Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum


The Batavia wreck occurred on 4 June 1629. The ship struck the Morning Reef in the Wallabi Group of the Abrolhos Islands. It was carrying 316 people along with trade goods, chests of coin, and a large amount of cargo, jewellery and silver.It took a week for the ship to break up. The survivors managed to get to some of the Wallabi Group Islands and although able to save a good supply of stores were short of water.Commander Pelsaert and Captain Jacobsz, along with some of the crew, decided to take to look for water along the coast. They used the only undamaged ships boat for their search. During this time, they made two sightings of Aboriginal people, although in both instances no actual contact was made. In one instance six men had swum ashore to look for water.‘...they also saw four men coming up to them, creeping on all fours, but when our men all of a sudden emerged from a depression of the ground, and approached them, they sprang to their feet, and ran off in full career...they were black men, stark naked, without the least covering.”When no water was found, they set off in this boat for the port of Batavia, (now known as Jakarta) and they reached there on July 7. Pelsaert and Jacobsz had not got along for most of the voyage prior to the wreck, with Pelsaert accusing Jacobsz of drunkenness. When they reached Batavia he accused Jacobsz of being responsible for the shipwreck, and Jacobsz was arrested. Pelsaert then went with the yacht Sardam to go back to the wreck to rescue the survivors.Meanwhile, the survivors had been undergoing a difficult time as some of them had organised and carried out a mutiny. The ringleader was the Batavia’s undermerchant, Cornelisz. He had taken the cargo valuables and then with his followers had embarked upon a wild bout of rape and murder. Altogether they killed 125 survivors.When Pelsaert arrived back at the Abrolhos and discovered the situation, he decided to try the mutineers then and there, with a council formed from the Sardam’s officers. They dealt a summary justice to Cornelisz and seven others, cutting off their hands and then hanging them. Two of the mutineers were spared this fate, but were marooned on the mainland, in the vicinity of the mouth of the Murchison River. These two were never heard of again, but there has been speculation that they may have survived and met up with and even lived with Aboriginal tribes.These two men, Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom, were given a dinghy, some supplies and various items with which to make friends with the natives. These included Nuremberg toys, knives, beads, bells and mirrors. Instructions were also given as to how they should communicate with the natives, and learn their language and when the best time of the year to hail passing ships would be.Although ships were given instruction to look out for the men in later years, nothing was ever heard or seen of them again. It does seem that they were well equipped for a stay of some time, and had youth on their side, although it is not known how fit and mentally stable they were after the grim excesses of the previous few months. They were in a good position to have survived for long enough to have come into contact with Aboriginal groups of the region, although there do not appear to have been any Aboriginal legends that have survived that are about this incident.

Associated Tribe Nhanta

Contact Evidence Possible

Type of contact Unknown

Year 1629

Nationality Dutch

Location Houtman Abrolhos

Source European