Batavia Shipwreck Ruins
Stone ruins on Western Australia’s remote West Wallabi Island are the oldest structures built by Europeans in Australia and tell a tale of mutiny and murder.
Built as a fort in 1629 by survivors of the shipwrecked Dutch merchant ship Batavia, the National Heritage-listed shipwreck site provides a lasting memorial to the treachery of under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz, who had conspired to mutiny and steal the treasure-laden ship before it struck a reef.
The mutineers murdered more than 120 shipwreck survivors before most were captured, tried and hanged for their crimes. The wreck convinced the Dutch East India Company to make accurate charts of the coastline, putting Australia on the world map.
The Batavia was found in 1963 and is now on display at the Western Australian Maritime Museum.
Did you know:
- The oldest human habitation ever built by Europeans on Australian territory was by survivors of the Batavia shipwreck in 1629.
- Before being hanged for his role in the Batavia mutiny and the slaughter of many passengers, Jeronimus Cornelisz was tortured, forced to sign a confession, then had his hands chopped off.
Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.
Tourism’s a funny business. We tell the world to chuck a shrimp on the barbie and they can’t get enough of us. But when we ask, ‘where the bloody hell are you’, suddenly they all get offended by the use of the great Australian adjective.
Funnily enough, the very ﬁrst tourists who actually arrived in Australia, landed here 150 years before James Cook did and I’m guessing their ﬁrst words were probably, where the bloody hell are we?
The National Treasure they left behind is on West Wallabi Islands, just off Geraldton in Western Australia.
This ruin of a primitive fort which is on the National Heritage List is the oldest structure ever built by Europeans in Australia. How it came to be here on this barren, remote island is an incredible tale of mutiny and murder.
In 1629 the Dutch merchant ship, ‘Batavia’ was travelling the spice route to modern day Jakarta when she hit a reef and sank just off Beacon Island. Beacon is one of about 120 islands in the Houtman Abrolhos group. Now Abrolhos is Dutch for ‘keep your eyes open’ which clearly somebody wasn’t doing.
Of the 332 people on board the Batavia, 280 made it to land, and one of them was a nasty piece of work. Under merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz was an apothacary by trade, a bankrupt by law and a heretic by thought.
Jeronimus thought everything he did was inspired by God, so he was incapable of sin, which was pretty handy. When his plans for mutiny and steal the ship’s valuable cargo is literally scuttled, God gave him more inspiration.
The ship’s captain, Francisco Palsaert had already decided to sail their longboat 900 kilometres north to Batavia to fetch help.
He and about 40 others set off that way while another group of men led by a marine called Wiebbe Hayes came here to West Wallabi in search of water. They stayed and built this – Australia’s ﬁrst no star accommodation.
Back on Beacon, Cornelisz and his cronies planned to hijack any rescue ship which turned up. The remaining men, women and children weren’t part of that plan, so the mutineers merrily slaughtered them.
Hayes’s blokes on West Wallabi got wind of this bloody rampage.
The enemy camps fought two vicious battles here. Final score? West Wallabies 2, Mutineers nil. What’s more the vic- tors got to Francisco Pelsaert ﬁrst when he returned a month or so later. Pelseart tortured Cornelisz and the other mutineers, made them sign confessions, then chopped off their hands and hanged them. 332 people started the voy- age, only 116 reached their ﬁnal destination.
But the Batavia story has a 20th century postscript. The wreck was discovered in 1963 and ten years later part of the hull was raised and put on display here in the Western Australian Maritime Museum.
Doctor Jeremy Green is the Museum’s head of Maritime Archaeology.
Jeremy there’s obviously a lot of shipwrecks in Australia, what makes the Batavia so unique?
DR JEREMY GREEN:
Batavia was a Dutch East India Company shipwreck and the Company had thousands of ships in the 17th and 18th century trading between Europe and Asia. This is the only one that has been archeologically excavated, raised, conserved, and put on display.
And when it was ﬁrst discovered it must have been very attractive for looters all hopeful of ﬁnding treasure and so forth.
DR JEREMY GREEN:
There was a lot of looting in the very early days and a lot of divers and general public became really concerned about this issue. And the government enacted the First Underwater Heritage Legislation anywhere in the world since 1963
so it’s really –
First in the world?
DR JEREMY GREEN:
Despite their bloodthirsty antics, not all the mutineers were executed. Pelsaert marooned two of them on the main- land. They were told to ‘Abrolhos’ - keep their eyes open for a vessel in two years time. Australia’s ﬁrst two European residents were never heard of again.
The wreck of the Batavia convinced the Dutch East Indies Company to make accurate charts of this new coastline. Australia was ﬁnally on the western world’s map. This fort is our ﬁrst structure made by Europeans and that makes it a National Treasure.