The vampires in Saltwater Vampires are all based on real-life mutineers who survived the shipwreck of the Batavia: Jeronimus Cornelisz, David Zeevanck, Gerrit Haas and Jan Pelgrom. In 2002, I was lucky enough to spend some time at Geraldton and saw the Batavia exhibit in the museum there. The story fascinated me. Imagine surviving a shipwreck and being marooned on a barren island, only to find that your situation is the least of your worries, and that you are more likely to be murdered than die of thirst and hunger.
In 1628, the Batavia set sail from Amsterdam, bound for Java. The ship belonged to the Dutch East India Company, at that time the most powerful trading cartel in the world. While the journey was arduous for all on board, things were considerably more comfortable for those in the stern – Company officials, clerks and cadets, Commander Francisco Pelsaert and the ship’s skipper, Adriaen Jacobsz, and well-to-do passengers bound for the new world.
One of those passengers was Jeronimus Cornelisz. An apothecary by trade, Jeronimus’s life had been dogged by rumour and scandal. He was close to bankruptcy when he took a berth on the Batavia, and had been a known associate of the painter Torrentius, who spent time in prison due to his suspected involvement in a secret society with heretical beliefs.
(If you’d like to join Jeronimus for a night in the stern, take a look at one of the prequel chapters to Saltwater Vampires: A spark to burn the world down).
The sailors and soldiers on board the Batavia were kept separate not only from those in the stern, but also from each other. The sailors inhabited the gun deck of the ship, and the soldiers were below them on the bottom deck, in conditions so cramped they couldn’t stand upright.
(To take a closer look at the life of a sailor, read one of the prequel chapters to Saltwater Vampires: Teeth).
During the course of the voyage, Jeronimus Cornelisz was able to exploit the festering resentment felt by the ship’s skipper towards the Commander (representative of the Company and the most senior man on board), hatching a plan for mutiny that involved men from the stern, and also sailors and soldiers.
Before the mutineers could act, the Batavia ran aground in the Abrolhos Islands, some fifty kilometres off the West Australian coastline, in June 1629. While an estimated forty of those onboard drowned, the rest of the passengers were ferried safely to a nearby island in the ship’s longboat and yawl. TheCommander and around forty others then took the longboat and set sail for Java, effectively abandoning the remaining survivors to their fates.
The survivors’ immediate problem was thirst. The scrubby island they found themselves stranded on was little more than a bed of broken coral raised up from the reef surrounding it. It had no natural water supplies. After two days, it rained, and their survival seemed more likely. They formed a council, and Jeronimus, as the highest ranking individual remaining, assumed command.
What followed was horrific. A new mutiny occurred. It began as a means of taking control of the remaining food and water supplies, and degenerated into a killing spree.
Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash gives a fully researched and beautifully written account of the events and people involved in the story of the Batavia.
Islands of Angry Ghosts by Hugh Edwards, an Australian journalist, discusses the events of 1629, but also the eventual discovery and recovery of the wrecked ship.
Voyage to Disaster by Henrietta Drake-Brockman was the first comprehensive account of the tragedy, and includes the translated journals of Commandeur Pelsaert.
Grey Company: the Batavia story at http://members.iinet.net.au/~bill/batavia.html