|List||National Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (06/04/2006)|
|Place File No||5/00/149/0011|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
Wrecked on 4 June 1629, the Batavia
is the oldest of the known Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC)
wrecks on the WA coast and has a unique place in Australian shipwrecks. Because of its relatively undisturbed nature
the archaeological investigation of the wreck itself has revealed a range of
objects of considerable value to the artefact specialist and historian. The
recovered sections of the hull of the Batavia
that have been reconstructed in the Western Australian Maritime Museum and
provides information on 17th century Dutch ship building techniques,
while the remains of the cargo carried by the vessel have provided economic,
and social evidence of the operation of the Dutch port at Batavia (now Jakarta)
in the early 17th century.
The wreck of the Batavia occurred after a long and arduous voyage where considerable hardship had already been experienced by the passengers and crew. The vessel ran aground at night on a coral reef that provided little by way of shelter and sustenance to the survivors. Their only hope of assistance was from an isolated Dutch outpost 900 nautical miles away, and to fetch this assistance required a superb feat of seamanship by the Captain, Fransisco Pelsaert, in open boats under considerable hardship.
The mutiny and massacre that followed the wreck of the vessel remain unparalleled in Australian maritime history. The Batavia wreck sites have social and cultural significance to members of the wider Australian community due to their role in defining the archetypal Australian shipwreck story. The places on which the events unfolded during and after the wreck of the ship, are associated with a nationally important story which graphically illustrates the dangers and hardships inherent in sea travel to Australia and have become part of Australia’s cultural traditions.
The Batavia and its associated sites hold an important place in the discovery and delineation of the Western Australian coastline. The wreck of the vessel, and other Dutch ships like her, convinced the VOC of the necessity of more accurate charts of the coastline and resulted in the commissioning of Vlamingh’s voyage.
The human skeletal material of passengers and crew murdered by the mutineers and recovered from Beacon Island, has proved to be of considerable research significance. As the date and circumstances of most of the deaths on the island are known, the evidence collected from the island has proved important as reference data. Archaeological evidence indicates that the two ruined ‘huts’ on West Wallabi Island are the oldest structure built by Europeans on the Australian continent, while as a result of their being left on the mainland, the mutineers Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom de Bye are regarded as the first known European residents of the Australian continent.
The Houtman Abrolhos Islands
(‘Abrolhos’ means ‘Watch Out’ or ‘Keep your eyes
open’) stretch for 90 kilometres along the coast of Western
Australia. They were first discovered in
1619 by a Dutch sailor, Frederik de Houtman, whose name and warning they bear. There are 122 islands in the group, which is
built on the most southerly sub-tropical coral reef in the Indian
Ocean. Most of the islands are barren and waterless.|
The Batavia wreck site is located about 800 metres east from the southwest corner of Morning Reef in the Wallabi group of the Houtman Abrolhos, a series of low reefs and islands lying between latitudes 28 degrees 14’S and 29 degrees 00’S and longitudes 113 degrees 35’E and 114 degrees 04’E about 65 kilometres off the Western Australian coast. The shipwreck is protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. Under the Australia Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks Agreement (ANCODS), protective authority is vested in WA Maritime Museum. Location/Boundaries: Morning Reef, about1km south-east of Traitors Island, in the Wallabi Group of the Houtman Abrolhos, at latitude 28 degrees 29'24"S longitude 113 degrees 47'25"E. AMG ref:1641-733450. Admiralty chart 1056.
Campsites and graveyard survive on nearby islands, including Beacon Island and the ruins of two stone huts on West Wallabi Island. Archaeological evidence indicates that at least one of the huts was built in 1629 by survivors of the Batavia shipwreck. This hut measures 3m x 8m and consisted of two small rooms. The other hut, 0.5km to the north-west, measures 4.2m x 5.2m. It is of similar construction to the first and was also probably built in 1629 by the survivors, although evidence suggests that it may have been reoccupied by guano diggers around the beginning of the 20th Century.
The Batavia was a flagship of the Dutch East India Company -Verenigde OostIndische Compagnie (VOC). This was a private company of merchants - one of the first in European history. The key business of the VOC was the spice trade centred on the fertile tropical islands comprising what is today Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia. The VOC was centred on a Dutch depot-city of Batavia on the key Indonesian island of Java, now modern day Jakarta. In the first half of the 17th Century, the VOC was the wealthiest and most powerful merchant company on earth (Aykut 2005) and the most important organization and largest employer in the prosperous and powerful United Provinces of the Netherlands.
Encouraged by the successful return of General Carpentier earlier in 1628 with five richly laden vessels, the Directors of the VOC had ordered that eleven vessels be equipped for further voyages that year (Henderson 1980: p.17).
The Batavia was constructed for the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC and sailed from Amsterdam for the east Indies on her maiden voyage on 27 October 1628. Described as a ‘retour’ ship, she was a large merchant vessel probably a little over 150 feet in length and weighing about 600 tons, designed for return voyages to the East Indies (Henderson 1980: p.13). The Batavia was the flagship of a fleet of three vessels, along with the Dordrecht and the Assendelft. The President of the fleet and senior VOC commander was Francisco Pelsaert, who travelled on the Batavia. Pelsaert was born in Antwerp about 1591, and rose to become a merchant in the VOC service. He travelled extensively in middle and eastern Asia, and was VOC resident for seven years in Agra, India (Feeken & Feeken 1970: p. 38). He was accompanied on the vessel by the skipper Ariaen Jacobsz and the supercargo (officer in charge of the cargo) Jeronimus Cornelisz.
The vessel had 322 people on board as well as a large quantity of trade goods. To facilitate the purchase of goods in the Indies, it also carried 12 chests of silver coin worth 250,000 guilders and a large quantity of jewels valued at 58,000 guilders (Henderson 1980: p.17). The treasure included two beautiful antiquities that the famous Dutch-Flemish artist and diplomat Peter Paul Rubens was shipping to the Mogul ruler of India, Shah Jehangir (1605-27). If the Moghul emperor was pleased with these it was hoped that Jebangir or his successor, Shah Jehan (1628-58) would grant the VOC more access to India for trade. One such treasure on board the Batavia was a Roman cameo known as the Great Cameo of Gaspar Boudaen. Carved about 312-15 CE it depicted the Christian Roman Emperor Constantine. It was recovered from the wreck and is now in the Royal Coin Museum at the Hague in the Netherlands. The other treasure was an onyx vase, known as ‘the Rubens vase’, carved with images of Pan. The Rubens vase was cut from a single agate found in the Byzantine period and is now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, USA (Aykut
After rounding the southern tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, the Batavia kept well south using the route discovered by Pelsaert’s brother in law, Hendrik Brower, in 1611. To make use of winds in the Roaring Forties, the vessel sailed across the southern Indian Ocean to roughly the line of longitude of Java in Indonesia before turning northward to sail up to Batavia through the Sunda Straits. In doing so, she separated from the other two vessels (Henderson 1980: p.17).
During the voyage, Cornelisz conspired with the skipper Jacobsz, the pilot, and other officers to mutiny and seize the ship for the purpose of piracy. Pelsaert had been laid up sick in his cabin for most of the trip, and by this time few of the crew respected the VOC’s President (Aykut 2005). A plan was hatched to snatch Batavia’s riches and seize the ship. The mutineers believed that they could get rich quickly by sailing under the Dutch East India Company flag, fooling, trapping and plundering sister ships of the VOC, and that it would take at least a year before the Batavia was reported missing (Aykut 2005). The skipper, Ariaen Jacobsz, was to give the signal to mutiny. It was to coincide with the disciplinary action soon to be administered to a crew member for attacking one of the well-born passengers, Lady Lucretia van der Meylan.
Before the mutiny could take place, however, the ship ran aground on Morning Reef in the Wallabi Group of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands during the night of 4 June 1629 (Feeken & Feeken 1970: p. 38). The skipper, Jacobsz, had seen white foam on the water some distance from the reef, but members of the night watch convinced him that it was nothing more than the sheen of moonlight on the water (Henderson 1980: p.17).
Soundings taken after the ship struck, revealed three fathoms of water underneath the stern of the vessel but much less forward, and the ships canon were prepared to be thrown overboard in an attempt to lighten the ship. The mainmast was also cut away but became so entangled with the rigging that it only served to increase the pounding of the vessel on the coral reef. In the morning it was decided to send most of the crew onshore with the women, children, and the sick. Although forty people drowned in swimming from the wreck, over 250 of those on board reached three small islands nearby (Henderson 1980: pp.17-18).
Stranded on barren and virtually waterless islands, panic set in. People began to die of thirst and it became clear that all would perish if water was not found quickly. Without alerting the others of his intentions, Pelsaert set sail in a long boat in search of water, taking with him the skipper, Jacobsz, and 35 others including two women and a baby. A second yawl carrying ten others followed. Finding no water on the Australian mainland they then decided to sail on to Indonesia, 900 nautical miles away, to get help. This journey, made in small open boats, was a remarkable navigational feat of survival but for those left behind, however, their desertion was seen as treachery (Aykut 2005).
On the islands, Jerorimus Cornelisz, Batavia’s second under-merchant and the highest-ranking VOC representative left, now took charge. For the remaining survivors, this was a fatal appointment. Cornelisz had never meant to go to sea. He was not a merchant by profession and had no family or interests in the East. He had been trained and practiced as an apothecary before leaving Holland, and was a man of education and refinement who moved with ease among the upper classes of the United Provinces. At home in the Netherlands, his social standing had been higher than that of any other man or woman on board the Batavia; he had even out-ranked his superior on the ship, Pelsaert. Indeed, throughout his life - and he was 30 when he sailed for Java - the under-merchant would have had no reason to associate with what the Dutch called the ‘grauw’, those who occupied the lowest levels of society. Now, however, he was a desperate man. When he left the United Provinces, he was almost bankrupt, and possibly a wanted heretic (Dash 2002: pp. 17-18). He was believed to be a member of a Protestant sect called Anabaptists. But his philosophical leanings were known as Antinomianism - the idea that moral law is not binding on an individual who exists in a state of perfection — which members of the Dutch Reformed Church considered a dangerous and heretical belief (Dash 2002: pp.37-38). Cornelisz’s central belief was that God directly inspired his every action. He was convinced God had singled him out for special treatment and special favour, and that he lived his life in what amounted to a perpetual state of grace. ‘All I do, God gave the same into my heart’ he explained to a handful of trusted acquaintances (quoted in Dash 2002: p38). Taken literally, it implied that he was incapable of sin, If each idea, each action, was directly inspired by God, then no thought, no deed - not even mutiny and murder -could be truly described as evil (Dash 2002: pp.37-38). Antinomian Anabaptists also believed that all women should be held in common (Drake-Brockman 1963:p.73).
Cornelisz formed a select band of men and devised a new mutiny plan. They planned to reduce the number of survivors to 40 so they could effectively seize the rescue ship, when and if one came, and to then undertake the original plan of piracy against other VOC ships in the area (Aykut 2005). Those who might oppose the mutineers’ plans were sent to islands further away and instructed to look for water. They were not expected to find any and Cornelisz believed they would perish. Once they were safely out of the way, a reign of terror ensued as Cornelisz’ men began murdering those remaining, beginning with the sick and the injured. Others were lured to their death under various pretexts and eventually, as numbers dwindled and bloodlust took hold, wholesale slaughter took place with little secrecy. Forensic evidence from skeletons recovered from Beacon and West Wallabi Islands indicate that the murders were brutal. The skeleton now identified as BAT M3901 shows signs of having been killed by blows to the head and face with an axe, whereas skeleton BAT A15507 appears to have had his throat cut after having been beaten down with blows from a cutlass (Hunneybun 195: pp.4-5 & 4-6). Skeleton BAT A15508, that of a juvenile female, was found with evidence of musket shot in the ribcage also indicating a violent death (Hunneybun 195: p4-lO). No one was spared, save the Predikant (minister) and some of the women who now served the mutineers as concubines. Lady Lucretia van der Meylan became Cornelisz’ prize (Aykut 2005). The worst excesses occurred on the night of 2l July 1629, when the Predikant’s wife and six of his children were beaten to death, along with the family’s maid, Wijbrecht Claes, another woman named Maijken Cardoes and a man named Hendrick Denijs. All were buried in a shallow hole on Beacon Island which had been hastily prepared for the purpose (Huystee 2000: pp.12-13).
The events following the wreck of the Batavia are so bizarre that is has been theorised that they may have been a form of dementia bought on by scurvy, with its well known symptoms of depression and paranoia (Edwards 1998: p.88)
The men Cornelisz had sent to perish on Wallabi Island, however, unexpectedly found water. Led by a mercenary soldier called Wiebbe Hayes, they learned of the murders on the other islands when one man managed to escape and swam across to join Hayes and inform him of the massacre taking place (Henderson 1980: p. 21). Cornelisz sent 22 men in two boats to destroy Hayes’ group, but the attack was repulsed. During a second assault Cornelisz went with 37 men to the island, but Hayes’ group met them at the waters edge and using clubs forced Cornelisz to retire.
Cornelisz then proposed a ‘treaty’ whereby Hayes and his men would be unmolested and would receive some clothing, provided they surrendered their small boat. During the negotiations, however, Hayes men killed Cornelisz’ bodyguards and made him a prisoner (Henderson 1980: p.21). Notwithstanding the capture of Cornelisz, the mutineers continued the murders of other surviving passengers and crew on the other islands (Aykut 2005).
Hayes was aware that it was vital to get to the rescue ship first, if indeed one ever appeared. If the mutineers made first contact, they could capture the vessel unawares. If Hayes’ group made first contact, the vessel’s officers could be warned against attack and the mutiny would be aborted.
Pelsaert reached the town of Batavia on 7 July 1629, three days after the first murders began on the Abrolhos Islands. He was given command of the yacht, Sardam, and set sail on 15 July to rescue Batavia’s survivors and salvage her treasures. On Pelsaert’ s arrival at the Houtman Abrolhos, Wiebbe Hayes’ men reached him first, informed him about the mutiny and murders, and warned him to return to the Sardam to avoid being surprised by Cornelisz’ men. He barely had time to return to the Sardam, when two boatloads of Cornelisz’ men then came alongside and Pelsaert threatened to sink their boats unless they surrendered (Henderson 1980: p. 21). On surrender, they were immediately placed in irons. On 18 September 1629 the remaining mutineers were captured and a quantity of jewellery was recovered from their hands. Indian divers, bought for the purpose on the Sardam, recovered eleven of the chests of silver coin, leaving one which they found impossible to move (Henderson 1980: p. 21).
The key mutineers were tried at sea. Interrogated and tortured for 10 days until they signed their confessions, seven of the mutineers were hung. Before they were executed, the hand that signed their confession was chopped off. Pelsaert, in his Journal explained why the decision was made to try the worst offenders on the spot rather than taking them back to Batavia for trial:
“Therefore, after long examination of all the people who have been on the island, in order to come to the straight truth, which praise be to God, we have found, the question has been put by the Commander, whether one should take such a gruesome villain [Cornelisz] (who is besmirched with all unthinkable misdeeds and the horror thereof) in captivity on our Ship to Batavia to bring him before the Hon. Lord Gov. Gen., who could give him the justly deserved punishment, or whether, because according to the strict order of our Lord Masters, villains and Criminal evil-doers must not be brought to Batavia, in order not to put ships and men in such like danger (should be punished here)... [We] have therefore unanimously resolved and found good, in the best service of the Company and our Hon. Lord Masters, in order that their ship and the valuable goods that have been fished up here, praise be to God, may be safe against further disaster, to sentence the said Jeronimus Cornelisz, with the worst and most willing Murderers, who have made a profession of it [heresy].” (quoted in Aykut 2005).
Two of the youngest of the mutineers, Wouter Loos, a soldier and the captain of the rebel troop after the capture of Cornelisz, and Jan Pelgrom de Bye (18 years old), avoided execution when they were sentenced to be marooned on the Australian mainland. Armed with some provisions, they were told to explore the land and to try and make contact with Aborigines. They were put ashore at the mouth of an inlet at 27° 51’, now believed to be the mouth of the Murchison River (Henderson 1980: p21) and instructed to keep watch for a vessel to take them off after two years. They were never seen again, and might be considered as Australia’s first known European residents (Pearson 2004: p.39)
Other mutineers were imprisoned or executed later at Batavia. Of the 332 people who began the 32-week voyage from the Netherlands on the Batavia, only 116 reached their destination (Green et al. 2004: p.13).
The wreck site of the Batavia was found at Morning Reef in 1963 by fishermen and divers (Cramer 1999: pp.83-87). During the 1960s the WA Maritime Museum used watch-keepers on the site to ensure that it was not looted and between 1972 and 1976 the Museum’s Department of Maritime Archaeology conducted a series of excavations on the wreck. During the excavations, along with other artefacts, part of the hull was uncovered and carefully raised. After a number of years of conservation treatment these remains, which consist of the stern quarter of the port side of the ship up to the top of the first gun deck and the transom and stern post, were re-built into a section of the hull which is now on display in the ‘Batavia Gallery’ at the Museum. Also recovered were 97 out of a total of 149 pre-fabricated and numbered stone blocks of the portico façade of what was intended to become the water gate at the Dutch fort in Batavia. These have also been reconstructed and are on display in the ‘Batavia Gallery’ (Green et al. 2004: p.13).
In 1960 human bones were discovered during the digging of a leach drain at a fishing camp on Beacon Island by Mr 0 ‘Pop’ Marten, who also discovered the first dated object from the Batavia. After being reported to the Police and forensically examined, the skeletal remains were given the accession label BAT M3901 and sent to the Netherlands Maritime Museum. The object Marten picked up at the same time and described as a ‘pewter utensil’ bore an engraved inscription indicating that it had been made in 1628 by Conrad Droschel. It turned out to be the brass Garland from a natural trumpet made by the Nurnberg trumpet maker Conrad Droschel. Parts of the trumpet bow, yard tubing and four mouthpieces were subsequently excavated from the stern area of the underwater wreck site between 1963 and the early 1970s (Stanbury 1998: pp.107-08). In June 1963 Max Cramer found objects of 17th century Dutch origin associated with skeletal material on Beacon Island and hypothesised from this evidence that the island was that which was described in Pelsaert’s journal as “Batavia’s Graveyard” (Hunneybun 1995: p.2-6). Excavations conducted by Hugh Edwards in August 1963 located the remains of the survivor’s camp on Beacon Island and found the skeletons now numbered BAT Al5507 and A15508 (Hunneybun 1995: p.2-6). In 1964 and 1965 staff and students from Perth’s Aquinas College excavated sites on West Wallabi Island and confirmed that this was the site occupied by Wiebbe Hayes and his men (Edwards 1998: p.92 & Hunneybun 1995: p2-7). In 1967, 1974, 1980 and 1992 expeditions were led to the islands by the WA Maritime Museum. Although no skeletal material was unearthed, further Dutch 17th Century artefacts were located. However a subsequent expedition in 1994 located two virtually complete skeletons (Hunneybun 1995: p.2-8 to 2-11). With the exception of the original skeletal material sent to the Netherlands, the remainder is held by the WA Maritime Museum (Stanbury 1998: p.113).
In 1972, the Australian and Dutch Governments signed an agreement to protect the VOC wrecks on the Western Australian coastline, including the Batavia. The subject matter of the Australia Netherlands Agreement Concerning Old Dutch Shipwrecks (ANCODS) makes it almost unique amongst international treaties (O’Keefe & Prott 1978: p.2). Under the Agreement the Dutch Government, as the legal heirs of the VOC, transferred “all its right, title and interest in and to wrecked vessels of the VOC lying on or off the coast of the State of Western Australia and in and to any articles thereof to Australia”. This agreement came into force on 6 November 1972. In return Australia recognised that the Netherlands has “a continuing interest” in articles recovered from such wrecks, “particularly for historical and other cultural purposes”. Under the Agreement, a Committee consisting of both Dutch and Australian participants determines the disposition of material recovered from the wrecks.
Additional to this, the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, which received royal assent on 15 December 1976, but which did not apply to waters off the Western Australian coast until the proclamation to that effect by the Governor-General on 3 September 1977, makes specific reference to the ANCODS Agreement and contains provisions designed to protect VOC wrecks.
|Condition and Integrity|
The wrecksite on Morning Reef is well preserved
with considerable structure remaining.|
The walls of the ruins of the two stone huts on West Wallabi Island are reasonably well preserved. Although there is little remaining evidence of the campsites on Beacon Island, archaeological investigation of the gravesites indicates that these are in excellent condition, with the highly alkaline structure of the coral based soil assisting in the preservation of the skeletal material (Hunneybun 1995: p.2-10).
The Western Australian Maritime Museum reported to a meeting of the Australia-Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks (ANCODS) on 9-10 December 2002 on human land use pressure on Beacon Island. The Committee minuted that it encouraged the adoption of strategies that recognise the outstanding significance of the archaeological heritage of the island.
About 5400ha, 90km north west of Geraldton, comprising an
area bounded by a line commencing at the southern most point of West Wallabi Island, then directly easterly to AMG point
774000mE 6844800mN (GDA94 Lat 28deg 29' 36" S Long 113 deg 48' 00" E), then via Grid
north to its intersection with the southern edge of Morning Reef, then north
easterly via the eastern edge of Morning Reef to its northern most point, then
directly north westerly to the southern most point of East Wallabi Island, then
north westerly to the northern most point of West Wallabi Island, then south
westerly and southerly via the western coastline of West Wallabi
Island to the point of commencement.|
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Report Produced Sat Dec 21 11:27:15 2013