New evidence shows ‘world’s worst shipwreck’ was way more violent than previously thought
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New evidence has emerged which shows that the 'world's worst shipwreck' was actually even more violent than previously thought.
The story of the ill-fated Batavia certainly seems worthy of its inauspicious title as 'the world's worst shipwreck', and while with some shipwrecks all hands will be lost, this was not the case for the Batavia.
That might seem like a good thing at first, but the isolation and lawlessness soon resulted in fates worse than death for many on board.
The Batavia had been sailing off the Australian coast in 1629 before any Europeans permanently settled in what is now western Australia. The ship ran aground on a coral reef, with about 300 survivors making it to a small island called Beacon Island.
After a few days, the ship's captain and a few survivors set off towards the East Indies to seek out help, leaving behind third-in-command Jeronimus Cornelisz and the crew, many of whom stayed on the stricken vessel getting drunk. When the vessel broke up, they moved to the nearby Beacon Island.
However, it transpired that Cornelisz had already been planning a mutiny even before the shipwreck. Fearful of reprisals on the return of the authorities, he banished people to the nearby islands and confiscated all weapons.
Over the next five months during Cornelisz's bloodthirsty reign, over 100 of the remaining survivors, men, women, and children, were massacred or enslaved. One group of around twenty soldiers even managed to hold out against him, arming themselves with improvised weapons which were rediscovered by archaeologists, including improvised maces made from lead and containing holes for nails to protrude. The soldiers fended off two attacks from the mutineers.
Records from the ship's commander said that the soldiers had 'set out to defend themselves if [the mutineers] should come to fight them, and made arms from hoops and nails, which were tied to sticks'.
Archaeological evidence now shows signs of shallow graves with several people, along with signs of violent deaths, indicating that people had been killed in groups and efforts had been made to conceal how they had died. Many also died from thirst or malnutrition.
The new evidence gives 'material insights that you couldn’t get any other way,' said Alistair Paterson, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia and lead author of the study.
“The archaeology compliments the historical accounts.”
In the end, after a reign of terror lasting some five months, Cornelisz was defeated by a ship from the Dutch East Indies. Cornelisz himself was hanged while two of his accomplices were marooned on the mainland, becoming the first Europeans to permanently settle there.
The gallows where he was hanged are among the more recent grisly discoveries, adding another layer of horror to this harrowing shipwreck.