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.

Two ships could possibly be the Batavia and the Sardam

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 Pelsaert surfaced on a smaller island nearby.

After discovering the islands were barren, Pelsaert, 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, Under merchant 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.

Engraving of the massacre that followed the Batavia shipwreck

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.

Cornelisz kept some women alive to be repeatedly raped and tortured.

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.

The hangings on Long Island

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.

Recently, gold coins, diamonds and artefacts were found among the wreckage on WA's 'treasure coast'. The new findings provide valuable insight into a world previously lost.

The history of the Batavia Shipwreck is one of great intrigue not only for its brutality and gore but the 'Lord of the Flies' esque feel the story has. So much so, that countless books and films have retold the horrific event. The most recent venture coming from Russel Crowe after he bought the rights to Hugh Edwards' book "Angry Ghosts."

Even today, almost four centuries after the event, mass graves are being unearthed showcasing the true brutality of Australia's darkest and most violent  mass killing. 

[Images: Western Australian Museum]

Tune in for Drain the Oceans, from Tuesday August 7 at 8.30pm AEST on National Geographic. Available on Foxtel, , FetchSKY TV, and the National Geographic App.

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