The Batavia Story


On 4 June 1629 the Batavia was shipwrecked on Morning Reef in the Wallabi Group of the Houtman Abrolhos islands. Commander Francisco Pelsaert and select crew set off in the ship’s longboat to seek help and those left endured one of the most horrific mutinies in history. The Museum of Geraldton is an excellent introduction to the story of the Batavia. You can enjoy a guided tour and view displays of original artefacts from this shipwreck and other early Dutch wrecks in the region, including the impressive sandstone portico transported as ballast in the hull of the Batavia

The Batavia (ba:’ta:via) was the flagship of the Dutch East India Company fleet and left Holland on its maiden voyage 27 October 1628 en route to the East Indies to obtain spices. The ship was under the command of Pelsaert with Adriaan Jacobsz as skipper. Also on board was Jeronimus Cornelisz, who conceived a plan with Jacobsz to take the ship with all its gold, silver and supplies. After Jacobsz deliberately steered the ship off course it was eventually shipwrecked at Morning Reef near Beacon Island.

Abrolhos Islands

The survivors, including women and children, were transferred to nearby islands. With no food or water Pelsaert decided to gather a group and head for the mainland. After an unsuccessful search for water they headed north to Batavia (now known as Jakarta). The journey is ranked as one of the greatest feats of navigation in open boats, taking 33 days with all on board surviving.


Back on the islands, Cornelisz had been left in charge putting all weapons and food supplies under his control. He then moved the soldiers to West Wallabi Island under the false pretence of searching for water. This left Cornelisz in complete control and the two month mutiny endured. Of the 341 people who left Texel aboard Batavia, around 125 men, women and children were murdered.

Wiebbe Hayes Fort

The soldiers, meanwhile, led by Wiebbe Hayes, did in fact find food and water. Learning of the mutiny, the soldiers devised makeshift weapons, set watch and built a small fort out of limestone and coral blocks. Battles raged but Hayes’ men prevailed until Pelsaert returned. The Wiebbe Hayes Stone Fort on West Wallabi Island is the oldest surviving European structure in Australia.

‘Fortune and Gold’ by The Go Set – Lyrics by Justin Keenan

Eight months on a stormy sea, this is the tale of a mutiny

Of a merchant and soldiers, of treasure and gold, of a captain and crew, whose loyalty sold

A plan is forged, and the mission is bold, a murderous crew is awaiting the call

When the sun goes down on the 4th day of June, poor scurvy sailors, will howl at the moon

But the ship ran aground, and in a raging sea there was not a sound

In the night, of the murderous souls, treason and treachery, fortune and gold

But this tale had only begun for 200 people marooned in the sun

Women and children, soldiers and crew, weeks on an island, the madness it grew

And what happened next is a picture of man, to divide and defeat was the mutineer's plan

One by one, in the night so dark, they murdered them all and devoured their hearts

And only a handful survived, to tell this tale of the sea

Only a handful survived, to see murderers hang from the gallows tree 

In the night, of the murderous souls, treason and treachery, fortune and gold