Oz’s Batavia Shipwreck slaughter: The dark tale of a mad Dutchman on the Houtman-Abrolhos islands, WA

Ship replica of the Batavia

Whilst Captain Cook is the man credited with discovering Australia, the Englishman was merely following up on the explorations of others. It is thought that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover the fabled Great Southern Land, whilst the Dutch were the first to give it a proper look and sniff it out properly.

The Dutch arrived here trying to find a short cut to what is now Indonesia. Jakarta (formerly Batavia) was their major Asian trading base, and it was a profit mine. However, in trying to find that short cut, they lost loads of ships that crashed into the west coast of Australia. The most famous of these ships is The Batavia, and its story is grizzly.

On June 4th 1629, the Batavia crashed into the Houtman Abrolhos islands, 40 miles off the coast of modern day Geraldton, but by all accounts, the campers aboard were not happy ones before this. Mutiny was in the air, and if it hadn’t been for the wrecking, it would have happened.

With the ship useless, the Commander set off on a raft for Indonesia to get help. Unfortunately, this left the man behind the mutiny, Jeronimus Corneliusz with a free rein, and by all accounts, he was not a nice man.

Soon after the commander had gone, Corneliusz managed to get a few soldiers, traders and cabin boys under his spell, and embarked on a reign of terror. The weak and helpless were sent off to other islands in the group, ones with no food or water, and left to die, whilst soldiers who could have threatened his authority were also sent off to starvation.

After that, Corneliusz and his men went berserk, going on a merciless killing spree. The plan was to reduce the numbers as quickly as possible so that the resources could be shared out amongst the remainder, but power went to the leadership group’s heads. Under the vague vestige of keeping order, any minor ‘crimes’ were met with shootings and beheadings. Women were taken as concubines, given a choice between this or death, and their daughters assaulted.

Eventually the reign of terror was ended when the soldiers that were sent away found a water source, and Corneliusz was forced to try and win them back into the fold with his resources running low. The soldiers, led by Wiebbe Hayes, weren’t having any of it, and arrested him on the spot.

When the Commander got back, Corneliusz was executed, whilst other ringleaders were left for dead in the barren lands on the Australian coast or taken to Batavia for trial.

The story of that barrel-of-laughs ship is told at the Maritime Museum in Fremantle’s Victoria Quay. It’s a only a gold coin donation to get in, and it’s packed with relics from the Batavia, as well as surviving pieces of the many other ships which met their end on the West Australian Coast.