Barbarism and brutality: surviving the Batavia shipwreck

A depiction of the massacre among the marooned survivors of the Batavia. From Pelsaert's published journal, 1647. ANMM Collection: 00004995.

A depiction of the massacre among the marooned survivors of the Batavia. From Pelsaert’s published journal, 1647. ANMM Collection: 00004995.

Almost 400 years ago, in the hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, a flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was wrecked upon Morning Reef near Beacon Island, some 60 kilometres off the Western Australian coast. It was the maiden voyage of the Batavia, bound for the Dutch East Indian colonies of modern-day Jakarta, but the tragedy of shipwreck would be overshadowed by the subsequent mutiny among the survivors on the isolated Houtman Abrolhos Islands.

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Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 16

Thurs, 19 Jan 2012
Wreck Reef

People woke up early this morning.  They are excited at the prospect of finding another wreck today. The conditions are perfect!  The wind had swung to the east and the waves are nearly flat.  Our intrepid mag team can’t wait to get out, so a boat is launched off the top deck and Nigel, Lee and Wayne from James Cook University head out at 6 am.

They came back an hour later with reports of a large anomaly in the gutter spotted yesterday.  In magnetometer speak it is a multiple di-polar anomaly with a maximum amplitude of 800 gamma lasting at least 6 seconds.  In simple English, it means a scattered site of iron debris covering an area of 30-50 metres.  Our reference tables for the magnetometer allow us to convert the strength of the anomaly to weight of iron. In 10 metres of water an anomaly of 800 gamma equates to a mass of iron of approximately 10 tonnes!

After breakfast we sent out the two magnetometer teams again.  The morning team went back to the west side of the north reef to confirm the earlier find.  The other team was working in the lagoon around the coral cay.  By mid-morning dive teams were sent into the gutter with metal detectors to try and isolate the source of the anomaly.  Three successive dives were unable to locate the source.

At lunchtime we debriefed on the results of our mag and metal detector surveys.  Consensus of opinion is that the source of the anomaly is buried beneath the coral sand at such a depth that it is beyond the metal detector’s sensitivity, but is so large that it easily definable on the magnetic signature of the magnetometer.  As we are not allowed to disturb the bottom sediments by any excavation, we are unable to confirm the source iron.

From the historical records we know that the Lion had a 316 lb iron anchor, two iron try-pots weighing a total of 676 lbs., 500 iron harpoons and lances which would weigh over 1 tonne, and 6 tonnes of hoop iron to bind the whale oil barrels.  We also assume that the Lion was armed with at least one cannon, as the accounts for the fit-out of the voyage lists two casks of cannon powder.  We also know that on its previous voyage Captain Hardwick used canon to ward off an attack by South Sea Islanders. This would seem to correlate very closely to the observed anomaly.

Dive boat

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

All divers were up by 4 pm.  We moved everyone onto the coral cay for the annual team photo.  Unfortunately, with the two second time delay Xanthe wasn’t able to get into her own photo!

The Dive team

The Dive team. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

The ANMM team

The ANMM team (R-L) Kieran, Paul, Lee, Nigel with Peter from Oceania Maritima. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We had our final dinner together tonight.  Tomorrow Silentworld II is having a rest day.  Kanimbla will be moving to Hope Islet to spend our last day of the survey.  The guano vessel Lone Star is known to have been lost there.

More tomorrow…

Paul

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 15

Wed, 18 Jan 2012
Wreck Reef

The anomoly

The anomoly. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We woke up to great conditions this morning. The wind is still coming from the north, but it has dropped off considerably and the seas are much calmer as well.  Today we are off on a Lion hunt!

After breakfast we sent out two magnetometer teams on the north side of the reef.  One team was working from the northern entrance moving to the west and the other from the entrance to the east.  By mid-morning the west team had come back in with a moderate anomaly to be checked out.  A dive team was sent out and at the bottom (at 17 metres depth) was coral sand with gently undulating ridges from the surge and current.

After lunch the mag teams went back out again.  Another dive team went in search of the anomaly and a team of snorkel divers searched the shallow lagoon on the west side of the entrance.  They noticed a deep gutter of water varying between 4 to 10 meters deep just to the south inside the outer reef and just north of the shallow lagoon.  This fits the captain’s description of the wrecking of the Lion.

…the lookout-man discovered broken water right ahead; the helm was immediately put down (to star board,) but too late to clear the reef, the vessel grounding immediately. She soon after forged over the outer reef-and became fixed, falling over with her deck to the reef.

We remained on the reef three days, employed in getting ready the boats and securing water and provisions, to carry us to Wide Bay or elsewhere. The vessel was entire when we left her, and, as she was well protected by the outer reef which she beat over, there is every probability of her holding together a considerable time-more especially as she is in a basin in the north side of the reef, and the heaviest winds here are from S. and S. E.

Snorkelling on the reef at West Islet

Debbie, from Flinders University snorkelling on the reef at West Islet. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

We will have to check this out with the magnetometer tomorrow.

The last divers were back on Kanimbla by 6 pm.  The end of our first day at Wreck Reef and everyone is really tired, but excited by the work we had done.  People didn’t last long after dinner, not a person up past 9.30 pm!

Paul

Wreck Reef Expedition… short bios for each team member

Here you will find a short biography on each member of the Wreck Reef expedition. Photos will follow shortly.

Jennifer McKinnon is a Lecturer in the Flinders University Program in Maritime Archaeology, Adelaide, South Australia. Originally from the US, she moved to Australia in 2006 to begin teaching at Flinders. Jennifer’s interests on this project are colonial ship construction and trepang extraction and processing camps.

Grant Luckman is a Senior Program Officer for the Maritime Heritage Section, Australian Government, Department of Environment, Water and Heritage. He administers the historic shipwreck legislation.

Doug McKenzie is a Medical Officer in the Naval Reserve with experience in diving medicine over the last twenty years. He joins the team as a doctor but has a keen interest in naval history. Continue reading

Wreck Reef Expedition… swim-line searching and a sea snake

This morning greeted us with much the same weather conditions as yesterday – quite windy and choppy but lovely and warm. Today’s teams were broken down into much the same as yesterday’s with two snorkel swim-line teams, one Porpoise Cay team (terrestrial) and one fish team (biologists). This morning I had the opportunity to be part of one of the snorkel swim-line teams. The visibility was amazing with at least 50 meters visibility and lots of fish all colours of the rainbow. The first five minutes of the snorkel I saw two stingrays gliding past and a moray eel. Continue reading