- Book reviewer
- Ship histories and stories, Book reviews, History - pre-Federation, Non Commonwealth Navies
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Title: Batavia’s Graveyard
Author: Mike Dash
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London
The Dutch East India Company vessel Batavia ran aground upon Morning Reef in the early hours of the 4th June 1629, stranding her crew and passengers upon a group of small islands off the Western Australian coast. Mike Dash’s book looks at the events leading up to and after the grounding, going into great detail of the personalities and politics of those involved.
This is the story of the abuse and corruption of power and how fragile discipline is away from the hand of higher authority. It is not a pleasant book; the description of the acts committed while awaiting rescue are in most cases gruesome; however the story is well written and told in a logical and easy to understand progression.
It would appear that life aboard Batavia was far from happy prior to the grounding, key figures in her crew were on bad terms and mutiny was in the air, the presence of a beautiful woman of the upper classes added to the undercurrents of resentment and desire.
Of particular interest is the command structure used by the Dutch East India Company, where the skippers of the company’s vessels were under the orders of the Upper Merchant (a trader with little or no knowledge of the sea). The success of a voyage could depend upon the strength of character and common sense of this one man, in Batavia’s case one Francisco Pelsaert. Jeronimus Cornelisz, a man of charisma and troubled background, was Pelsaert’s assistant, the Under Merchant or second in command of the Company’s Traders. Cornelisz was a man to whom the fate of others was of little consequence.
The Dutch East India Company attracted men from all classes of life, from gentlemen adventurers looking to make a fortune from the spice trade to those soldiers and sailors who found the dangers of living (for many all too briefly) in the East favourable to staying in Europe. The Company’s soldiers and sailors were known to be amongst the most unruly and dangerous of their time and this was to their own officers. Discipline on the Company’s vessels was maintained by the exploitation of the dislike of the soldiers and sailors for each other and the fear of severe punishment on arrival in the East. Not the best mixture for a long voyage on a small crowded vessel.
Part of the book is given over to extensively detailed notes. The index and bibliography are also detailed and the author provides a guide to the pronunciation of the Dutch terms used in the text. Batavia’s Graveyard is an excellent book for both the casual reader and those seeking a less sensational explanation of her loss and subsequent events.