Off the coast of Western Australia, roughly 80km from the shore, sits a chain of 122 islands called the Houtman Abrolhos. In 1629, the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) ship The Batavia ran aground on the Morning Reef, about 45km from the coast. The 316 men, women, and children on board were of varying age, nationality, and gender. During the subsequent evacuation of the ship, the commander of the Batavia left for Jakarta to get help. When the rescue team returned, it was discovered that 125 individuals were murdered, in a gruesome struggle for power.
In the 1960s, four people found among the murdered survivors were excavated by archaeologists. Another site, this one containing multiple remains of a then-indeterminate number, was uncovered between 1994 and 2001. A recently published article by Daniel Franklin, conducting research on behalf of the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Western Australia, applied osteological analyses to determine the demographic information of those who were murdered.
The Batavia set sail from Amsterdam on October 29, 1628. After a brief stop at the Cape of Good Hope, two officers, Jacobsz and Cornelisz, along with a female companion, left the ship without permission, exhibiting unruly and drunken behavior. The two officers were severely punished by the ship’s commander.
Franklin’s analysis found that the multiple burial site was awash in violent evidence. One individual had extremely damaged facial bones, as well as trauma to his limbs. Though the sex of the individual was unable to be determined, the robustness of the bones points to a male in their 30s or 40s. Another individual, the most damaged among the remains at the site, was a teenage male. Still more remains belonged to a 8-9 month old child and another child believed to be 5-6 years of age. Other remains were identified only by dentition. Several of the analyzed remains displayed very little evident trauma, pointing to strangulation or having their throats cut.
With the commander away from this marooned Batavia, the officer in charge, Cornelisz, took control of the group, set a ruling council in place, and systematically began murdering anyone who stood up against him. His ultimate goal was to take control of the rescue ship.
Franklin was able to determine that prior to their deaths, the six individuals at the multiple burial site were mostly healthy, with little evidence of disease or nutritional deficiencies, and largely free of peri-mortem trauma.
Despite Cornelisz’s attempt to take control of the rescue, his band of mutineers did not succeed and were all subsequently executed by the Batavia’s commander.
Source: Franklin D, (2012). ‘Human Skeletal Remains From a Multiple Burial Associated with the Mutiny of the VOC’ 1629 International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 22 (6), 740-748 DOI: 10.1002/oa.1235
Image: Franklin, D