Unspeakable Crimes After A Shipwreck Left 125 People Stranded, One Passenger Turned It Into Murder Island  

Melissa Sartore
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The Batavia, a ship from the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) fleet, left the Netherlands headed for Indonesia in late 1628, loaded up with silver, jewels, and other valuables. With over 300 people on board, the Batavia wrecked near the west coast of Australia seven months later. Before the ship went down, Jerome Cornelisz — one of the under-merchants — had been planning a mutiny, and his treacherous plot became increasingly brutal after the crash. Some of the details about what happened to the Batavia crew members are unclear, but Cornelisz's killing spree is hard to ignore. The horrors brought on by Cornelisz and his fellow mutineers make for one of the creepiest maritime stories ever told. 

The 'Batavia' Ran Aground After Seven Months At Sea

The 'Batavia' Ran Agro... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list After A Shipwreck Left 125 People Stranded, One Passenger Turned It Into Murder Island
Photo:  Joseph Mulder/WikiMedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Batavia was one of eight ships that left the Netherlands for Indonesia on October 28, 1628. There were over 300 people on board, including the crew, merchants, women, and children. The ship was on its way to Indonesia to buy spices with large amounts of silver, jewels, and other riches. After more than seven months at sea, the Batavia got stuck on a reef 40-50 kilometers (about 25-30 miles) off the coast of Western Australia, roughly 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) shy of their intended destination. 

A Mutiny Was Planned During The Voyage

As the Batavia made its way across the sea, several crew members began causing problems.  Francesco Pelsaert — the ship and fleet commander — butted heads with an under-merchant named Adriaen Jacobsz, as he didn't think Pelsaert should be in charge. Relegated to the position of skipper, Jacobsz began talking about taking over the ship with another under-merchant, Jerome Cornelisz, while the two were drinking together. The men discussed throwing Pelsaert overboard, and killing any officers who got in their way. Once they had control of the ship, they could do what they wanted with the valuable cargo.

Cornelisz And Jacobsz Arranged For One Of The Female Passengers To Be Attacked

In order to successfully stage a mutiny, Jerome Cornelisz and Adriaen Jacobsz needed to turn the crew against Commander Francesco Pelsaert. Lucretia van der Mijlen — one of the ship's female passengers who was traveling to visit her husband — became close with Pelsaert after Jacobsz's repeatedly made advances on her. Jacobsz and Cornelisz arranged for several men on the ship to assault van der Mijlen, as they assumed Pelsaert would be forced to take disciplinary action. 

Several crew members carried out the attack, but Pelsaert didn't react. Sources are divided on whether or not van der Mijlen was able to identify her attackers, so Pelsaert's inaction could have been motivated by a lack of concrete evidence, or by the unnamed illness some historians claim he suffered from.  

40 People Died During The Shipwreck Near Western Australia

40 People Died During The Ship... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list After A Shipwreck Left 125 People Stranded, One Passenger Turned It Into Murder Island
Photo: Robert Batty/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Just as tensions regarding the planned mutiny and the assault on Lucretia van der Mijlen were coming to a head, the ship got caught on Morning Reef. The Batavia wrecked on June 4, 1629, and the crash killed 40 people, leaving an estimated 275 passengers alive and fighting for their lives. The ship was held up near the Abrolhos Islands, and some of the passengers were able to reach Beacon Island, the latter of which is now known as Batavia's Graveyard