Popular historian Dash (Tulipomania, 2000) rediscovers an astonishing, sanguinary, and sexy 17th-century drama of mutiny, shipwreck, murder, and mayhem.
In June 1629, the Dutch East India Company’s ship Batavia, seven months out of Amsterdam, hit a South Pacific reef at full speed. Passengers and crew scrambled to survive and to save as much as they could of the valuables aboard. At this charged moment in the narrative, Dash takes us back to the Netherlands for some background on the principal players in a gory drama whose first act has only just begun. They include: randy captain Ariaen Jacobszoon; Dutch East India Company representative Francisco Pelsaert, the ultimate authority onboard; and apothecary Jeronimus Corneliszoon, an “under-merchant” just below Pelsaert on the organizational chart. The Batavia was on her maiden voyage when she hit the reef and sank. But she had already become, like all long-range vessels of the time, a home for vermin of every description and a fetid community of the unwashed. (Dash gives as many details as he can find about the ship, including her salvage in the 1960s, and he’s lavish with sidelights in Dutch history as well, such as the fact that among the main customers for spices from the Indies were butchers who used them to mask the smell of rotting meat.) Immediately after the wreck, Captain Jacobszoon deposited most of the survivors on a barren, deserted island while he and some of the sailors headed for Java and a rescue vessel 900 miles away. “The calibre of the men on the island,” states Dash dryly, “left a great deal to be desired.” Indeed it did. By the time the rescuers arrived, Corneliszoon and his henchmen had murdered and raped scores of people, but they received justice as cruel and unusual as their crimes in the form of torture, mutilation, and hanging.
A thoroughly researched, riveting journey into the heart of darkness. (4 pages maps, not seen)