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BATAVIA’S GRAVEYARD
(Crown Publishers/ Random House) by Mike Dash. Nonfiction history. 2002. 371 pages. It’s 1628 and the Batavia, the flagship vessel for the Dutch India Company, sets sail from Amsterdam for Java loaded with gold, silver, many other valuables, and approximately 400 passengers and crew. Unfortunately, aboard the Batavia’s maiden voyage is a new employee named Jeronimus Corneliszoon, a socially disgraced man with insane religious beliefs. With the help of a few fellow sailors, Jeronimus devises and executes a plan for what seems to be a perfect mutiny. However, the mutiny is interrupted one night as the Batavia slams into a coral reef off the coast of Australia, causing hysteria among the crew and passengers. As passengers struggle to make it to two nearby islands, the ships’ commander and skipper, along with a handful of other crewmates, head off in search of more hospitable refuge, but soon abandon the search and sail away to find help. On the island, Jeronimus quickly takes control and instantly orders the murders of the sick, weak, any anyone he deems as threatening. On a nearby island, a small band of survivors witness Jeronimus’s treachery and prepare to defend themselves if attacked. As more and more innocent victims fall to the murderous mutineers, the survivors pray and wait for help to arrive. 
               
Being a fairly jaded person, there are very few things in this world that disturb me. Batavia’s Graveyard disturbed the hell out of me. There were many times I had to put this book down and do something, anything, to help get my mind off of what I had just read. The insanely detailed accounts of the murders on the island by Jeronimus and his “men” are enough to give you nightmares.  Painstakingly researched, as attributed to the approx one hundred pages of notes and nine page bibliography, Mike Dash uses eyewitness testimony, often providing direct quotes taken from court ledgers, and leaves no questions unanswered concerning this notorious mutiny and massacre. Although the main emphasis of Batavia’s Graveyard is the mutiny, shipwreck, and the atrocities carried out by Jeronimus and his henchmen, there is also a bevy of historical information about the 1600s shipping industry, the Dutch India Company (the world’s largest company at the time), what it was like to be a passenger on one of these voyages (one had to be insane to do this), religion, and Amsterdam. Mike Dash also gives a detailed account of Jeronimus’ life and how he ended up on the Batavia. Shorter, but just as detailed, biographies are included for many of the Batavia’s crew and passengers. Dash does employ some educated speculation concerning the aftermath of the mutiny; how various people were punished for their part in the mutiny, the fate of some of the survivors, and information attained by the discovery of Batavia related artifacts. As if the first 99% of the book wasn’t troubling enough, Dash concludes Batavia’s Graveyard with results from expert medical examinations of discovered bones to authenticate eyewitness testimony. Knowing that this story is true is almost too much to comprehend, and handle. – Denis Sheehan

 

 

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