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that she was deeply laden with silver specie and valuable trade
goods. On October 27, 1628 she departed the island of Texel in
northern Holland on her maiden voyage, bound for Batavia, (now
Jakarta) the VOC entrepot at the heart of the rich spice trade in
the colonial Dutch East Indies.
The flagship of a fleet of seven ships, Batavia was under the
command of the VOC’s Senior Merchant, Commandeur Francisco
Pelsaert. His subordinates, the Junior Merchant Jeronimus
Cornelisz and the ship’s Master, Ariaen Jacobsz, would later
emerge as the ringleaders in a plot to seize Batavia and use her
arms and cargo to found a pirate base from which they planned to
attack the gold and silver-laden Spanish and Portuguese galleons
returning home from the South American colonies.
Cornelisz, a bankrupt pharmacist from Haarlem was a devotee
of Johannes van der Beer, a painter-heretic who espoused an
anything goes belief in sexual freedom, a philosophy punished
by the full wrath of the deeply conservative 17th century Dutch
Protestants who tortured him and sent him into exile in England.
After their departure from the Dutch colony at the Cape of
Good Hope where the fleet was resupplied, Jacobsz deliberately
ordered that Batavia be steered off-course, taking her away from
the other ships of the VOC fleet. Jacobsz and Cornelisz had already
gathered around them a small group of disaffected soldiers and
arranged for an incident designed to trigger the mutiny.
This involved the indecent assault of a high ranking young
woman passenger, Lady Lucretia van der Mylen, who was on her
way to join her husband in Batavia.
Masked men held her by her ankles upside-down over the
side of the ship. The assault was a calculated attempt to provoke
Pelsaert into harsh disciplinary action against the crew. Their
idea was to paint his discipline as harsh and unfair and thereby
encourage more sympathetic crew members to join the renegades.
Although Lady van der Mylen subsequently testified that she
recognised the voice of the boatswain Jan Evertsz as one of her
attackers, Pelsaert, who was suffering from some mysterious
illness, took no action.
But then, on June 4, 1629, Batavia, under full sail on a moonlit
night and in calm seas, struck coral at Morning Reef, in the Wallabi
Group of the Houtman Abrolhos, off the north west coast of what
was then New Holland (Western Australia).
Forty were drowned when they abandoned the ship, however
everyone else was safely ferried ashore in B at av i a ’s longboat and
yawl. After an initial survey found no fresh water and only sea
lions and sea birds on the islands, Commandeur Pelsaert with
Skipper Jacobsz and all of his senior officers took the nine metre
longboat to the arid mainland coast in search of water. Having
discovered none, Pelsaert undertook a daring and hazardous
journey north toward the only possible source of rescue at Batavia.
In what still ranks as one of the world’s greatest open boat
voyages, the longboat and all her crew survived to reach the Dutch
settlement at Batavia after 33 days at sea. There, on Pelsaert’s
evidence, the boatswain, Jan Evertsz was executed for “negligence
and outrageous behaviour” for his involvement in the loss of the
ship. B at avi a’s Skipper Jacobsz was arrested and imprisoned.
The VOC Governor General at Batavia immediately gave
Pelsaert command of a small jacht, the Sardam, and ordered his
return to rescue the survivors and punish the pirates. Indian
free-divers from Gujarat were sent with him to help salvage
Bat av i a ’s precious cargo which included two chests of silver coins
(Rijksdollars) and other art treasures.
Unfortunately, Pelsaert took 63 days to make the return voyage.
During his prolonged absence the megalomaniacal Cornelisz
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