The true story of the mad heretic who led history's bloodiest mutiny - 'An adult version of LORD OF THE FLIES that is, moreover, entirely true' Evening Standard
When the Dutch East Indiaman Batavia struck an uncharted reef off the new continent of Australia on her maiden voyage in 1629, 332 men, women and children were on board. While some headed off in a lifeboat to seek help, 250 of the survivors ended up on a tiny coral island less than half a mile long. A band of mutineers, whose motives were almost beyond comprehension, then started on a cold-blooded killing spree, leaving fewer than 80 people alive when the rescue boat arrived three months later.
BATAVIA'S GRAVEYARD tells this strange story as a gripping narrative structured around three strong principal characters: Francisco Pelsaert, the cultivated but weak-willed captain; Jeronimus Cornelisz, a sinister apothecary with a terrifying personal philosophy influenced by Rosicrucianism who set himself up as the ruler of the island; and Wiebbe Hayes, the only survivor with the courage to fight Jeronimus's band. The background to these events, including the story of the Dutch East India Company, and the discovery of Australia, is richly drawn.
Dash's sociology of the paranormal (Borderlands) and of obsession in Holland (Tulipomania) prepared him nicely for this telling of a 17th-century ship loaded with Dutchmen, treasure and fanaticism. In 1629 the Batavia, a 160-foot merchant ship launched by the Dutch East India Company, was carrying silver to East India when it ran upon coral atolls northwest of Australia and coughed up its passengers. In Dash's account, the survivors 300 passengers and about 50 sociopathic crewmen settled on the tiny island, soon to be called Batavia's Graveyard, and quickly became madhouse models of Dutch social classes. Officers set out in life boats to Java for help, leaving Jeronimus Corneliszoon, a failed apothecary and heretic, in charge; he began terrorizing his own crewmen, then the other marooned passengers. Within two months, 115 of the survivors (including 30 women and children) had murdered each other with swords, pikes, daggers and by drowning (Corneliszoon poisoned an infant that kept him awake). In a narrative reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, Dash describes the creeping sadism that sprang from Holland's religious conflicts, which were channeled through the Jim Jones like charisma of Corneliszoon. The book is driven by Dash's research (a quarter of the book is notes and appendices, including material from newly discovered records in Holland), but the same attention to detail (e.g., the narrative lists and the psychobiography of Corneliszoon) interrupts the pace. The story of the Batavia incident is already well recorded, and even though Dash has taken it to a new level of grotesque accuracy, his nautical drama never truly comes to life.