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Shipwreck coast

AUSTRALIA | Tuesday, 4 September 2007 | Views [1913] | Comments [2]

Monument to the sailors of the Sydney II

Monument to the sailors of the Sydney II

On the morning of November 16th 1629, two men rowed ashore just south of modern day Kalbarri onboard the dingy of the Sardam, a jacht belonging to the VOC (Verenigde Oost-indische Compagnie), the Dutch East-Indies Company. They were marooned there, left to fend for themselves, and became certainly the first European settlers in Australia. Jan Pelgrom and Wouter Loos were never heard about again, but can be considered to be among the lucky ones to escape alive the repression of History’s bloodiest mutiny.

It had all happened just off the coast, on a very low coral archipelago discovered a few years before by another Dutch, named Frederik de Houtman. So low are the islands that they appear at the last moment, making it very dangerous for they are surrounded by sharp submerged reefs. Thus, he named the archipelago Abrolhos, which is a corruption of the Portuguese abri vossos olhos, and means open your eyes. On 4th june 1629, before dawn, the brand new VOC flagship Batavia had run into the reef of a then unmapped island now know as Batavia’s Graveyard. What followed had been the subject of several books, and I’m not about to start my own here. But let’s say that of the 341 people onboard when the Batavia sailed from Amsterdam, 268 were left behind by the skipper and the Opperkoopman Francisco Pelsaert while they sailed to Java for help. Before the Opperkoopman aboad the Sardam could reach the survivors three months later, 125 of them had been gruesomely murdered by a group of mutineers led by the heretic Onderkoopman Jeronimus Cornelisz. After visiting the beautiful museum of Geraldton, and seeing many pieces salvaged from the wreck, I had to buy a book to know more about this incredible story. I chose Mike Dash Batavia’s Graveyard, and it is all so unbelievable that I couldn’t drop it and finished it in just 2 days. You just wish sometimes that it was fiction…

But the Batavia is by far not the only ship to ever hit the treacherous Houtman Abrolhos reefs. The place is littered with shipwrecks. Fortunately, not all of them were as bloody as the Batavia’s. The Zeewijk, for example, showed what determined men could do. Stranded on their rock, having lost all hope of rescue, the survivors built themselves a boat from the pieces of the wreck and sailed it to Java. Or the story of the Zuytdorp and its shipload of silver coins, who disappeared completely for almost 250 years. It crashed on cliffs now bearing its name between Shark Bay and Kalbarri, where all the coins laid at the bottom, creating what was nicknamed the Carpet of silver. Traces of survivors were found, and they probably also became early white settlers. And maybe the funniest of all, if it can be funny at all, the wreck in the early 20th century of the Norwegian whaler Gudrun, whose disgruntled carpenter drilled holes in the hull.

This stretch of the coast is now called Batavia’s coast, and every other business has its name in it. There are Dutch names everywhere, starting with a group of island of the Abrolhos called Pelsaert Group. There are Zuytdorp Cafes, Zeewijk streets, but, not so surprisingly, I cannot remember anything called after Jeronimus Cornelisz…

To see more pictures, click here

Tags: ambassador van, culture




  amanda Feb 11, 2008 10:30 AM


I did this for a project and I think it's okay.Thakyou to the person who wrote this I got alot of information from it!

  Lana Nguyen 3/4P LPS May 6, 2008 7:28 PM

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