The Batavia – 1629

The Batavia, built in Amsterdam in 1628 was the company’s new flagship, she sailed that year on her maiden voyage for Batavia. On 4 June 1629, the Batavia was wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos, a chain of small islands off the coast of Western Australia.

Five days after the disaster happened, Commander Francisco Pelsaert and skipper Arien Jacobsz with forty six others left in the ship’s longboat to search for water, ending up in Batavia and not returning for three and a half months, during which time a massacre occurred.

Francisco Pelsaert  (c. 1595 – September 1630)

A Dutch merchant who worked for the Dutch East Indies Company, who became most famous as the commander of the ship Batavia, which ran aground in the Houtman Abrolhos off the coast of Western Australia in June 1629.  
Replica at the Museum of Geraldton of Batavia’s long boat that Pelsaert sailed to Java. Paul Budde 2018.

Following the Batavia shipwreck in 1629, a group of the marooned soldiers under the command of Wiebbe Hayes were put ashore on West Wallabi Island to search for water. The mutineers were secretly hoping that they would starve or die of thirst. However the soldiers were able to wade to neighbouring East Wallabi Island, where there was a fresh water spring. Furthermore, West and East Wallabi Island are the only islands in the group upon which the tammar wallaby lives. Thus the soldiers had access to sources of both food and water that were unavailable to the mutineers.

Later the mutineers mounted a series of attacks on the soldiers, which they were able to repulse. The remnants of improvised defensive walls and stone shelters built by Wiebbe Hayes and his men on West Wallabi Island are oldest surviving European buildings in Australia. The remnants of “the fort” are nothing more than a tiny, sandstone-coloured rectangle in the scrub about 100 metres from the sea. It is unimpressive and isolated and yet this simple structure, just some loose rocks piled up to make a simple fortress, saved the survivors of the Batavia.

Escapees from the bloodshed on Beacon Island alerted Hayes, and he organised the defence of his companions, repelling attacks from Cornelisz.

Wiebe Haye’s fortress on East Wallabi Island from the air, fortress circled in red.

Replica of Wiebe Haye’s fortress on East Wallabi Island in Batavia Park, Geraldton.

In recognition of his role the Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association (BCMHA) raised funds and arranged for the sculpting and casting of the statue in 2009. The statue shows a defiant Hayes bearing one of the pikes the Defenders had made.
Replica of Wiebe Haye’s fortress on East Wallabi Island in Batavia Park, Geraldton.

The pictures above are made in 2018 remembering Wiebe Hayes and the first European ‘building’ on Australian ground. Wiebe was born about 1608, he was a colonial soldier from Winschoten, Netherlands. He became a national hero after he led a group of soldiers, sailors and other survivors of the shipwreck of the Batavia against the murderous mutineers led by Jeronimus Cornelisz .

In October, at the height of their last and deadliest battle, when Hayes and his men were able to capture Cornellisz they were interrupted by the return of Pelsaert aboard the Sardam. Hayes raced ahead of the remaining mutineers to warn him of their plans to overwhelm the rescue ship. Cornelisz denied all charges but there was plenty of evidence from the survivors to the contrary.

Pelsaert subsequently tried and convicted Cornelisz and six of his men, who became the first Europeans to be legally executed in Australia. Two other mutineers, convicted of comparatively minor crimes, were marooned on mainland Australia, thus becoming the first Europeans to permanently inhabit the Australian continent. Of the original 332 people on board Batavia, only 122 made it to the port of Batavia.

Below is an overview of the three groups of photos .

In 2000 the Batavia was transported by ship to Australia, where it took part in the celebrations surrounding the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The photos in the group to the left are made at that time.

The photo in the middle depicts the large-scale embroidered work – known as the Batavia tapestry – by Melbourne textile artist Melinda Piesse. It was on display in the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney in 2017.

The group of four photos to the right shows pictures of the Houtman Abrohlos. All these pictures were made during a flight over the islands in 2018.

Top left: overview of the Pelseart Group of Islands, the southernmost of the three groups of islands that make up the Houtman Abrolhos island chain. It was here where the drama of the Batavia unfolded.

Top right: Morning Reef near Beacon Island where the Batavia was shipwrecked.

Bottom left: Beacon Island known as the Batavia Graveyard, it is here that most victims of Cornelisz were killed. There is currently archaeological works taken place in relation to the remains. For that purpose all fisherman’s huts that have build during the mid 1900s have been removed from the island.

Bottom right: Long Island. Pelsaert decided to conduct his trials on the islands, because the Sardam on the return voyage to Batavia would have been overcrowded with survivors and prisoners. After a brief trial, the worst offenders were taken to Seal Island (now called Long Island) and executed. Cornelisz and several of the major mutineers had both hands chopped off before being hung. Bottom right: Gun Island

Replica of the Batavia at the Sydney Olympics – 2000
Large-scale embroidered work – known as the Batavia Tapestry – by Melbourne textile artist Melinda Piesse. It was on display in the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney in 2017.

The pictures below were made by Roland Spuy at the lego exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney in January 2023.

The Houtman Abrolhos Islands

The Houtman Abrolhos. All these pictures were made during a flight over the islands in 2018.

In 2018 we flew to Geraldton and from here we toured the Shipwreck Coast to Dirk Hartog Island to the north. We flew over the Pelsaert Group of islands where the drama with the Batavia happened. Geraldton has an excellent museums with a large section dedicated to the Batavia and other shipwrecks. Batavia Park, dedicated to people who died in the massacre was opened in 2013, 50 years after the discovery of the wreck by Max Weber.

The shipwreck gallery in the Museum of Geraldon features artifacts including clay pipes, silver coins, cannons. The sandstone portico was transported as ballast in the hull of the Batavia. It was transported to Batavia for one of its city gates.

Paul Budde – 2018 (all pictures are made by me)

Batavia the opera

The drama of the Batavia has been transformed into an opera. It is in three acts and a prologue by Richard Mills to a libretto by Peter Goldsworthy, commissioned by Opera Australia. The plot is based on the historical events surrounding the Dutch sailing ship Batavia.

The opera premiered on 11 May 2001 at the State Theatre (Melbourne) for the Centenary of Federation Festival. It received three Helpmann Awards and six Green Room Awards. The work lasts for about three hours and ten minutes with one interval. Pictures below are scenes for the opera.

Others articles on the Batavia in the DACC collection

Below is a collection of video talks and other stories about the Batavia.

SBS Video – Peter FitzSimons at SBS Radio/Dutch about his book Batavia 29-3-2011

SBS Video – Peter FitzSimons on SBS Radio about the Batavia’s significance 5-4-2011

SBS Video – Peter FitzSimons Talks Batavia 5-4-2016

Graf met opvarenden Batavia gevonden 3-11-2017

Mysteries van het VOC-schip Batavia verder ontrafeld: Nieuw massagraf ontdekt op Beacon Island 20-11-2017

Batavia research at Flinders University Archaeology

Scheepswrak ‘Batavia’ onthult geheimen van 17de-eeuwse scheepsbouw.

The Night Ship – Novel about the Batavia

Compagnie Batavia – 73rd Living History Reenactment group