Mutiny and Murder on the West Coast
AN ARTICLE FROM OUR FRIENDS AT HAVE A GO NEWS
The Dutch Mariners…Mutiny and Murder on the West Coast!
When we left off in last month’s edition of Have A Go News Hartog had headed north to complete his outward journey to the Spice Islands of the East Indies.
Let’s now jump forward twelve years to October 27, 1628. The newly built Batavia set forth from Texel in the Netherlands on behalf of the Dutch East India Company loaded with a large supply of gold and silver to enable expansion of trading opportunities in the East Indies. She was part of a seven –ship fleet bound for the town of Batavia.
In command of Batavia was Francisco Pelsaert. He held the position of supercargo or opperkoopman – the most senior merchant aboard. Within his command were the captain Adriaan Jacobsz, and Jeronimus Cornelisz whom the VOC had placed aboard as the onderkoopman –subcargo or junior merchant.
Cornelisz was the most mysterious of characters, a bankrupt pharmacist from Haarlem, west of Amsterdam who had chosen to flee from the Netherlands, for fear of being arrested because of his heretical beliefs he embraced as a follower of the radical artist Johannes van der Beeck, also known as Torrentius.
Here is just a sampling of some the hard line views held by Van der Beeck…
“all traditional religions restrict pleasure. In doing so they are contrary to the will of God, who put us on earth that we might, during our brief existence, enjoy without hindrance everything that might give us pleasure”.
Imagine if you will how such views sat with the strong Christian values that prevailed in the broader Dutch society of the times.
Choosing to share such views placed Cornelisz at some risk, and so deciding to flee aboard a ship heading to the East Indies seemed like a damn good idea.
A review of the ship’s manifest suggests that Batavia officially carried 341 people for the voyage to the Indies. Of this number around 180 were the officers and crew whom had the responsibility of sailing the ship, there were about 100 soldiers, with the remaining numbers being civilian passengers, of which most were women and children.
And so with cargo loaded and passengers and crew aboard, Batavia headed into the English Channel, bound for Cape Town. It must have been an omen for the challenges that lay ahead, for within days of leaving Texel the fleet of seven ships was hit by a massive North Sea storm. Once the skies had cleared only three of the original seven ships remained within visual contact, not a good way to begin a six to nine month voyage!
During the voyage to Cape Town the first sign of trouble began to brew. Jacobsz, the Captain enjoyed a swig or two and on many occasions he clashed with Pelsaert who became concerned for the safety of the ship whilst in the command of a drunken captain.
Observing this, Cornelisz sought out Jacobsz’s ear in the hope of hatching a plan to take over the ship, then sailing to somewhere in the Indies where they could begin a new life using the huge supplies of gold and silver aboard to secure the food and materials that they would require.
A disgruntled Jacobsz did not require much persuading, so upon leaving Cape Town after re-provisioning Jacobsz deliberately steered Batavia away from the rest of the fleet. The protagonist’s enlisted the support of a small group of men who embraced their intentions, and together they hatched an incident that would ensure a mutiny would befall the Batavia.
Mutiny and murder are to come…
Join us again next month for the continuation of the Batavia story.
- Great South Land by Rob Mundle
- WA Maritime Museum
- Ships at sea © WA Maritime Museum archives