Australia’s Bloodiest Shipwreck

Madness, mutiny and murder. The story of the Batavia is a wild ride.

It might sound like the plot of an implausible Hollywood blockbuster, but the terrible tale of the Batavia is frighteningly real.

In October 1628, the Dutch East India Company’s Batavia set sail from the Netherlands to Batavia on her maiden voyage, with a cargo that included vast amounts of jewels and coins.

After making her way south, the Batavia struck a reef just 40 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia, near the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, in June 1629.

As the ship began to sink, most survivors made their way to a nearby island, which would later become known as Batavia’s Graveyard.

But the Batavia’s Commander Francisco Plesaert surfaced on a smaller island nearby.

After discovering the islands were barren, Plesaert, his skipper and 35 other men left the islands for Batavia, now known as Indonesia, in search of help, food and water.

Once his commander had departed, Undermerchant Jeronimus Cornelisz began to plot a mutiny.

His original plot to mutiny and seize the ship had been made before the wreck, but the Batavia had sunk before Cornelisz could put his plan into action.

Cornelisz and his motley crew of mutineers sent anyone who might oppose their plans to other islands in search of water.

Beginning with the weak and injured, Cornelisz and his men began their mass murder. With their bloodlust still not satisfied, the mutineers hunted down the men sent to other islands. In total, 125 men, women and children were massacred.

One man managed to escape and swim to the men sent to find water on Wallabi Island.

With the alarm raised, word was sent to Pelsaert when he returned from Batavia in a rescue ship.

While still on the island, the mutineers were tried for the murders. After ten days of torture, they confessed and were convicted. Seven men were hanged and two were sentenced to marooning on the Australian mainland, making them the first ever recorded European settlers.

And with that, one of the darkest chapters in Australia’s maritime history came to a close.

The Batavia’s wreck, discovered in the 1960s, is now housed at the Western Australian Museum.

A fort, built by the survivors as they tried to defend themselves from the mutineers, is thought to be the oldest structure in Australia built by Europeans.

Almost four centuries after the Batavia was wrecked, a new grave was discovered on the Morning Reef in the Abrolhos Islands in 2015.

It’s hoped the examination of the remains can shed new light on what happened during the shadowy days of the Batavia mutiny.

[Images: Western Australian Museum]

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