supplies, Jacobsz deliberately steered the ship off course, away
from the rest of the fleet. Jacobsz and Cornelisz had already
gathered a small group of men around them and arranged an
incident from which the mutiny was to ensue. This involved
molesting a high-ranking young female passenger, Lucretia Jans,
in order to provoke Pelsaert into disciplining the crew. They
hoped to paint his discipline as unfair and recruit more members
out of sympathy. However, the woman was able to identify her
attackers. The mutineers were then forced to wait until Pelsaert
made arrests, but he never acted, as he was suffering from an
On 4 June 1629 the ship struck Morning Reef near Beacon Island
(28°29′25″S 113°47′36″ECoordinates: 28°29′25″S 113°47′36″E),
part of the Houtman Abrolhos off the Western Australian coast.
Of the 322 aboard, most of the passengers and crew managed to
get ashore, although 40 people drowned. The survivors, including
all the women and children, were then transferred to nearby
islands in the ship's longboat and yawl. An initial survey of
the islands found no fresh water and only limited food (sea
lions and birds). Pelsaert realised the dire situation and
decided to search for water on the mainland.
A group comprising Captain Jacobsz, Francisco Pelsaert, senior
officers, a few crewmembers, and some passengers left the wreck
site in a 30-foot (9.1 m) longboat (a replica of which has also
been made), in search of drinking water. After an unsuccessful
search for water on the mainland, they abandoned the other
survivors and headed north in a danger-fraught voyage to the
city of Batavia, now known as Jakarta. This journey, which ranks
as one of the greatest feats of navigation in open boats, took
33 days and, extraordinarily, all aboard survived.
After their arrival in Batavia, the boatswain, a man named Jan
Evertsz, was arrested and executed for negligence and
"outrageous behavior" before the loss of the ship (he was
suspected to have been involved). Jacobsz was also arrested for
negligence, although his position in the potential mutiny was
not guessed by Pelsaert.
Batavia's Governor General, Jan Coen, immediately gave Pelsaert
command of the Sardam to rescue the other survivors, as well as
to attempt to salvage riches from the Batavia's wreck. He
arrived at the islands two months after leaving Batavia, only to
discover that a bloody mutiny had taken place amongst the
survivors, reducing their numbers by at least a hundred.
Jeronimus Cornelisz, who had been left in charge of the
survivors, was well aware that if that party ever reached the
port of Batavia, Pelsaert would report the impending mutiny, and
his position in the planned mutiny might become apparent.
Therefore, he made plans to hijack any rescue ship that might
return and use the vessel to seek another safe haven. Cornelisz
even made far-fetched plans to start a new kingdom, using the
gold and silver from the wrecked Batavia. However, to carry out
this plan, he first needed to eliminate possible opponents.
Cornelisz's first deliberate act was to have all weapons and
food supplies commandeered and placed under his control. He then
moved a group of soldiers, led by Wiebbe Hayes, to nearby West
Wallabi Island, under the false pretence of searching for water.
They were told to light signal fires when they found water and
they would then be rescued. Convinced that they would be
unsuccessful, he then left them there to die.
Cornelisz then had complete control. The remaining survivors
would face two months of unrelenting butchery and savagery.
With a dedicated band of murderous young men, Cornelisz began to
systematically kill anyone he believed would be a problem to his
reign of terror, or a burden on their limited resources. The
mutineers became intoxicated with killing, and no one could stop
them. They needed only the smallest of excuses to drown, bash,
strangle or stab to death any of their victims, including women
Cornelisz never committed any of the murders himself, although
he tried and failed to poison a baby (who was eventually
strangled). Instead, he used his powers of persuasion to coerce
others into doing it for him, firstly under the pretence that
the victim had committed a crime such as theft. Eventually, the
mutineers began to kill for pleasure, or simply because they
were bored. He planned to reduce the island's population to
around 45 so that their supplies would last as long as possible.
In total, his followers murdered at least 110 men, women, and
Although Cornelisz had left the soldiers, led by Wiebbe Hayes,
to die, they had in fact found good sources of water and food on
their islands. Initially, they were unaware of the barbarity
taking place on the other islands and sent pre-arranged smoke
signals announcing their finds. However, they soon learned of
the massacres from survivors fleeing Cornelisz' island. In
response, the soldiers devised makeshift weapons from materials
washed up from the wreck. They also set a watch so that they
were ready for the mutineers, and built a small fort out of
limestone and coral blocks.
Cornelisz seized on the news of water on the other island, as
his own supply was dwindling and the continued survival of the
soldiers threatened his own success. He went with his men to try
to defeat the soldiers marooned on West Wallabi Island. However,
the trained soldiers were by now much better fed than the
mutineers and easily defeated them in several battles,
eventually taking Cornelisz hostage. The mutineers who escaped
regrouped under a man named Wouter Loos and tried again, this
time employing muskets to besiege Hayes' fort and almost
defeated the soldiers.
But Wiebbe Hayes' men prevailed again, just as Pelsaert arrived.
A race to the rescue ship ensued between Cornelisz's men and the
soldiers. Wiebbe Hayes reached the ship first and was able to
present his side of the story to Pelsaert. After a short battle,
the combined force captured all of the mutineers.
Pelsaert decided to conduct a trial on the islands, because the
Saardam on the return voyage to Batavia would have been
overcrowded with survivors and prisoners. After a brief trial,
the worst offenders were taken to Seal Island and executed.
Cornelisz and several of the major mutineers had both hands
chopped off before being hanged. Wouter Loos and a cabin boy,
considered only minor offenders, were marooned on mainland
Australia, never to be heard of again. Reports of unusually
light-skinned Aborigines in the area by later British settlers
have been suggested as evidence that the two men might have been
adopted into a local Aboriginal clan. Some amongst the Amangu
people of the mainland have a blood group specific to Leyden, in
Holland. However, numerous other European shipwreck survivors,
such as those from the wreck of the Zuytdorp in the same region
in 1712, may also have had such contact with indigenous
The remaining mutineers were taken to Batavia for trial. Five
were hanged, while several others were flogged. Cornelisz's
second in command, Jacop Pietersz, was broken on the wheel, the
most severe punishment available at the time.
Captain Jacobsz, despite being tortured, did not confess to his
part in planning the mutiny and escaped execution due to lack of
evidence. What finally became of him is unknown. It is suspected
that he died in prison in Batavia.
A board of inquiry decided that Pelsaert had exercised a lack of
authority and was therefore partly responsible for what had
happened. His financial assets were seized, and he died a broken
man within a year.
On the other hand, the common soldier Wiebbe Hayes was hailed as
a hero. The Dutch East India Company promoted him to sergeant,
and later to lieutenant, which increased his salary fivefold.
Of the original 341 people on board the Batavia, only 68 made it
to the port of Batavia.
Wreckage, discovery and recovery
During Admiralty surveys of the Abrolhos Islands on the
north-west coast in April 1840, Captain Stokes of HMS Beagle
On the south west point of an island the beams of a large vessel
were discovered, and as the crew of the Zeewyk, lost in 1728,
reported having seen a wreck of a ship on this part, there is
little doubt that the remains were those of the Batavia,
Commodore Pelsart, lost in 1629. We in consequence named our
temporary anchorage Batavia Road, and the whole group Pelsart
However, Stokes appears to have confused the wreck of the Zeewyk
for that of the Batavia. In the 1950s, historian Henrietta
Drake-Brockman, who had learnt of the story due to her
association with the children of the Abrolhos Islands guano
merchant F. C. Broadhurst, son of Charles Edward Broadhurst,
argued from extensive archival research and translations by E.
D. Drok, that the wreck must lie in the Wallabi Group of
islands. Surveyor Bruce Melrose and diving journalist Hugh
Edwards agreed with the theory. In association with
Drake-Brockman, Edwards organised a number of search expeditions
near Beacon Island in the early 1960s and narrowly missed
locating the site. After Edwards provided his research to them,
and after being led to the place by Abrolhos rock
lobster-fisherman Dave Johnson (who had seen an anchor from his
boat while setting lobster pots), on 4 June 1963 Max and Graham
Cramer with Greg Allen became the first to dive on the site. Its
location, together with those of the VOC ship Vergulde Draeck
(Gilt Dragon) and the English East India Company Triall (Tryal),
in the early 1960s, led to the formation of the Departments of
Maritime Archaeology and Materials Conservation and Restoration
at the Western Australian Museum.
In the period 1970 through to 1974, under the leadership of
maritime archaeologist Jeremy Green of the Western Australian
Museum, some of the cannon from the Batavia wreck, an anchor,
and many artifacts were salvaged, including timbers from the
port side of the ship's stern. These were then conserved by the
Museum's conservation laboratories under the leadership of Colin
Pearson and his successors Neil North and Ian MacLeod.
Monitoring and treatment of the timbers is ongoing and is under
the leadership of Ian Godfrey and Vicki Richards.
In order to facilitate the monitoring and any future treatment,
the hull timbers were erected on a steel frame designed and
erected by Geoff Kimpton, a member of Green's staff. The design,
and that of a stone arch, or portico, which was also raised from
the seabed, is such that individual components can be removed
for treatment without affecting those adjacent, or the exhibit
as a whole.
In 1972, the Netherlands transferred all rights to Dutch
shipwrecks on the Australian coasts to Australia. Some of the
items, including human remains, which were excavated, are now on
display in the Western Australian Museum – Shipwreck Galleries
in Fremantle, Australia. Others are held by the Western
Australian Museum, Geraldton. These two museums presently share
the remains: a replica stone arch is held in The Western
Australian Museum – Shipwreck Galleries, which was intended to
serve as a stone welcome arch for the city of Batavia and the
actual stone arch is held in the Western Australian Museum,
Geraldton; the original timbers from the ship's hull are held at
the Western Australian Museum – Shipwreck Galleries. While a
great deal of materials have been recovered from the wreck-site,
the majority of the cannons and anchors have been left in-situ.
As a result, the wreck remains one of the premier dive sites on
the West Australian coast and is part of the museum's wreck
trail, or underwater "museum-without-walls" concept.
A replica of the Batavia was built at the Bataviawerf (Batavia
shipyard) in Lelystad in the Netherlands. The project lasted
from 1985 to 7 April 1995, and was conducted as an employment
project for young people under master-shipbuilder Willem Vos.
The shipyard is currently reconstructing another 17th century
ship. In contrast to the merchant ship Batavia, Michiel de
Ruyters' flagship, the Zeven Provinciën, is a ship of the line.
The Batavia replica was built with traditional materials, such
as oak and hemp, and using the tools and methods of the time of
the original ship's construction. For the design, good use was
made of the remains of the original ship in Fremantle (and of
the Vasa in Stockholm), as well as historical sources, such as
17th century building descriptions (actual building plans
weren't made at the time), and prints and paintings by artists
(who, at the time, generally painted fairly true to nature), of
On 25 September 1999, the new Batavia was transported to
Australia by barge, and moored at the National Maritime Museum
in Sydney. In 2000, Batavia was the flagship for the Dutch
Olympic Team during the 2000 Olympic Games. During its stay in
Australia, the ship was towed to the ocean once, where it sailed
on its own. On 12 June 2001, the ship returned to the
Bataviawerf in Lelystad, where it remains on display to
visitors. On the evening of 13 October 2008, a fire ripped
through the shipyard. The museum's workshops, rigging loft,
block shop, offices, part of a restaurant and the entire
hand-sewn suit of sails of the ship were lost to the blaze,
however the replica of "De Zeven Provinciën" nearby was
undamaged. The moored Batavia was never in danger.