Monday, 28 March 2011

The Wreck of the Batavia (Part 2)

In my last article we had left the hapless survivors of the wreck of the Batavia, marooned on the desolate Abrolhos islands off the Western Australian Coast. The commander, Pelsaart had set sail in the ship's longboats to raise the alarm and bring help. The survivors have been left under the control of the undermerchant Jeromiums Cornelisz, a man with an agenda of his own...
The killings begin

Cornelisz's first act was to take control of all weapons and what food and water had been salvaged from the wreck. He then sent a large group of soldiers under Wiebbe Hayes to look for water on West Wallaby Island. If Hayes found water he was to light a fire. However Cornelisz did not believe there would be water found - he had sent the soldiers to their death.

Mass grave of Batavia victims
As he hatched his plan to secure any rescue ship, retrieve the gold and silver from the Batavia and begin a life of piracy, he divided the survivors among the surrounding islands and with the assistance of a willing group of junior officers and even cabin boys, he began a reign of systematic butcher.

The killing was ruthless and carefully planned.  He targeted the weakest members of the survivors or those he believed would prevent some sort of opposition to his plans. The strongest survivors were killed at night and their bodies buried. Some were lured onto rafts, told they were being taken to other islands where the water supply was good, and then shoved overboard in the channels between the islands and left to drown. Others were executed, usually by having their throats cut. In one case the entire Predikant family were killed in their tent by mutineers wielding adzes. In another incident a boy, Cornelisz Aldersz, was beheaded just to demonstrate how sharp a sword blade was. A small group of women were kept alive and enslaved for the "common service" of the mutineers. Lucretia Jans was coerced into becoming Cornelisz's concubine.

Over on West Wallaby Island, Hayes had found food and water and wondered why his smoke signals went unanswered until a trickle of survivors began to find their way across to him with tales of the butchery being carried out by Cornelisz. Realising he and his men were now in grave danger of an attack from the mutineers, Hayes set about building a fort.
Wiebbe Hayes fort
Hayes Fort on West Wallaby Island
As he had predicted Cornelisz attacked but using makeshift weapons from flotsam retrieved from the wreck, Hayes and his men beat the attackers off. Cornelisz was taken hostage. The mutineers retreated and under the command of Wouter Loos, tried again and very nearly succeeded. During the battle on September 17 the rescue ship was sighted.

It was now a race to get to the rescue party and tell the tale. Hayes prevailed and after a short battle, the mutineers were rounded up. Pelsaart did not wait to return to Batavia to dispense justice. Cornelisz and the worst of the mutineers had their hands chopped off and were hanged on Seal Island. Loos and several others were offloaded on to mainland Australia and never heard of again - making them possibly the first European settlers on the Australian mainland (there were tales of sightings of unusually light skinned natives in the years to come). The others were dealt with in Batavia.

Of the 282 survivors of the wreck of the Batavia only 68 landed in Batavia.

The Batavia was not the only Dutch ship wrecked off the Western Australian coast. At least 3 other ships were lost in a hundred year period off that unforgiving coastline but none, fortunately, suffered the fate of the Batavia and its survivors. I can recall the excitement in the 1970s when the wreck of the Batavia was found and it can now be seen, in a remarkable state of preservation in the museum in Fremantle in Perth.
The Batavia in the museum in Fremantle

There have been many books written on the subject. "Islands of the Angry Ghosts" by Hugh Edwards  is an account not only of the shipwreck but of the subsequent discovery of the Batavia. The standard work is Henrietta Drake-Brockman's 1963 book Voyage to Disaster.  A more recent account (released in March this year) is the book Batavia by Peter Fitzsimmons

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Guest Blogger-Pamela de Leon

This Sunday our guest blogger is author Pamela de Leon author of The Savage River Valley.
A native of Catskill, NY, Pamela loves to travel, holds a bachelor's degree in Languages and History from Georgetown University and was awarded a master's degree from George Mason University. After living in the Washington D.C. area for many years, on a summer's day in 1997 she traveled back to the Hudson Valley to visit her maternal grandmother.

"As I was crossing the Rip Van Winkle Bridge with the glory of the Catskill Mountains rising before me, I realized there was really no other place for me. The beauty of the mountains and the river grabbed at my heart and soul. There was no turning back after that."

Savages, Indians, Squaws and White Men are all names that over time have stirred up much controversy in regards to “polite” usage. When first writing The Savage River Valley, I met with some raised eyebrows and pointed questions on the usage of such terms.  Of all the names mentioned, Savage, appearing in the title, is perhaps not as apparent as it seems. Readers initially assume from the title that, naturally, I must mean the Indian.  The true meaning of the word remains in doubt throughout the story and I leave it up to the reader to draw her or his own conclusions as to who really is the Savage by the story’s end.

In my book I weave a tale that centers on a modern day woman who is taken back in time to a Mohican Indian tribe in 17th century Hudson Valley, in the area that today is known as Catskill and Leeds. As a first time author I wanted to be careful of the words I used and possible connotations or interpretations. However, the more research I conducted, it was clear to me that Indians was much more widely accepted among experts than I had anticipated, especially my mentor, Mohican expert and writer, Shirley Dunn. My next discovery led me to the fact that Indians themselves referred to the women as squaws and that nothing detrimental was intended amongst the River Tribes by using such a name. In my attempts to stay as historically accurate as possible I did not scratch out the idea of referring to Indian women as squaws but embraced it. It is our modern day usage of the term that leaves us thinking it is a bad thing to say or write.

Which leaves the last name-White men or the Dutch in this case. When the Indian world of ancient times ended, the white man, pale faced, speaking a strange tongue, and wearing strange clothes, arrived, and he intended to stay.

As we have often changed our own perceptions of the names used in this book, the world of White Feather and his Mohican family is changed and influenced by the traders from some distant spot beyond the horizon, who brought copper bracelets from an unseen land and knives that exchanged hands many times and found their way south. The Indians now faced the challenge of fighting to defend their villages and lands and fire pits, as in time the white men would fight to protect his home, hearth, and fields. Just as the world of the Indians changed, followed by the world of the white men and on and on throughout history, so have the usage of names changed and their perceived meaning.

I invite you to an exquisite, intricate, and historically based adventure into the early days of our country and the magnificent chronicles of the Hudson River Valley and its Indian tribes!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Travesty Players

I recently watched "Stage Beauty"—a wonderful movie about the changing world of 17th century theatre in London, when women were first allowed to play on the stage. I loved it.

There are a number of historical shifts and twists, nips and tucks that will be obvious to anyone familiar with the history, but it's all in the service of excellent drama. (Somehow we forgive this in a movie, but wouldn't in a novel. Why is that?)

Although the movie captures the spirit of the theatre world of the time, to have been perfectly accurate there would have been dandies with paid seats on the stage. This was distracting then, and it would have been distracting in this movie, as well.

I adored the representations of Nell Gwyn (who is incorrectly shown as the King's mistress before she becomes an actress--not the other way around), Charles II (with all his dogs), Peyps. The costuming is terrific.

There are interesting differences between French and English theatre of this period, and the relatively late arrival of women on the English stage is one of them. Women had long been on the stage in France. When men played female roles in France, it was usually for comic effect. In England, men played women "in travesty" very effectively—as does the beautiful main character of this film.

Although actresses played women's roles in France, men danced female parts in stage ballets until late in the 17th century. In one of the Sun King's early dance performances, for example, he danced the part of the goddess Ceres.

In France, plays employed the comic device of a woman pretending to be a man. There was an erotic element, as well. Mlle. Thérèse du Parc was famous for her shapely legs, which were only properly revealed when she was dressed in male tights and a short doublet. Oh la la! 

There is something universally profound about someone who embodies both female and male characteristics. It's a pity that the word "travesty" has historically been used to describe such players.

To see the movie trailer for Stage Beauty: click here. I highly recommend it.

Sandra Gulland