Great Adventures: the Voyage of the Batavia |

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Great Adventures: the Voyage of the Batavia

Pat Kinsella tells the terrible tale of history’s bloodiest maritime mutiny, where a psychopathic pharmacist wrought violent havoc on a marooned and helpless group of castaways, at the edge of an unmapped continent…
ISLANDS OF HORROR The Batavia (above) lies in tatters, as its travellers make their way to some uncharted nearby islands. They could hardly have imagined the wretched fate that awaited them

The year was 1628, and the newly built 1,200-tonne Batavia was the pride of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the flagship of the powerful merchant fleet. In October, she departed the Netherlands on her maiden voyage (see1 on map, below), bound for Batavia in Java (present-day Jakarta, Indonesia). On board was a fortune in silver bullion, two paintings by the Baroque artist Rubens, and 341 passengers and crew. Among them was a garrison of soldiers, being sent to bolster the defences of the remote Dutch outpost.

The ship was under the command of Francisco Pelsaert, a senior VOC merchant. Pelsaert was no professional sailor, however, and the Batavia was skippered by Ariaen Jacobsz. The two men had travelled together before, and there was no love lost between them. En route, Pelsaert reprimanded Jacobsz several times for drinking.

Pelsaert’s Onderkoopman (‘Under-Merchant’) was a destitute and disgraced apothecary named Jeronimus Cornelisz, on his first trip with the VOC. Cornelisz’s life was in tatters – his infant son had recently died of syphilis and he’d been accused of involvement with the artist Johannes van der Beeck, aka Torrentius, a painter whose libertine lifestyle had seen him tortured and jailed for heresy.


It was a potent mix: a ship heavy with treasure, skippered by a drunken and disempowered captain, bossed by a businessman, supported by a radical second-in command who had nothing left in life to lose.

The Batavia travelled in a convoy of seven vessels. A storm in the North Sea soon separated the fleet, however, and when it subsided, only three ships remained in contact: the Batavia, Assendelft and Buren.

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The September 2015 issue of History Revealed