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The wreck of Batavia and its dark secrets – part three

Catch up on part one and two of the story.

Despite his capture, the mutineers back on Beacon Island were preparing for another attack – this time, under the command of Wouter Looes. On 17 September 1629, Looes used two muskets (a muzzle-loaded long gun), to kill three of Hayes’ soldiers. Cornelisz had been saving the two guns for when the rescue ship was meant to arrive, but in his absence, Looes decided to use them.

While all the chaos was occurring on the Houtman Abrolhos islands, Pelsaert and Jacobsz had managed to reach mainland Australia; however, they were unable to find food or fresh water, and began the 33-day journey to Batavia. Despite all odds, everyone on board managed to survive, and once they arrived, Pelsaert ordered for a rescue ship to head back to the marooned passengers. The rescue vessel, Sardam, took seven weeks weeks to arrive back at Houtman Abrolhos. But when it did arrive on the horizon, its timing was impeccable. Hayes and the mercenaries were sure to be defeated by Looes and his men, but sure enough, the Sardam was on the horizon.

Both groups sent out small boats and started to race toward Sardam – hoping to reach Pelsaert first and tell their side of the story. Hayes’ group won the rowing race, and a horrified Pelsaert arrested all the mutineers. He built a makeshift jail and proceeded to torture Cornelisz and his six right-hand accomplices, and once they confessed their crimes, he had them all hanged. After that, Pelsaert spent a further six weeks searching for the wreck’s silver, and once he found all he could, he took the remaining mutineers and survivors back to Batavia.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Looes, Pelsaert decided to abandon him and a cabin boy on mainland Australia without supplies. When the others reached Batavia, the remaining 16 mutineers were executed. 

Only one-third of the 330 original passengers on the Batavia would arrive at their destination, and 125 of the total death count was thanks to Cornelisz and his mutineers. The fate of the others proved to be unlucky as well; Jacobsz was arrested for his negligence on board the Batavia, and would later die incarcerated. Meanwhile, Pelsaert would die only a year later due to illness. Despite this, his journals were found and published in the Netherlands in 1647 – so popular that they were reprinted eight times.

On a lighter note, Hayes’ heroic efforts were recognised and he was promoted, while the woman Cornelisz took in as a concubine and raped ended up heading back to the Netherlands and living until the age of 81 with her husband.

To this day, remnants of the fort on West Wallabi can be found, and there’s an estimated 80 skeletons buried in the sand on Beacon Island – reminding us of the bizarre and horrific accounts of mutiny, murder and marooning off the West Australian coast.

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