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“To Be Broken on the Wheel”

“And so he died stubborn.”



A gallows, in the seventeenth century, consisted of little more than two braced uprights, 10 to 15 feet high, joined by a thick horizontal beam from which men were strangled slowly at the end of a short rope. Two hundred years before the invention of the trapdoor and the drop, the only other piece of equipment that an executioner required was a ladder to prop against one of the uprights. The prisoner was driven up the ladder, arms tied, legs free, the noose already around his neck. The hangman tied the other end of the rope securely to the beam and then, with little ceremony, thrust one knee into the small of the condemned man’s back and launched him into space. The fortunate few died quickly of a broken neck, but in most cases the fall was not enough to guarantee an instant death and the man was strangled by the noose instead. This could be a lengthy process, lasting for up to 20 minutes, and most prisoners remained conscious for a good part of the time. The convulsive kicks and struggles of the dying man were reckoned good sport by the crowds who attended the public executions popular in Europe. Those lucky enough to secure a spot close to the scaffold could also witness the unpleasant aftermath of a slow hanging: uncontrolled voiding of bladder and bowels and, in some cases, involuntary erection at the moment of death.

Attempts were sometimes made to hasten the condemned man’s end; friends might be allowed to tighten the noose by pulling at his legs, while, in France, the executioner was required to swing out onto the crossbeam “and, placing his feet in the loop formed by the bound hands of the patient, by dint of repeated vigorous shocking terminate his sufferings.” It seems unlikely that such interventions were allowed in Jeronimus’s case, but unless tourniquets had been applied, the amputation of his hands would have led to loss of consciousness and death before the noose could do its work. The maximum allowable blood loss for a man of normal weight—around 160 pounds—is roughly two and a half pints. Cornelisz, who had lived on the sparse island diet for the best part of three months, almost certainly weighed a good deal less than that. He would have lost consciousness quite quickly, and died after losing around two pints of blood.

As was the custom, the predikant accompanied the condemned men to the scaffold in the hope that some, at least, would confess their sins. Jeronimus refused to talk to him and went to his death without the least show of remorse. “He could not reconcile himself to dying,” Pelsaert noted grimly, “or to penitence, neither to pray to God nor to show any face of repentance over his sins . . . . And so he died stubborn.” Cornelis Jansz, who witnessed the execution, was likewise shocked by Cornelisz’s refusal to admit his guilt, even as he stood bleeding by the gallows. Only a confession—and genuine contrition—could even begin to atone for the captain-general’s many sins, and Jeronimus’s resolve, the Defender thought, must have been rooted in his heretical beliefs. “He died,” Jansz wrote, “as he had lived, not believing there exists Devil or Hell, God or Angel—the Torrentian feeling had spread thus far.”

The other mutineers had less faith and were not so brave. Both Mattys Beer and Andries Jonas found that their courage failed them on their way to the scaffold, and each made a stumbling confession to cleanse their consciences and buy a few moments more of life. Beer admitted to the murder of another four men and a boy, killed one night “in the presence of Jeronimus” with such anonymous efficiency that he did not even know their names. Jonas, whose victims had almost all been women and children, dredged up the memory of one further killing—that of “still another Boy” who had died more or less by chance during one of the periodic massacres on Batavia’s Graveyard. It had been a particularly merciless crime:

“On a certain night when some other Men were murdered, the Boy, out of fear and because he was ill, came creeping on his hands and feet into their tent, which Jacop Pietersz Cosyn*48 had seen, [and said], ‘Andries, you must help to put the boy out of the way.’ Whereon he had gone outside, dragged the Boy out of the tent, and cut his throat with his knife.”

The other condemned mutineers—Jan Hendricxsz, Lenert van Os, Allert Janssen, and Rutger Fredricx, who had between them bludgeoned, drowned, or stabbed almost 40 of the Batavia survivors—went to their deaths more quietly, though all, in Pelsaert’s view, “died also very Godless and unrepentant.” The one exception was Jan Pelgrom, the half-mad cabin boy, who was only 18 years old and could not reconcile himself to death. On his way to the scaffold he succumbed to hysteria, “weeping and wailing and begging for grace, and that one should put him on an Island and let him live a little longer.” Remarkably, given the boy’s awful record, the commandeur gave way to Pelgrom’s pleas, agreeing to spare him on account of his age. At the foot of the gallows Jan’s death sentence was commuted to marooning “on an island or the continent, according to occasion occurring,” and he was returned to the temporary prison.

Nothing is said in the Batavia journals as to what happened to the corpses of the other prisoners, but it was usual, in the Netherlands, for the bodies of executed prisoners to remain on view as a warning to others. In Haarlem condemned men from throughout North Holland were hung just outside the city walls and their remains were not cut down until the scaffold was required again. Even then the corpses would be strapped to wooden poles arranged nearby so that they remained on display. In the Abrolhos, therefore, the bodies of Cornelisz and his men were in all likelihood left dangling from the gallows when the execution party rowed back to the Sardam.

The next day there was a violent gale. By this time it was spring in the archipelago; thousands of mutton birds had returned to the islands to fill the night with their unearthly wailing, and high winds frequently interfered with Pelsaert’s salvage operations. The storm persisted until 4 October; then there was one day of fair weather, during which a brass cannon on the wreck was brought back to Batavia’s Graveyard. After that the weather closed in with a vengeance, and for two weeks the monsoons prevented much work being done out on the reef. Even after that, the weather was only good enough for salvage “one day in 15 to 20,” in the opinion of the Sardam’s council.

In the circumstances, Pelsaert’s Dutch and Gujerati divers did well to salvage as much as they did. Working without any protective gear in intensely dangerous waters, and with the ever-present danger of being dashed to pieces against the reef, the six men brought up seven of the Company’s lost money chests, quantities of loose coin, and a good deal of Pelsaert’s silverware, together with some boxes of tinsel. Three more chests were recovered later, but the other two had to be left in the Abrolhos “with heart’s regret.” One was located, sitting on the bottom, but it could not be salvaged because one of the heavy guns had fallen onto it and pinned it to the reef.

While this salvage work was under way, the commandeur set parties of sailors and Defenders to work on the islands of the archipelago, scouring the ground for anything of value to the VOC. Cornelisz’s stores of purloined jewels and clothing were recovered, together with the remaining rations and some trade goods, but Pelsaert—acutely conscious of what the wreck of the Batavia had already cost the Company—insisted that even the most insignificant detritus be recovered. The men sent to pick over the islands of the archipelago dutifully salvaged every single item they could find, from sea-soiled linens to rusted old barrel hoops and nails.

It was hardly necessary work, and on 12 October the merchant’s determination to retrieve every piece of VOC property resulted in a pointless accident that cost the lives of five more men. Jacob Jacobsz, the Sardam’s skipper, had been ordered to sail a small boat out to the reef to recover any flotsam that had become stranded there. The main object of the expedition was the recovery of a small barrel of vinegar that had been spotted on the coral on the preceding day, after which the boat was to carry on and search some of the outlying islets in the archipelago for driftwood and other objects from the wreck. Jacobsz took with him not only his quartermaster, Pieter Pietersz, and one of the Sardam’s gunners, but also two men who had been on the Batavia: Ariaan Theuwissen, a gunner, and Cornelis Pieterszoon, the retourschip’s under-trumpeter. The latter was almost certainly the same “Cornelis the fat trumpeter” named in the letter sent by Jeronimus to the Defenders at the end of July, who had survived both that attempt at betrayal and three attacks by the mutineers. The men had orders to return to the Sardam that evening if possible, but to stay out all night if that proved necessary. In the event, they did not come back, and on the afternoon of 13 October Claes Gerritsz, on the jacht, caught a last glimpse of Jacobsz’s yawl well out to sea, about nine miles from the ship. Soon afterward the wind began to rise and banks of rain swept in. The curtain of sea mist quickly swallowed up the boat and hid it from view.

That was the last anyone saw of Jacob Jacobsz and his men. Two days of storms prevented Pelsaert from launching a search for the missing yawl until 16 October, when a boat commanded by Jacob Jansz Hollert searched all the outlying islands without success; and though several columns of smoke were seen rising from the mainland on 4 November, giving rise to definite hopes that the men might have made a landfall there, a brief search of the Australian coast revealed no sign of the crew. The five sailors had to be given up for lost.

So obsessively did Pelsaert search for wreckage that his salvage work was not completed until the middle of November, six weeks after Jeronimus’s execution. During this time the hundred soldiers and sailors under his command had to guard the 30 survivors of the group that had signed oaths of allegiance to Cornelisz. The most dangerous of the surviving mutineers—they included Daniel Cornelissen and Hans Jacob Heijlweck, both of whom had killed several men—were still kept, bound hand and foot, in isolation on Seals’ Island. The remainder, though, were not confined, and since there were at least a score of them the possibility of another uprising could not entirely be discounted. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that Pelsaert decided to deal with another six of the remaining mutineers before leaving the Abrolhos.

The men concerned were Wouter Loos, Lucas Gellisz, Rogier Decker, Abraham Gerritsz, Claes Harmansz, and Salomon Deschamps, Pelsaert’s clerk, whose role in the death of Mayken Cardoes’s child had finally emerged. Loos, who was the only major figure in the group, was charged with allowing himself to be “made Captain of a troop of Murderers” and attacking Wiebbe Hayes and his Defenders, but not, at first, with any killings. The other five had all confessed to murder, but in each case Pelsaert and the members of the Broad Council observed that there had been extenuating circumstances. Deschamps, Gerritsz, and Harmansz, who had been forced to kill by Zevanck and his men, were all found to have acted under duress, and each was spared the death sentence. Decker and Gellisz were still more fortunate. Both had killed men in cold blood, “without any protest,” as the commandeur noted in Decker’s case, and even “to show good faith,” as he observed of Gellisz’s involvement in the bloody murder of Frans Jansz. Yet Decker was spared on account of his youth, and Gellisz apparently for no better reason than that the council wished to show him mercy. Instead of death, each of the five mutineers was sentenced to be dropped from the yard or keelhauled, followed by “100 strokes before the mast” and, in Lucas Gellisz’s case, the confiscation of six months’ wages.

Compared with what Jeronimus had suffered, these punishments were merciful, and Wouter Loos—who had, after all, succeeded Jeronimus in overall command of the mutineers—was treated even more leniently. Rebellion against Jan Company in itself meant an automatic death sentence at the time, but for some reason Pelsaert attached comparatively little weight to Loos’s role as Cornelisz’s successor. In addition, the commandeur noted only in passing that Loos had indeed been guilty of “several murders,” though he had actually killed two people—Bastiaen Gijsbertsz and Mayken Cardoes—tied up at least two others so that they could be drowned, and bore a good deal of responsibility for the death of Jan Dircxsz, the Defender, in the final assault on Hayes’s Island. Nor was any mention made of the prominent part Loos had played in the plot to entice the Sardam’s crew ashore and murder them. Pelsaert’s view was that Loos had actually “committed more with his tongue, by means of advice, than with his hands,” and certain factors may have weighed in the soldier’s favor: he had saved the life of Jan Willemsz Selyns, refused to launch an attack on the Sardam,and no one had died on Batavia’s Graveyard after he assumed command of the captain-general’s gang. On the whole, however, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Loos was treated with leniency simply because he was not  Jeronimus Cornelisz. The mutineers’ last leader was sentenced not to death but to be marooned, with Jan Pelgrom the cabin boy, somewhere on the South-Land’s coast.


The Sardam sailed for the Indies on 15 November 1629 carrying 77 survivors from the Batavia. Of this total, 45 had fought with Wiebbe Hayes; three, including Pelsaert, had reached Java in the longboat and returned on board the jacht; and the other 29 had been members of Cornelisz’s band, unwilling associates, or concubines of the mutineers. Only five of the survivors were women—Creesje Jans was one of them—and just one was a child. Among the men, fewer than half a dozen of those who had survived Batavia’s Graveyard had done so without throwing their lot in with the mutineers or signing one of Jeronimus’s oaths of obedience. These people—none of them are named—were almost certainly artisans: carpenters, cooks, or coopers whom even Cornelisz could see were more valuable alive than dead. Every other man, woman, and child who had survived the wreck had been murdered in the six weeks from 3 July to 16 August. The killings on the islands had ceased for no other reason than that the mutineers had run out of victims.

The gales of the preceding weeks had at last given way to beautiful spring weather, and the jacht made excellent progress along the coast of the Great South-Land. She dropped anchor at Batavia on 5 December, a little under three weeks after leaving the Abrolhos. The return journey was thus accomplished in less than a third of the time that Pelsaert had taken to sail from the Indies to the archipelago two months earlier.

Only two incidents of any significance occurred during the voyage. On the morning of 16 November, less than a day after leaving Batavia’s Graveyard, Pelsaert spotted smoke rising on the South-Land. The weather was considerably more moderate than it had been on his first trip along the coast, and—hoping that the smoke might come from a signal fire lit by Jacob Jacobsz and the men who had gone missing in the Sardam’s boat—the commandeur managed to put in at an inlet on the coast, not quite 50 miles north of the Abrolhos. No trace of the missing sailors could be found, but the place was evidently inhabited—the landing party found plenty of naked footprints, though “the Blacks kept themselves hidden and did not show themselves to anyone”—and there was fresh water in a gully.*49 It struck Pelsaert that this would be a good spot to carry out the sentences on Jan Pelgrom and Wouter Loos, and later in the day the two mutineers were rowed ashore and abandoned on a gently shelving beach close to the stream. Pelgrom and Loos thus became—improbably—the first white settlers in Australia, nearly 160 years before the arrival of the British convicts of the First Fleet of 1787.

Once again, the mutineers had been exceptionally fortunate. Despite its later—and romantic—reputation, marooning frequently meant little more than a slow death. Many maroons were abandoned on waterless cays, much like those in the Abrolhos, with nothing but a water bottle and a gun; once the water was all gone, they were expected to shoot themselves. Pelgrom and Loos received a good deal more—a boatload of equipment, materials to barter with the natives, access to a good supply of water, and even instructions from the commandeur on how best to ingratiate themselves with the people they encountered. Their prospects of survival were not bad.

The second incident of note did not take place until the end of November, by which time the Sardam was almost within sight of the coast of Java. Eight of the mutineers on board had still not been told what their sentences would be. The members of this group now begged Pelsaert to review their cases and pronounce judgment immediately, before they reached Batavia. It was an unusual request, not least because the men’s petition was supported by the remainder of the crew, and it was almost certainly made because the surviving mutineers knew of the light sentences handed out to Deschamps, Gellisz, Loos, and their companions and suspected that they would be treated more leniently by Pelsaert than they would by the unforgiving Council of the Indies. In this they were undoubtedly correct.

The members of Pelsaert’s Broad Council took some time to debate the men’s request. On one hand they suspected Governor-General Coen would probably wish to try the mutineers himself. On the other, they may have felt some slight compassion for the men, and wondered—as Pelsaert noted in his journals—if it might be better “not to trouble further the Hon. Lord Gov. Gen. in his many duties, as we fear that the Javanese war is causing him enough heartburning, although [we] hope such is not so.” In the end a compromise was reached. Seven of the rebels were brought up from below to hear their sentences. The eighth was the last surviving member of Jeronimus’s council: the unfortunate lance corporal, “Stone-Cutter” Pietersz, who was the one major mutineer still in Pelsaert’s custody. He was kept bound and chained to await the pleasure of the governor-general.

The first man called before the council was Daniel Cornelissen. The enthusiastic young cadet had killed four men and helped to kill three more before he was captured by Wiebbe Hayes; he was sentenced to be keelhauled three times and then severely flogged, and was also to suffer the confiscation of his last year’s wages. Hans Jacob Heijlweck, who had brained the surgeon with a morning star, was also guilty of murder, and he received a similar sentence. So did Cornelis Janssen, the sailor, who had killed no one. His crimes were plotting mutiny on board the Batavia, helping to assault Creesje Jans, and looting the commandeur’s cabin after the wreck.

Three more of those who had sworn loyalty to Jeronimus—the soldiers Andries Liebent and Hans Frederick, and Isbrant Isbrantsz, an assistant—had assisted in the murders, though Liebent and Frederick had killed willingly, while Isbrantsz had acted under duress. Their punishment was to be dropped three times from the mast, then flogged; Liebent and Frederick were also fined six months’ wages. Jean Thirion, a soldier who had hacked open one of the VOC’s money chests on the wreck, was sentenced to be keelhauled, flogged, and fined a similar amount.

Two prisoners still had to be dealt with. The last remaining member of Cornelisz’s gang, Olivier van Welderen, seems to have been suspected of a good deal, including, perhaps, membership of the group of mutineers that had formed on the Batavia. But illness had confined Van Welderen to his tent on Batavia’s Graveyard for weeks on end, and he had played no direct part in any of the events on the islands. Pelsaert plainly felt he had retained a good deal of influence over his murderous brother Gsbert, but Olivier remained steadfast under questioning and confessed to nothing more than sleeping with Zussie Fredericx, one of the married women kept “for common service.” It did him little good; his punishment—“that he shall be dropped three times from the mast, and be flogged with 100 strokes”—was identical to that handed out to men guilty of far more.

The last man to be sentenced on the Sardam was a French soldier, Jean Renou of Miombry, who had never been part of Jeronimus’s gang. He had, in fact, been one of the Defenders and had served loyally throughout the siege of Hayes’s island. The Frenchman’s crime was a peculiar one; he was charged not with murder or mutiny but with slander—which was, thanks to the huge importance that the Dutch attached to their personal honor, an almost equally serious offense at this time. The particulars of the case, as set out by Pelsaert, were that Renou had defamed Zussie Fredericx by recounting to a whole tent full of people how she had willingly given herself to three men, including Renou himself and Wiebbe Hayes, during a short visit to Hayes’s Island. This allegation, the commandeur agreed, was “a matter of very evil consequence,” not least because Renou had announced that Zussie “did him evil” as a result, no doubt by infecting him with a venereal disease. The Frenchman, Pelsaert said, deserved stern punishment for besmirching a married lady’s name.

It may appear surprising that the commandeur was much concerned with the honor of one woman at such a time—and a sailor’s wife at that. Probably Pelsaert’s real motive was quite a different one: to protect the reputation of the new hero, Wiebbe Hayes. In doing so, he sentenced the loose-tongued Renou to be dropped three times from the mast and flogged—the same punishment that Liebent and Frederick had just received for their part in the murder of two people. The only difference between them was that Renou was allowed to keep his wages.


A good deal had changed in Batavia since Pelsaert had last seen the town. It was now the monsoon season, and the climate, never pleasant for a European, was at its most unbearable. Batavia was still hot, but with the onset of the rains it had been drenched as well. On average, almost six feet of rain fell within the walls during the summer months, and in the intervals between the storms the weather became unpleasantly humid and seemed to breed fever.

At least the military situation had improved while the commandeur had been in the Abrolhos. Coen’s foreboding that he faced a second siege had come true toward the end of August, when the Susuhunan of Mataram returned to invest Castle Batavia with a substantial army. But only six weeks later, on 2 October—the same day that Jeronimus and his followers had been hung on Seals’ Island—Agung had given up the siege “with dishonor,” as the VOC’s Batavia Day Book put it, “and in an ignominious manner.” Hampered by lack of food, the Javanese troops had abandoned their positions overnight and streamed back into the forests before the Dutch became aware that the enemy was fleeing. The successful conclusion of the siege marked the end of Jan Company’s war with Mataram, which had put a considerable dent into the Indies trade and devastated the town and its surroundings. Both soon recovered; indeed the environs of Batavia reverted to jungle so swiftly that before long the governor-general was offering money for every rhinoceros killed in the immediate vicinity. By 1700 this bounty was being paid out about 30 times a month.

The other great change had taken place within the walls of Castle Batavia itself. Coen had not lived to see the triumph of his armies. The governor-general had collapsed and died, aged 42, on 21 September—the day before Jacques Specx and the remainder of the VOC’s autumn fleet (of which Pelsaert’s squadron had once formed a part) came to anchor in the roadstead outside the town. The cause of death was apparently heart failure. Coen had been ill before, with dysentery, but his death was sudden and so unexpected that it gave rise to some startling rumors. The most popular attributed his seizure to the arrival of Specx, whose daughter, Sara, Coen had only recently had flogged before the town hall. It was said that Coen had been promenading on the balcony of his quarters on the afternoon before his death when he saw the autumn fleet appear on the horizon. “There is Sir Specx, my successor,” he is supposed to have prophesied, before dropping dead from the fear of what Specx would do to him when he discovered what had happened to his daughter.

Whether he truly died this way or not, Jan Coen’s last prediction did come true. Jacques Specx was appointed governor-general of the Indies three days after his predecessor’s death. It thus fell to him, and to the fiscaal, Antonij van den Heuvel, to consider the case of the surviving Bataviamutineers, who were landed  from the Sardam late in the first week of December and—it seems safe to assume—taken at once to the appalling dungeons beneath the citadel, where Ariaen Jacobsz was still confined pending further investigation of his role in the mutiny.

There were 14 of them in all: the eight men whom Pelsaert had just dealt with, another five, including Salomon Deschamps and Lucas Gellisz, whose cases had been considered in the Abrolhos, and finally the lonely figure of Stone-Cutter Pietersz—once lieutenant general of Jeronimus’s band but now a mere lance corporal once again—who had still not been heard at all. At least some of those who had come before the Sardam’s council had already been punished by the time the jacht reached Batavia (there is some doubt whether Pelsaert had dealt with Daniel Cornelissen and the others sentenced at the end of November), but even those men could not be certain they would be released. The governor-general of the Indies enjoyed absolute power within his dominions, and he could do with them as he liked.

The men were left to rot in prison while Specx and his councillors considered how to handle the Batavia affair, and their cases were not finally decided until the end of January. Pelsaert’s leniency seems to have struck Specx as quite excessive, and as the mutineers had feared, the governor-general had no compunction in setting the commandeur’s verdicts to one side. On 31 January 1630, the survivors of Cornelisz’s gang were brought up from the cells and told they faced much sterner punishments for the crimes they had committed on Batavia’s Graveyard.

Five more mutineers were hanged. The worst of them, Daniel Cornelissen, had his right hand amputated before the sentence was carried out. Hans Jacob Heijlweck joined him on the gallows, and so did Lucas Gellisz. Salomon Deschamps, the pathetic clerk who had been forced to strangle Mayken Cardoes’s half-dead baby, died alongside them; the commandeur had protected him in the Abrolhos, but even Deschamps’s long acquaintance with Pelsaert was not enough to save him from the vengeance of the Council of the Indies.

The identity of the fifth man to hang has never been certain. When the time came to pass sentence on the minor mutineers, Specx and his Council seem to have found themselves torn between the urge to punish all of Jeronimus’s men and the feeling that the youngest and most impressionable of them might deserve some mercy. Confronted with Rogier Decker, who was 17, and Abraham Gerritsz, the 15-year-old runaway whom Pelsaert had picked up in Sierra Leone, they ruled that only one should die. The manner in which the matter was decided was a torment in itself. The boys were to

“draw lots which of the two shall be punished with the Cord, and he who shall draw himself free from Death shall be severely flogged, with a Halter around his neck.”

Andries Liebent, Hans Frederick, and Olivier van Welderen also received new sentences. The three “delinquents” (Pelsaert’s word) were tied to a pole and flogged severely, after which they were put in chains and sent away from Batavia to endure three years of exile; Frederick—who had helped to kill three men—was made to wear a heavy wooden halter around his neck as well. In the circumstances none is likely to have survived their exile long enough to return a free man. The young sailor Cornelis Janssen was flogged and branded as a looter and a mutineer. Claes Harmansz, who was just 15, was flogged as well. Isbrant Isbrantsz, who was an officer and the one mutineer to consistently protest that he had acted under duress, was the only man treated with real leniency. His sentence was to stand, “with a halter round his neck,” to watch the execution of justice.

The worst punishment of all was reserved for Stone-Cutter Pietersz. Like Jeronimus himself, the lance corporal had taken little active part in the killing on Batavia’s Graveyard, though he had taken part in the massacre of the survivors on Seals’ Island and helped to organize the murder of the predikant’s family. He had, however, played an active part in plotting the mutiny on the Batavia, and as one of Cornelisz’s councillors he had helped to determine who should live and who should die. Because Hayes and Pelsaert had, between them, denied the authorities in Java the chance to punish David Zevanck and Coenraat van Huyssen, much less Jeronimus himself, Pietersz was now made to pay for all their sins. For though he played a lesser role in the mutiny than any of those men, his guilt could hardly be denied. On the last day of January 1630, “Lieutenant-General” Pietersz was taken out to be “broken from under upwards, and the body put upon a Wheel.”

Breaking on the wheel, as it was generally known, was the most painful and barbaric method of execution practiced in the Dutch Republic and was, in effect, a form of crucifixion. In Pietersz’s case the condemned man, stripped to a pair of linen drawers, would have been led out to a scaffold on which had been assembled a huge cart wheel—still fitted with an axle—a bench, some ropes, and a thick iron bar. He would have been lashed, spread-eagled, to the bench and positioned so that the executioner had easy access to his limbs. Taking up the heavy bar, and with great concentration, this man would have proceeded to smash the bones in the prisoner’s arms and legs, starting with the fingers and the toes and working slowly inward. The aim was to completely pulverize each limb, so that when Pietersz was lifted from the bench onto the wheel, his upper arms were broken in so many places that they could be twisted and bent to follow the circumference of the wheel, while his legs were wrenched backward from the thighs, forced right around the outer rim, and tied off with the heels touching the back of the head. The latter operation was difficult to complete without allowing the broken femurs to protrude, but a skilled executioner took pride not only in ensuring that his victim remained fully conscious throughout the operation, but also in crushing his bones so thoroughly that the skin remained intact. As a further refinement, it was common for the condemned man’s ribs to be stoved in with several further blows, so that every breath became an agony.

Once the grisly operation had been concluded, Pietersz’s wheel would have been hoisted upright and the axle thrust deep into the ground close by the scaffold so that the Stone-Cutter’s final moments could be witnessed by the assembled crowd. Death—generally as the result of internal bleeding—might take hours; in a place such as Batavia, the dying man’s pain and distress would have been exacerbated by the cloying heat and the swarms of flies and mosquitoes that would have filled his eyes and mouth. The strongest men sometimes survived into a second day, and Pietersz, a brawny army veteran, may not have lapsed into unconsciousness until the early hours of February 1630.

The lance corporal thus lived to be the last of Jeronimus’s close confederates from the island, and, when he died, the mutiny on Batavia’s Graveyard in some respects died with him. It had cost the lives of two in every three of the people who had sailed from Texel 15 months earlier—at least 216 men, women, and children from a total complement of 332, which was a slightly higher proportion of deaths than that suffered by the passengers and crew of the Titanic almost three centuries later. Even today, the massacres on Houtman’s Abrolhos remain the bloodiest page in the history of white Australia.


It only remains to trace the fate of the survivors.

1629 proved to be a disappointing year for the Gentlemen XVII. In addition to the loss of the brand-new Batavia, with most of her cargo and two chests of silver valued at 44,788 guilders, another ship from Pelsaert’s flotilla, the ’s Gravenhage, had been disabled by bad weather in the Channel and required costly and extensive repairs. A third retourschip, the Wapen van Enkhuizen,*50 had blown up off the coast of Sierra Leone on 12 October when fire reached her powder magazine. The survivors—there were only 57 of them, many terribly wounded—were picked up by the Leyden,which herself lost her skipper and her upper-merchant in an attempt to fight the fire, plus another 170 men—more than half her crew—from disease on the outward voyage. The survivors were eventually forced to put in to the port of Sillebor, in  Sumatra, for a month to nurse the sick, which greatly irritated the Gentlemen and cost the Leyden’s remaining officers all chance of earning bonuses for the speed of their voyage out.

Even so, none of these disasters put more than a dent in Jan Company’s profits for the year, and thanks to Hayes and Pelsaert and the Sardam’s men, even the loss of the Batavia could be viewed with some equanimity by Antonio van Diemen. “The 5th of this month returns here to anchor from the Southland the yacht Sardam,” Van Diemen wrote in December,

“bringing with them 74 souls from the wrecked ship Batavia together with 10 chests of Cash, amongst them the chest No.33 with nine sacks of ducats. Item, the Cash with Jewels to the value of 58,000 guilders and some wrought silverwork, three barrels of Cochineal*51 and other baggage . . . . Thanks be to the Almighty for this, we would not have expected it to come out so well.”

An attached list of the goods retrieved mentions 32 items, from money chests and cannon to a “pack of old linen.” Toward the bottom of the page, one of the minor pieces listed is “a small cask filled with vinegar,” of the sort that had cost the lives of the five men in the Sardam’s boat. Its value was so insignificant that Van Diemen did not bother to assess it.


Not many of those who outlived Jacop Pietersz and his fellow mutineers fared well.

One of the few who did was Johannes van der Beeck. Torrentius, in whose name Jeronimus had been accused of murdering some 115 men, women, and children, served only 2 years of his 20-year sentence for heresy. He was housed in relatively comfortable surroundings, granted a good ration of wine, and was permitted to receive and entertain visitors in his cell. His wife, Cornelia—from whom he had been separated for 14 years—was among those who called on him. She received permission to stay with him for up to two weeks at a time.

Torrentius still had some powerful friends, both in the Netherlands and overseas. They included the stadholder, or governor, of the Dutch Republic, Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange himself, who tried unsuccessfully to get the painter released soon after he was sentenced. Another of Van der Beeck’s admirers was King Charles I of England, who seems to have been untroubled by his heresies. In 1630 the King wrote to Holland to inquire if Torrentius could be sent to England. Frederik Hendrik agreed to pardon him, very much against the wishes of the burgomasters of Haarlem, and Charles, in turn, promised that the painter “will not be allowed to exercise his godless tongue, but only his art.” The English ambassador, Sir Dudley Carleton, sent to bring Van der Beeck to the English court, formed a relatively favorable impression of the painter, portraying him as “neither so Angelical as his friends proclaim him, nor yet so Diabolical as his adversaries does publish him.” Torrentius’s pardon was signed on 11 July 1630, four days after the first ships of the Indies fleet reached Rotterdam with news of the Batavia disaster, and thus before his supposed role in inspiring Cornelisz’s mutiny became generally known. Whether his release would have been agreed had the ships arrived a few weeks earlier is an interesting question.

Van der Beeck was at the English court from 1630 until 1641 or 1642. He seems to have given—in the words of Horace Walpole—“more scandal than satisfaction.” He painted relatively little. Eventually, his royal pension cut off by the Civil War, he crept back into Holland incognito. He had run out of money, but his elderly mother helped to support him. The painter died in February 1644, either forgiven or forgotten by the Calvinist authorities, for the great heretic of Haarlem was buried within the walls of Amsterdam’s New Church, in consecrated ground.

Most of Torrentius’s paintings were confiscated and burned by the public hangman during and after his trial, and the few that he produced in England were soon lost. For many years it was thought that none of his works had survived, but just before the outbreak of the First World War a single masterpiece was rediscovered. It is a still life, showing a flagon and a jug flanking a wineglass and a bridle, which had once been owned by Charles I. The painting had disappeared after the royal collection was auctioned off in 1649, and somehow found its way back to the Netherlands. It was in the Dutch Republic around 1850, its provenance long since forgotten, and eventually came into the possession of a grocer named J. F. Sachse, of Enschede. It miraculously survived a great fire that razed the city in 1862 and was finally recovered and identified in 1913—by which time Sachse’s children were using it as the cover for a barrel of currants. After that it was restored. The painting now hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.


Jacques Specx lived on to die, in 1652, as replete with wealth and honor as a lifetime in the spice trade could make a man. He returned to the Republic late in 1632, having been a quarter of a century in the East; since leaving home in 1607, aged 18, he had spent no more than 12 months in the Netherlands and devoted most of his energies to opening up the Dutch trade with Japan. On his way home he seized the uninhabited island of St. Helena in the Company’s name, and for a few years the isle became a popular refueling station for Dutch spice ships on their homeward voyage. Eventually, however, pirates and privateers learned that it was a rich hunting ground, and by the 1660s a sharp increase in the loss of ships had forced the VOC to abandon their new possession.

Home at last, Specx became a director of the Company—one of the Gentlemen XVII—in 1642 and held the post for the last nine years of his life. He died at the ripe age of 63; his voyages had made him rich, and he bequeathed his children a considerable inheritance, including several portraits of himself made by artists of the stature of Rembrandt van Rijn.

Specx’s half-Japanese daughter, Sara, whom Coen had flogged for her supposed immorality, fared less well. After her father’s return to Batavia she was nursed back to health, but because she was Eurasian he was nevertheless compelled to leave her behind in Java upon returning to the Netherlands. (Dutch law at this time forbade Eurasians to enter the Republic. The intent was to encourage men who had fathered families in the East to remain there, thus easing the VOC’s perpetual shortages of manpower.) The girl, who was 15 when this happened, remained in the East and seems to have been well cared for in her father’s absence. A few years later she made a good marriage to a predikant named Georgius Candidius. The groom was 20 years her senior, and the union endured for less than 12 months before Sara Specx died at the Dutch factory in Formosa, of unknown causes, around the end of 1636. She was only 19 years old.


Perhaps half a dozen active mutineers slipped through Pelsaert’s net before they could face charges for their crimes. Four of them—Dirck Gerritsz, Jan Jansz Purmer, Harman Nannings, and the bos’n’s mate—were sailors who seem to have been among the crew of the longboat. Three of them had taken part in the assault on Lucretia Jans, which had cost Jan Evertsz his life, but their names only emerged when the other members of their party were interrogated in the Abrolhos. By the time the commandeur returned to Java, the men had dispersed, and there is no record that any of them were ever brought to trial.

Luckier still was Jan Willemsz Selyns, the Batavia’s upper-cooper, who seems to have led something of a charmed life. He had taken part in the awful massacre of women and children on Seals’ Island on 18 July, when almost 20 people died, and was thus at least an accessory to murder. Then, on 5 August, he had come under suspicion as a potential defector to Wiebbe Hayes and only survived Jeronimus’s attempt to kill him when Wouter Loos personally intervened on his behalf. Later, he had been a member of the boat’s crew that set off to capture the Sardam and murder half her crew, and he had thus been held on board the jacht for further questioning. Many of those with whom he shared a cell—Jacop Pietersz and Daniel Cornelissen among them—were executed for their crimes, and all the other members of the group had at least been flogged and keelhauled, but so far as can be ascertained Selyns entirely escaped punishment. Perhaps he simply died of natural causes en route to Java, but Pelsaert’s journals make no mention of this, and it seems more likely that he somehow convinced the commandeur of his innocence.

The fate of a sixth man, Ryckert Woutersz, is still a greater mystery. The disgruntled gunner, whose loose tongue had revealed Jeronimus’s plans soon after the wreck, had certainly schemed to seize the ship and taken part in the attack on Creesje, but his name does not appear on the lists of suspects compiled by Pelsaert and he was never accused of any crime. At some point the gunner simply disappears, and it seems likely that it was Cornelisz who dealt with him, arranging for his throat to be slit one night in the Abrolhos as payment for his treachery. There is no proof of this, however, so perhaps Woutersz did somehow contrive to stay alive and found his way to Batavia with the other survivors of the under-merchant’s brief and bloody reign.


Francisco Pelsaert reverted briefly to his womanizing ways. Almost as soon as he had disembarked in Java—and certainly long before he finished his report to the Councillors of the Indies—the upper-merchant contrived to form a close liaison with a married woman named Pieterge, who was the wife of a certain Willem Jansz. Pieterge’s husband was away from Batavia, and the woman took full advantage until, in December 1629, she and two female friends were caught by the local predikant carousing in the “young, rash” company of de gentlemen Croock, Sambrix, and Pelsaert. Pieterge and Pelsaert received stern warnings from the cleric, and the whole affair was reported to Batavia’s Church Council. The preacher’s notes leave little doubt that the relationship was a sexual one, which would probably have continued for some time had it not come to the attention of the Church.

The warnings had the required effect, however, and the affair seems to have been over by the end of January 1630, when Pelsaert was summoned before the Council of the Indies to present his credentials. This interview must have caused him some concern. The Council might have been expected to deal harshly with a man who had not only failed to keep good order on his ship, but also abandoned several hundred people to Jeronimus’s mercies while he himself sailed to Java to fetch help. However, the prompt recovery of almost all of the Batavia’s trade goods and the capture of the under-merchant and his men stood to Pelsaert’s credit, and in the end the commandeur was neither greatly criticized nor heaped with praise. Instead he was dispatched to Sumatra as second-in-command of a military expedition to Jambi, a pepper port placed under siege by the Portuguese. He spent the months of May and June 1630 helping to lift the blockade.

The Jambi adventure kept the commandeur occupied while he waited for the September monsoon winds that would finally take him back to Surat. The silver “toys” designed to please the Great Mogul and the cameo he had shipped to the East on behalf of Gaspar Boudaen were all destined for the court at Lahore, and Pelsaert must have been keenly aware that only the successful completion of this part of his mission was likely to restore him to full favor with the Gentlemen XVII. In the meantime, all he could do was put his own version of events in the Abrolhos in writing for his employers, the directors of the chamber of Amsterdam.

The Batavia journals, which contained a lengthy account of the events of the mutiny, reached Amsterdam in July 1630. The Gentlemen XVII read them and were unimpressed by the commandeur’s actions and behavior. By then, however, it was far too late for them to make their displeasure known. Pelsaert was already dying, most probably exhausted by the same illness that had all but killed him on board the Batavia during the journey from the Cape.

That fever, it appears, had never quite abated, and the commandeur had spent much of his time on board the Sardam in his bunk, “wholly ill and reduced to great wretchedness.” He must then have enjoyed a brief remission, during which he took part in the Jambi expedition, but by the middle of June his health had collapsed again, and he was struck down by a long and terminal illness that ended, the records of the Company attest, with his death some time before mid-September. He was then about 35 years old and had spent almost half his life in the service of the VOC.

Francisco Pelsaert thus survived his nemesis, Cornelisz, by no more than 11 months, and his career, which in the summer of 1628 had seemed to hold great promise, never recovered from the wrecking of his ship. In some respects, indeed, the commandeur was fortunate to have died at the moment that he did. The markets of India, which he had professed to understand better than any other Westerner, had changed fundamentally with the death of the Emperor Jahangir in 1627; the Great Mogul’s successor, Shah Jahan, did not share his taste for Western fripperies. The VOC came to the unwelcome realization that there was no longer any market for Pelsaert’s gold and silver toys. They had cost, it will be recalled, around 60,000 guilders, and so far as the Councillors of the Indies were concerned, blame for the debacle rested squarely with the late commandeur, who had pressed ahead with his commissions even after news of Jahangir’s death had reached him in the Netherlands.

There can be little doubt that this second failure, coming so soon after the loss of the Batavia, would have put an end to Pelsaert’s career. As it was, the high officials of the Company in Java—to whom the thankless task of finding buyers for the trade goods fell—complained bitterly about the impossibility of getting a good price for them. The plate, which the commandeur had confidently predicted would yield a 50 percent profit, was eventually disposed of in India—after six months’ fruitless haggling—for a “vile price” in 1632, but no amount of effort could persuade the Moguls to show any interest in Gaspar Boudaen’s Roman cameo, the fabulous jewel that Jeronimus had displayed to seduce the mutineers with dreams of unimagined luxury. It had accompanied Pelsaert’s toys to India, but no buyer could be found, and by 1633 it was in Batavia again. After years of being peddled unsuccessfully in Asia, it was put up for auction in Amsterdam in 1765. In 1823 the jewel was purchased by King Willem I for 5,500 guilders. It can now be seen in the royal coin collection in Leiden.

While all this was going on, the remnants of Pelsaert’s fragile reputation had finally been destroyed by the revelation that the commandeur had been deeply involved in illegal private trade. Soon after his death, a search of Pelsaert’s baggage had turned up a variety of jewels and other goods valued at almost 13,500 guilders. These, the Company suspected, were to be sold for private profit, which was strictly forbidden, and Pelsaert no doubt expected to receive a commission for his part in the transactions. Upon investigation it emerged that a number of the items—including a second agate cameo, this one brand-new and engraved with a likeness of the Great Mogul—belonged to Gaspar Boudaen, who was eventually compelled to appear before the Gentlemen XVII of Amsterdam to beg, unsuccessfully, for their return. Others were the property of a second merchant, Johannes Dobbelworst of Amsterdam. All these goods were confiscated by the VOC.

Pelsaert’s early death thus cost his family most of the fortune he had labored to amass. Barbara van Ganderheyden, the commandeur’s elderly mother and the chief beneficiary of his will, did eventually receive his outstanding salary, together with the sum of 771 guilders—the value of her son’s personal possessions. The Company, however, banked the 10,500 guilders it earned from the sale of the confiscated jewels, and although Van Ganderheyden was eventually promised compensation amounting to 3,800 guilders, the VOC made it clear that this amount would only be paid in full and final settlement of all the claims the Pelsaert family might have against it.

Even then, the payment took forever to come through. Van Ganderheyden applied for her money in 1635, but it was evidently not forthcoming, for she repeated the request in 1638. Pelsaert’s mother was dead by the end of the latter year, probably aged somewhere in her middle sixties. It seems probable that she never saw any of the money her son had worked so hard for.


Wiebbe Hayes, whom Pelsaert had promoted to the rank of sergeant at a salary of 18 guilders a month, received further recognition and reward upon his arrival in Batavia.

He was commissioned as an officer in the Company’s army and made a standard-bearer. It was an astonishing promotion for a man who had left Amsterdam as a common soldier, but certainly no less than he deserved. As a standard-bearer, Hayes’s salary was increased again, to 40 guilders a month—roughly equivalent to that previously enjoyed by Jeronimus Cornelisz—and he was promised the chance of further promotion “according to opportunity and merit.”

The Defenders were rewarded, too. All Hayes’s common soldiers became cadets, with a salary of 10 guilders a month—a gesture that was not quite as generous as it sounds, since they already earned 8 or 9 guilders a month as privates. His sailors had their pay increased to the same figure. In addition, the Council of the Indies awarded all those who had “shown themselves faithful and piously resisted evil” in the Abrolhos an additional gratuity of two months’ wage, a bonus worth somewhere between 10 and 20 guilders a man. The two dozen sailors of the Sardam, who had helped Pelsaert to put down the mutiny, were given 100 pieces of eight (worth about 240 guilders in total) to share among themselves.

Hayes himself was not heard from again after landing in Batavia. There is no trace of him in the records of his hometown, Winschoten, but the archives there are so incomplete it cannot be said with any certainty whether he lived to return there. Perhaps he moved elsewhere and married, or took up residence in a crowded town such as Amsterdam, which he could now certainly afford. It is equally possible, however, that Jeronimus’s captor died somewhere in the Indies, perhaps in battle, but more likely manning an outpost on some distant island, of some unknown tropical disease.


Toward the end of December 1629, Gijsbert Bastiaensz sat down to write a letter to his family at home. Remarkably, his narrative of the mutiny—rambling and almost incoherent in places, and hurriedly composed to catch the fleet returning to the Dutch Republic—survived to become the only independent account of events on Batavia’s Graveyard. It shows that the predikant still far from recovered from his tribulations in the archipelago (“we have just come out of such a sorrow that the mind is still a little confused,” he wrote) and seeking consolation in religion. “Having yielded myself to the providence of the Lord, who tries his children for his benefit,” Bastiaensz concluded, “[I] through the Grace of God have gained some strength and power, for I could hardly stand on account of weakness.”

As it happened, the predikant’s trials were not yet over. His role in the Abrolhos incident had come to the attention of Jacques Specx and the Council of Justice at Batavia, who wanted to know not only whether he had done all he could to oppose Jeronimus and his godless henchmen, but exactly how a minister of the Reformed Church had come to swear an oath of allegiance to a heretic. All the papers relating to Bastiaensz’s actions were turned over to the public prosecutor, who spent almost four months looking into the case, and it was not until the spring of 1630 that the predikantwas cleared of any wrongdoing by the Batavian Church Council. Even then, the governor-general remained suspicious; between 18 and 22 April, he clashed on three separate occasions with the church authorities over their desire to proclaim Bastiaensz’s innocence from the pulpit. Specx plainly thought the predikant had displayed fatal weakness in the Abrolhos. Had a better man been assigned to the Batavia, he told the leaders of the Church Council, “things might not have gone the way they did.”

So Bastiaensz was called to account for his equivocal behavior on Batavia’s Graveyard and emerged with his reputation barely intact. The Church Council’s support at least meant that he could now preach anywhere in the lands under its jurisdiction, and it only remained to find him a suitable church. There was some talk of sending him to Surat, but it came to nothing, and it was only after a long while in Batavia that Bastiaensz was dispatched to the remote Banda Islands to minister to the troops guarding the world’s supply of nutmeg. The predikant remained in Java long enough to complete two years’ mourning for his dead wife and marry, in July 1631, Maria Cnijf, the widow of the Bailiff of Batavia. Shortly thereafter he departed for the Bandas, where he survived for at most 18 months before being struck down and killed by dysentery in the spring of 1633.

Gijsbert Bastiaensz, who had experienced so much on Houtman’s Abrolhos, now lies buried in an unknown grave on another long-forgotten island. News of his death was not forwarded to Batavia until the summer of 1634. Plainly it was not regarded as an event of any great significance.


Of the handful of people from Batavia’s Graveyard who did live to see the Dutch Republic once again, Judick Gijsbertsdr suffered more than most.

The predikant’s one surviving child had sailed on the Batavia as the eldest daughter of a family of nine. She arrived in Java a little more than a year later with only her father for company, quite destitute, and having survived scurvy and shipwreck, the brutal murder of her mother, two sisters, and four brothers, and two months as the “fianceé” of Coenraat van Huyssen. She was one month shy of her 22nd birthday, and her troubles were far from over.

Judick’s immediate concern would have been her precarious financial position. Her father’s investigation by the Church Council of Batavia kept him from working for several months after their arrival, and since the family had lost almost all of their possessions in the wreck, Bastiaensz and his daughter probably found it hard to make ends meet. Judick would have found it expedient to marry, and though her father’s poverty and her own loss of virginity might have rendered her an unattractive prospect in the United Provinces, the marriage markets of the Far East worked quite differently. White women were a rarity in Java, and pretty, single European girls were rarer still. The merchants and soldiers of the town coveted new arrivals “like roasted pears,” and the predikant’s daughter would have had no shortage of suitors.

Sadly, good fortune eluded her even then. Within a few weeks of her arrival Judick had met and married a certain Pieter van der Hoeven—whose profession is not recorded—and so, she must have hoped, secured her future; but he died within three months of their wedding day, adding widowhood to her recent tribulations. She completed a full year’s mourning before marrying again, this time to Helmich Helmichius of Utrecht, whom she accompanied to the Spice Island of Ambon. Judick’s new husband—a predikant of absolutely no distinction—was probably an acquaintance of her father’s. This time the marriage lasted for a while, but in 1634 the bloody flux struck down Helmichius, as it had claimed Gijsbert Bastiaensz the year before, leaving the girl orphaned and twice-widowed.

Even the VOC was moved by this new misfortune, and on the orders of the Council of the Indies Judick received 600 guilders to compensate her for her widowhood and general suffering. This substantial payment—the equivalent of perhaps $48,000 today—enabled her to return to Dordrecht with her second husband’s estate still intact. She was back in her hometown by October 1635, when, aged 27 and in robust health, she made a will naming two uncles and an aunt her “universal heirs.” From this it would appear that neither Judick’s relationship with Coenraat van Huyssen nor her two marriages had produced surviving issue. The will does, however, show that she was at last comfortably off. She left in excess of a thousand guilders to be distributed to her relatives, the poor committee of the Reformed Church of Dordrecht, and a religious institution in the town.

There is no record of Judick Gijsbertsdr’s death in the archives of Dordrecht. She may well have married for a third time and moved away from her hometown or been caught in the great epidemic of bubonic plague that swept through the city in 1636, throwing normal recordkeeping into temporary disarray. Without further clues it is impossible to say.


Creesje Jans, who had traveled 15,000 miles to rejoin her husband, reached Batavia at last only to discover he was dead. Having survived so much herself, she now found herself alone in a ruined town where she had no business and few friends.

Her husband, Boudewijn van der Mijlen—it will be recalled—had been sent in September 1627 to Arakan, a Burmese river port, to purchase slaves for the Dutch settlements in Java. He had orders to remain there indefinitely, and there is no record that he ever did return to Batavia; certainly he was dead by July 1629, when “Lucretia Jans of Amsterdam” is mentioned as his next of kin in the records of the town. He had been in his late twenties, and Creesje had just turned 28 when she discovered she had been widowed.

The woman capable of arousing enormous passion in suitors as diverse as Jeronimus, Ariaen Jacobsz, and Francisco Pelsaert thus found herself without a man. Life in the seventeenth century was harsh, and it was rare to reach maturity without losing a father or a mother, a sibling, or a spouse. Creesje Jans had nevertheless endured far more than was usual even in that age, and it seems inconceivable that she would not have been profoundly marked by her experiences and loss. Still, she had unusual courage and strength of spirit, and she evidently remained a fine prospective wife, for in October 1630 she married a certain Jacob Cornelisz Cuick. The couple lived on in Batavia until about 1635—probably the time it took for Cuick to see out his contract with the VOC—and then returned together to the Netherlands, where they were both still alive in 1641.

Creesje’s motives for remaining in Batavia and remarrying can only now be guessed at. Unlike Judick Gijsbertsdr, she had money—her own and that of her first husband, whose arrears of pay, in a remote outpost such as Arakan, may well have totaled several hundred guilders. She was still beautiful, had assets, and could certainly have contracted a good marriage with a senior Company official. The man she had made her new husband was, however, a soldier, and a mere sergeant at that. He had fought during the Susuhunan’s siege but lacked the social status and the prospects Van der Mijlen had enjoyed. Creesje’s choice therefore requires some explanation.

The answer appears to lie in the church records of Cuick’s hometown, Leyden, where Creesje and her husband stood as godparents to no fewer than four children of Pieter Willemsz Cuick and his wife Willempje Dircx between September 1637 and December 1641. Reading between the lines, it seems likely that this Pieter Cuick was Jacob the soldier’s brother, and at least possible that his wife, Willempje, was none other than Lucretia’s stepsister—the same Weijntgen Dircx with whom she had lived in the Herenstraat in Amsterdam almost 20 years before.

Once allowance has been made for the extravagant variations in the spelling of proper names that were all too common at this time, therefore, it would appear that Creesje’s second husband may have been her own stepbrother-in-law. This discovery may well explain Creesje’s willingness to marry, as it were, beneath herself. Alone and friendless in an unknown town far from everything she knew, it would have been natural to seek out any familiar face. Jacob Cuick, whom Creesje may perhaps have known and liked in Holland, could well have seemed a better choice than a stranger who could not begin to understand her extraordinary tribulations.

Lucretia Jans and her new husband disappear from sight after 1641. They do not seem to have dwelled in Leyden, where no further trace of their existence can be found, and perhaps went to live in Amsterdam, where the surviving records are so enormous and so poorly organized that it is difficult to search for them. It can be said with some confidence that no Jacob Cornelisz Cuick was ever interred there, but one tantalizing clue can still be found to his wife’s fate: at the beginning of September 1681, a Lucreseija van Kuijck died in Amsterdam and was buried there on the sixth day of the month. If this Van Kuijck was really Creesje of the Batavia, she had survived into her late seventies and outlived her suitors and her persecutors alike—some small recompense, perhaps, for the suffering she had endured.


While Creesje Jans tried to make a new life in the Indies, Ariaen Jacobsz remained rotting in the dungeons of Castle Batavia. The skipper had been confined there since the middle of July 1629, arrested on the strength of Pelsaert’s accusations, and held—along with Zwaantie Hendricx—on suspicion of plotting mutiny.

From the beginning, Jacobsz resisted all attempts to make him talk. His physical stamina must have been immense; that he survived not only the sea voyage to Batavia in an open boat but a long spell in a squalid prison, doubtlessly interspersed with none-too-gentle questioning, was a remarkable achievement. Zwaantie, too, was interrogated about her actions on the ship, but little progress seems to have been made during the time that Pelsaert was absent in the Abrolhos.

Even the problem of exactly who had arranged for Evertsz and his men to attack Lucretia Jans was never resolved to the Company’s entire satisfaction. “The skipper,” Specx conceded in a note to the Gentlemen XVII,

“was very much suspected that [this] had happened with his knowledge, yea, even with his aid and at his instigation; about this he, and a certain other female who had been the servant of Lucretia have been examined by the fiscaal and brought before the Council of Justice, but through the obscurity of the case no verdict has yet been given.”

From these comments, it appears that Ariaen had consistently proclaimed his innocence, and that Antonij van den Heuvel had failed to extract anything resembling a confession even after the commandeur’s return from Batavia’s Graveyard with fresh evidence and accusations. “We do not think that [Jacobsz] is wholly free,” the governor-general concluded cautiously,

“being certain that if he had publicly maintained authority and justice as well as he secretly undermined both, many of the committed insolences would not have happened aboard the ship, nor would the previous actions have remained unpunished.”

But without some sort of confession, the true extent of the skipper’s involvement in the mutiny could never be known.

The problem confronting the Councillors of the Indies was thus a simple one. They certainly believed Jacobsz to be guilty, at least to some degree, of the charges ranged against him. But they also felt that Pelsaert shared the blame for what had happened on Batavia and afterward, not least for his lax handling of the skipper. All that was certain, Van Diemen concluded, was that “a completely Godless and evil life has been conducted on the mentioned ship, of which both the skipper and Pelsaert are greatly guilty, may the Almighty forgive their sin.” Because of this, the Councillors clearly thought that it would be unwise to take the commandeur’s allegations entirely at face value; and since the only other evidence against Jacobsz came from the mouths of now-dead mutineers, only a full confession could establish Ariaen’s guilt. In the absence of any such admission, the existing stalemate could endure indefinitely.

The case against the skipper was thus reduced to a simple test of will, and to everyone’s frustration, Ariaen remained in prison as late as June 1631, the charges still unproven despite the belated application of torture. “Jacobsz,” Van Diemen noted in frustration, “skipper of the wrecked ship Batavia, is still imprisoned, although [he] has several times requested a relaxation and a return to the fatherland; on the strong indictment of having had the intention to run off with the ship [he] has been condemned to more acute examination.” In the meantime, the Councillor suggested, the Gentlemen XVII might wish to examine the papers pertaining to the case and “give an order in this matter.”

What happened to Ariaen when he was tortured again (for that is what Van Diemen’s comments meant) remains a mystery. No further reference to the skipper has been found in the records of the VOC, and, frustratingly, all the transcripts of his interrogation—which might have shed a good deal of light on events on the Batavia—have vanished, too. It seems unlikely that Jacobsz was released, and if he had been executed one might expect to find some reference to the fact in the record. More probably he died of injury or illness in his cell. The skipper had already survived two years in the malarial dungeons under Castle Batavia—an achievement equal in its own way to his voyage in the longboat—but it would be almost two years more before a reply could be expected from the Gentlemen XVII, and that was more than even he was likely to endure.

Zwaantie Hendricx, Creesje’s loose-moraled servant, likewise disappears from the records of Jan Company. The likelihood is that she, too, perished in the fortress, dying some time between December 1629, when she was definitely in custody, and June 1631, by which time Jacobsz was being held alone. Just possibly, however, she walked free for lack of evidence, to make her own way in the Indies.

If so, the girl would soon have found herself in an uncomfortable position. She had no employment; there was little demand for expensive European maids in a settlement supplied with abundant native labor; and her marriage prospects were far worse than those of Judick and Lucretia. With Ariaen locked up and likely to remain so, though, Zwaantie would have had little option but to wed; had she then remained in Batavia she, like every other emigrant, would have had a less than even chance of seeing the Netherlands again. Imprisoned, she could hardly have survived—but even free the odds are that she died in Java, a wife but not, perhaps, a much-changed woman.


Half a world away from the squalid dungeons of Castle Batavia, off one of the cramped and crowded streets that twisted their way through Haarlem’s poorer quarters, ran a narrow little alleyway called the Cornelissteeg. The houses there were small and poorly appointed, and the people who dwelled in them were mostly artisans—water carriers, carpenters, singers, and the like. It was to this wretched accommodation, far from the luxuries of the Grote Houtstraat, that Belijtgen Jacobsdr came to live after her husband sailed on the Batavia.

Jeronimus’s wife had fallen a long way. Only a few months earlier she had been a respectable and—to all appearances—prosperous member of Haarlem’s upper middle class. Now she had lost her home, her business, and her husband. VOC officers could have a portion of their wages paid to their next of kin, so Jacobsdr would not have starved; nevertheless, she would hardly have been human had she had not resented the abrupt change in her circumstances.

Matters were made worse by Heyltgen Jansdr. Belijtgen’s former wet nurse continued to harass her long after Jeronimus was gone. As late as the summer of 1630 Heyltgen and her husband, Moyses Starlingh, came down to the Cornelissteeg one afternoon while Belijtgen was out and began to hurl torrents of abuse at her front door in front of her astonished neighbors. In the course of this tirade, Heyltgen was heard screaming her familiar insults; Jeronimus’s wife, the nurse called out, was a pig and a whore riddled with syphilis, and if she dared to leave her home Heyltgen would “cut her face and trample on it.” Receiving no response from the empty house, the wet nurse and her husband returned that same evening. Belijtgen was still not home, and Moyses tried to break down her door, loudly announcing he would wait for her inside. According to the neighbors, whose testimonies were recorded the next day, Starlingh was in a violent mood, and they feared that he would loot the property if he got in.

Heyltgen’s tirade must imply that the old dispute over Cornelisz’s son had still not been resolved, though it was now almost 18 months since Jeronimus had buried the boy. Whether or not Belijtgen Jacobsdr had taken legal action over her dead child cannot be said for certain, since Haarlem’s judicial archives are very incomplete. The one trace of what may be the same dispute occurs in the city burgomasters’ records, which often concern themselves with the resolution of petty quarrels between members of the lower classes. The relevant memorial, issued on 6 July 1629, concerns a wet nurse and a mother—neither, unfortunately, is named—who were told to make their peace in a dispute over a child. Both women were bound over, and the nurse was ordered to pay to the mother seven shillings’ compensation. If the parties concerned were indeed Belijtgen and her tormentor, it must be assumed that the burgomasters’ attempts at arbitration had no lasting effect—and observed that the compensation paid seems minimal in the extraordinary circumstances. But such, perhaps, was the price of an infant’s life in the early seventeenth century.

What happened next remains unknown; the fracas in the Cornelissteeg is the last sign of Belijtgen’s life in Haarlem. Three weeks later, on 7 July 1630, news of the Batavia tragedy reached the Dutch Republic on the ship Wapen van Rotterdam,*52 and within days the details of the mutiny were circulating in pamphlets and printed laments. Cornelisz’s bloody role in the affair thus became notorious, and one can imagine that his wife found it impossible to remain in Haarlem.

Did Belijtgen return to wherever she called home? There is no way to know for certain. The meager remains of her unfortunate existence provide no resolution for her story; like her enigmatic husband, she lived and died in history’s penumbra—a shadow figure whose origins and motives remain unknown, and whose real character and hopes, and loves and fears, can now only be guessed at.


Upon the coral islets of the Abrolhos, all sign of the Batavia and her crew soon disappeared.

The wooden hulk of the retourschip, already battered almost beyond recognition by the sea, did not take long to vanish beneath the waves. Caught between the ceaseless pounding of the breakers and the reef, Pelsaert’s flagship disintegrated plank by plank until her upperworks had been reduced to so much flotsam and the remaining contents of the hold were scattered all across the ocean bed. Within a year or two, the only indication she had ever been there was the broken wreckage of her masts and spars, washed up on the rocky beaches of the archipelago.

The islands of the Abrolhos bore witness for a little longer to the Dutchmen who had lived and died there. In their frantic search for anything of value to the VOC, Pelsaert and his men had picked Batavia’s Graveyard almost clean of debris. But on Wiebbe Hayes’s Island, a few scraps of sailcloth fluttered on the scrub, and the remains of the Defenders’ dwellings still testified to their stubborn refusal to surrender.

There were less tangible signs of human intrusion, too. Beneath the surface of the island, the freshwater lenses that had floated in the waterholes and saved the lives of Hayes’s men had been drained off by thirsty Dutchmen, leaving the water in a number of ancient wells so brackish it was all but undrinkable. The animal population had been substantially reduced, and several colonies of tammars and sea lions—which had survived in unchanging balance for several thousand generations—had been hunted almost to extinction during the Defenders’ three-month war with Cornelisz’s band.

Then there were the seven bodies on Seals’ Island. The dead mutineers had been left to dangle from the makeshift gallows that the Sardam’s carpenters had thrown up for them, and by the time the ropes—rotted by salt-laced gales of rain—finally sagged and snapped, the island birds would have all but picked the corpses clean. Before long the gallows would have toppled and fallen too, leaving little more than piles of bones and wood to bleach and crumble slowly on the strand.

Across the deep-water passage between the islands, on the deserted and infertile skeleton of Batavia’s Graveyard itself, an altogether stranger change occurred. When the survivors of the wreck had landed, they had found the isle a barren place. Its sandy soil was too poor to support much life, and, scoured clean by the wind, it had long been all but devoid of vegetation. In the early 1630s, however, new patches of undergrowth sprang up among the coral outcrops, establishing themselves where the soil was deep and clear of birds’ nests and debris. For a decade or more, the northern portion of the island bloomed.

The explanation for this unexpected fertility lay a foot or two beneath the surface, where the bodies of Jeronimus’s victims rested in their shallow graves. As they decomposed, the remains of Hendrick Denys, Mayken Cardoes, the predikant’s family, and all the rest released their nutrients into the earth, providing freshly fertile ground for the spores of tea-tree scrub and dandelion, and the site of each burial pit was soon marked by a little wreath of stubborn greenery. Slowly, over many years, the plants consumed the cadavers, enveloping them in a dense black mass of probing roots. They fed off them until they were quite gone, and—in doing so—transformed death into life, and burial into rebirth.

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