on 26 March 2002
Batavia's Graveyard has to rank as one of the best books I've ever read. It tells the incredible story of how a bunch of several hundred Dutch people travel (for various reasons) on the great ship Batavia to the Dutch East Indies to fill the ship with spices worth an absolute fortune back home. But the ship crashes many miles west of the Australian coast leaving the many survivors stuck on a tiny island. It's what happens next that is really unbelievable. While the head of the ship sails off in a smaller boat to try and find help, one of the other officers assumes control of the island, which might have saved many lives if he wasn't a genuine psychopath who binded a number of loyal men to him and systematically began killing just for the fun of it. But some survivors collected on another island nearby and made preparations to defend themsleves from the inevitable assault that would come. It really is one of those stories so incredible you couldn't make it up. The author writes in a very neat and reader-friendly fashion which makes the book a real page-turner. Apart from the main story he also writes about the historical context, including the early European history of Australia and the men who got marooned there, never to be seen again. In short, buy it - you'll never read another true story quite as dramatic.
on 9 January 2004
This book is interesting from a number of perspectives. It tells about life in Holland in the 17th century, gives an insight into life aboard a VOC trading ship (it puts paid to the romantic notion of sailing off to the Far East to make your fortune from the spice trade - the majority of sailors and VOC employees were desperate men and conditions aboard were far from pleasant for most), and recounts the frightening story of shipwrecked life under the assumed command of probably the most bloodthirsty psychopath in history.
The story of the Batavia fired the public imagination for many years after the event, and has over time fallen from memory. Mike Dash has brought the story to life again.
on 16 May 2013
I must have bought this book in or about 2007. Like so many other readers I literally couldn't put it down. An utterly compelling tale of total horror, all conducted on what must have seemed an unfathomably remote location at the time off the coast of what they called the Great Southland. The evil of Jeronimus Cornelisz in 1629 is only overshadowed by the willingness of some of the crew to carry out his macabre wishes to wipe out as many survivors as possible. I have reread the book several times since and resolved to visit the place for myself. So I did. In April 2013 we (self and wife) flew from London to Perth, visited the Shipwreck Museum at Fremantle where the Batavia's stern is displayed along with the skeleton of one of the victims and various finds such as coins and pottery. We then drove north to Geraldton to see the museum there too; on display is the arch destined for Java and being carried by the ship as ballast. We booked ourselves a day out with Geraldton Air Charter and went out to the Abrolhos Islands. You can only land on East Wallabi Island but you get a flypast over Beacon Island where the killings took place, Seal's Island where the mutineers were executed by Pelsart (the commander of the voyage) when he returned from Java with help only to discover what had been going on, West Wallabi Island where the marines had built their fortlets to defend themselves against the mutineers; finally you fly over Morning Reef where the Batavia struck and to this day the hole it wrenched out of the coral is visible. I took my copy of this book with me and read some of it again 'on location'. Worth every penny and every mile to get there and it all goes back to reading this book in the first place. You can't say that of most books!! Speaking as a professional historian and writer I'd say you cannot get a better story than this one. How and why the Batavia story has escaped being made into a movie I cannot imagine. You can see my scenic flight by going to Youtube and searching under Batavia and 1629.
on 23 February 2003
The history lesson in this book goes well beyond the "Mad Heretic". It includes lifestyles, social attitudes, religion, maritime commerce and punishments, etc. from the early 17th century. The research must have seemed endless. I can honestly say it is the best book I have ever read. If a movie is not made of this incomprehensible adventure and tragedy the world is missing out.
on 20 March 2009
"Batavia's Graveyard" is the horrific, but true story of the bloodiest mutiny in history on the Dutch ship "de Batavia" in 1629. On her first and last voyage to Java, a Dutch, zealous psychopath was planning a mutiny, when "de Batavia" struck a coral reef west of Australia. As she was beyond repair, more than 250 people had to seek refuge on the small islands of Houtman's Abrolhos (nowadays called the Wallabi-coral reefs). The group mutineers decided to go ahead with the mutiny and to take matters into their own hands, making sure they possessed all the weapons. With no places to hide and little food and water, the mutineers started a reign of terror, resulting in a two months killing spree that only ended when the survivors were rescued by another ship.
From the picture he creates of life in the Netherlands and the workings of the VOC in the 17th century, Mike Dash shows his story is well-researched and that he understands his topic and subject. This adds in the second half of the book to the credibility of the shocking events unfolding on the Abrolhos, how unbelievable and depraved they may seem. His style of writing is never sensational or over-dramatic, making the characters and events speak for themselves as a consequence. This real life "Lord of the flies"-story mesmerized me from page one.
I highly recommend "Batavia's Graveyard" to everyone interested in Europe's early modern history and Holland's "Gouden Eeuw". For people who cannot get enough of this story, a replica of "de Batavia" has been built and can be visited in Lelystad, NL.
on 16 October 2012
I got this book as a gift and within 2 days had postponed or re-scheduled so much of my life I finished it.
The plot & story line are as "per label" on the Amazon page.
i.e. Planned mutiny on a 17th centruy East indiaman is thwarted by a ship wreck, then the mutineers & loyalists divide.
However it is much more than that.
i found that the author had so well researched ( over 100 pages of notes & sources) so well, and then skilfully woven all the characters together into
a story that draws you in. He has presented a slice of European history in such a form you feel you are there.I could almost smell & taste life aboard a 17th century sailing ship, and feel the despair and privation of the shipwrecked pasengers & crew.
What follows the ship wreck is an amazing indictment of humananity.
Mr Dash brings to life the poor unfortunates, and the mutineers who inflict a livving hell on them. I found myself really feeling for them.
This is no dry historical book. It is living, breathing hsitory.
on 5 May 2002
A superb and fast-moving telling of the tragic story of the Dutch East Indiaman "Batavia" that ran aground on a archipelago of tiny islands off the coast of Australia in the early seventeenth century. The captain sails off in a small boat over a vast expanse of barely known sea to get help (shades of Captain Bligh and the "Bounty"). Ironically (and tragically) a mutiny among the merchants and crew is evolving at the time of the shipwreck, and from this murder and mayhem erupt among the survivors left to fend for themselves on the islands. Incredibly, there are enough survivors to eventually tell the world the whole story, and from their accounts and the archeological evidence Mike Dash weaves his story.
Dash tells the story at a fine pace in clear and readable prose. This, admittedly fascinating, slice of history is as enthralling as a novel. Interspersed in the narrative is everything you would want to know (and much you might not) about the Dutch East India Company, life in seventeenth century Holland (rapidly becoming the richest society in the world), religious dissent in early modern Europe, the spice trade, the early European explorations of Australia and the East Indies, and (what lingers in the mind longest) the truly appalling conditions of life at sea at the time. One ends up wondering why anyone ever went to sea during this period of human history, even if desperate, after reading about the putrid water, limited salty food, non-existent hygeine, infestations of lice and cockroaches, barbaric punishments and terrible risks.
The mounting horror of the murders and anarchy among those stranded on the island and the eventual rescue and response of the authorities is superbly evoked, together with the "follow up" of the survivors, as far as is known. History comes alive in the all too human stories of ordinary people desperately trying to survive under unimaginable conditions.
Only a couple of quibbles - Anabaptists were generally not violent (despite the exception at Munster where there was peculiarly individual circumstances, including a charismatic leader), many were pacifists (as are Memmonites today). To blame Cornelieuz' behavior on his religion is almost certainly misplaced, although combined with his personal disasters, it may have increased his sense of being an outsider. Secondly, diagnosing Cornelieuz as a psychopath (a twentieth century psychiatric term) is enormously difficult at this reach of time, there may have been other social, psychological or medical reasons for his (admittedly appalling) behavior, and simply calling him a psychopath is uncharacteristically glib and frankly unhelpful. These don't detract, however, from the well told story.
Highly recommended - read it.
Other reviewers have summarised the basic narrative of Mike Dash's engrossing book. Suffice to say, they do not exaggerate the skill with which the story is told. A good deal of conjecture has been necessary to knit all the elements together, but whenever the author is deducing from a patchy legacy three centuries old he is scrupulous in saying so. There is no sense of cheating as the events unfold in horrific sequence.
The historical detail is splendid, but the over-riding message that emerges is how narrow is the dividing line between evil and heroism given extreme circumstances. Here it is a shipwreck but other examples from more recent times can be found.
I found the attempts to explain the psychosis of some of the most depraved characters as carrying analysis a step too far, but they should not deter anyone from reading a haunting book.
on 9 October 2014
Ever wondered what would happen if a ship was wrecked in the middle of the ocean, the survivors abandoned on a barren rock, and a leader stepped forward that had secret and very unconventional religious beliefs?
To be honest neither had I. But this is exactly what happened to the crew and passengers of the Dutch ship Batavia in 1629 just off the Australian coast. With the ship stricken and the captain and senior crew gone for help, the remaining survivors are shepherded onto an outcrop of coral rock, with no food or fresh water. Jeronimus Cornelisz (an apothecary) is amongst these refugees and soon begins to take control. While many people of this time were God fearing, Cornelisz proved the exception to the rule. Preferring to follow his own twisted branch of religion he felt that a man could be absolved of any wickedness on earth as surely all our actions are controlled through a higher power. This warped view leaves us a man with barely a conscience for his acts as displayed in his treatment towards his fellow castaways.
I won't go into the events that happened upon Batavia's Graveyard but it really does give an eye opener into life on board a ship in the 17th century. Mike Dash has really done his research here and I am surprised at just how much information he has managed to cram into the book without it turning into an essay.
My one and only criticism of the book is that the last quarter is made up of notes that relate to the preceding text. This meant that they were a little disjointed and I didn't really want to read through them. I would have much preferred these to have been included as footnotes on the actual pages they relate to. This way the text would have been far more enriched.
on 21 January 2014
This is a brilliant book about a truly horrific event that occurred in the 1600's. Other reviewers have given the plot a thorough investigation so there is little else for me to say on that part but as a well researched and in depth tale of ship wreck, murder and heresy, you can't get much better than this! I am not a keen historian but I do pick things up that look interesting and this certainly did not disappoint.
Some reviewers found the close look at the political, religious and family lives of those concerned in the disaster as a little too much information, but I feel this is what made this book. Looking into the background of crew members, servants and families makes this a human story. The reader is made to understand the circumstances not only of the time, but also the intimate lives of the people involved. As an amateur genealogist I revel in all this kind of stuff (it's really quite difficult to piece together the true life of someone long dead) and I found the story from beginning to sad end, truly fascinating.
Dash has really done some excellent work here (he gives appropriate nods to other writers who have also written on the subject) but I think he goes the extra mile to portray life at sea, the fate of the passengers and gives some interesting facts along the way. I especially liked the explanations of the term 'Keel Hauling' (which I have heard and understood to be getting a good telling off) which is a cruel punishment meted out at sea and also some other traditions (peculiar to the Dutch I believe, in this era) where a mans hands are cut off (or just one if the offense is not as bad as a two hand removal) before hanging!
I will certainly read this book again as I am sure there will be bits I have forgotten already, however, as my title says, I will probably purchase it again in book form. I don't know if it is because my Kindle is an early version (still going strong since the day it was bought goodness knows how long ago, and therefore lets call it version 1 of the kindle range)but the tabs within the text that lead to footnotes didn't work. I had to wait until the end of chapters to read the footnotes which was a real hassle. Also, the notes at the end of the book (which are really useful and themselves very interesting) are difficult to read on the Kindle. Some pages are lists of authors, books and page numbers, but you have to read quite carefully in case you miss some interesting information. The pictures (maps etc) are very feint and practically impossible to read, which I found very annoying, as I would have liked to refer back to them at certain points within my reading. My Kindle is in good working order... but I may be in need of an upgrade to improve the performance of the book... mind you I'd be even more annoyed if I got the latest version of Kindle to discover the same problem... off to the bookshop it is!!
Despite these glitches this is a really amazing book that will see you involuntarily hold your hand to your mouth whilst you gasp in disbelief. I wouldn't be surprised if Hollywood gets in on this!!