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Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny Hardcover – February 12, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 156 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1629, the Dutch merchantman Batavia grounded on a desolate atoll near Western Australia. Of the 200 survivors, 115 were subsequently murdered, in coldest blood, by a group of the ship's sailors and their psychopathic leader, Jeronimus Corneliszoon. Batavia's Graveyard is Mike Dash's unnerving, measured account of the incident. The victims included children, babies, and pregnant women; the crimes took place over a period of several months. Though the killings make a substantial, chilling tale in themselves, Dash adroitly places the shocking spree in larger context with illuminating discussions of 17th century medical practices, religious heresy, global politics, and shipboard sociology and daily life. Additionally, he draws dozens of portraits of the participants in this ghastly drama, most fascinatingly that of Corneliszoon, who emerges as a grotesquely charismatic predecessor of the likes of Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. Batavia's Graveyard, a skillful melding of accessible scholarship and evenhanded narrative and of overview and telling detail, is a welcome achievement. --H. O'Billovitch

From Publishers Weekly

Dash's sociology of the paranormal (Borderlands) and of obsession in Holland (Tulipomania) prepared him nicely for this telling of a 17th-century ship loaded with Dutchmen, treasure and fanaticism. In 1629 the Batavia, a 160-foot merchant ship launched by the Dutch East India Company, was carrying silver to East India when it ran upon coral atolls northwest of Australia and coughed up its passengers. In Dash's account, the survivors 300 passengers and about 50 sociopathic crewmen settled on the tiny island, soon to be called Batavia's Graveyard, and quickly became madhouse models of Dutch social classes. Officers set out in life boats to Java for help, leaving Jeronimus Corneliszoon, a failed apothecary and heretic, in charge; he began terrorizing his own crewmen, then the other marooned passengers. Within two months, 115 of the survivors (including 30 women and children) had murdered each other with swords, pikes, daggers and by drowning (Corneliszoon poisoned an infant that kept him awake). In a narrative reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, Dash describes the creeping sadism that sprang from Holland's religious conflicts, which were channeled through the Jim Jones-like charisma of Corneliszoon. The book is driven by Dash's research (a quarter of the book is notes and appendices, including material from newly discovered records in Holland), but the same attention to detail (e.g., the narrative lists and the psychobiography of Corneliszoon) interrupts the pace. The story of the Batavia incident is already well recorded, and even though Dash has taken it to a new level of grotesque accuracy, his nautical drama never truly comes to life.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 382 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (February 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609607669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609607664
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #288,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I've read many seafaring/adventure/historical non-fiction narratives (as well as novels) and Batavia's Graveyard does them all one better. Like most Americans, I had never heard of the Batavia incident, so I was in suspense during this entire reading experience. The author, Mike Dash, gives a engrossing account of the survivors' ordeal, but, more importantly, he does an excellent job of placing the Batavia's story within the context of the 1600s and the Dutch sea trade. I was fascinated by the description of life in the Netherlands by the history of the Dutch East India Company--a corporation so heartless and corrupt that it makes Enron look warm and fuzzy.
Like In the Heart of the Sea, this is a book that places one sensational, disturbing event within a much larger, and richer history. Mike Dash's stylish, compelling writing are to be commended, as well. Even the nearly 100 pages of endnotes themselves (which detail Mr. Dash's outstanding research) add a lot to the appreciation of this book.
Take it from a history--and reading--addict: this is one of the best historical narratives to be written in years.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The setting for this book is an obscure chain of coral reefs in the 1620s. I would've never thought that incidents from so long ago and far away could inspire nightmares. But this book is every bit as chilling as "In Cold Blood" or "Helter Skelter." We'll never understand how people can commit barbarities against innocent women and children, as Jeronimus Cornelisz and his sycophants did. But eyewitness accounts and archaeological evidence, which were utilized by Mike Dash for this book, offer a testament to the grim reality of such atrocities.

The story of the "Batavia" has been related before: in the year 1628, the flagship vessel of a fleet of Dutch East Indian traders smashed into a previously unknown group of jagged coral islands off the west coast of Australia in the dead of night. While the captain and over-merchant sailed to Indonesia for help, the charismatic under-merchant set himself up as caretaker/dictator of the desperate survivors of the wreck. He turned out to be a 17th-century version of Charles Manson. He not only convinced enough naïve, under-educated, and cowardly sailors to follow him into mutinying against the East India Company, but he managed to order them into gleefully murdering over 100 of their fellow castaways.

Mike Dash's book is undoubtedly the most complete account of the "Batavia" incident written thus far. The bibliographical notes he provides comprise a book in itself. For the first time, he examines the culture and background that produced a monster like Cornelisz, digging into ancient town records in Friesland, Amsterdam, and Haarlem. It's riveting to think that Cornelisz may have been acquainted with the infamous bacchanalian painter Torrentius, who was a neighbor of his in Haarlem.
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Format: Hardcover
"Absolutely nothing in this book is invented." Mike Dash starts off his book _Batavia's Graveyard_ (Crown) with this declaration for a good reason. The story is quite literally incredible. Dash's previous book, the excellent _Tulipomania_, wittily described the improbable craze of speculating on tulip bulbs in Holland in the seventeenth century, but the tulip madness is relatively well known. Stories of the fate of the ship _Batavia_ in 1629 in the service of the Dutch East India Company, however, were wildly popular at the time, but have gradually been forgotten. The story was spectacular enough that there were memoirs, eyewitness accounts, pamphlets, books, and court testimony, all of which Dash has dug through with notable thoroughness. The bizarre tale of the _Batavia_ reads like a thriller.
The main character in the tale is Jeronimus Cornelisz, who had newly joined the Dutch East India Company to make his fortune. He was probably brought up as a member of the Anabaptists, a small protestant sect with a history of fanaticism and resistance to worldly governments, based largely on the belief that the Second Coming of Christ was just around the corner. He had also joined a social organization which had dangerous philosophies, and he came to antinomianism, the creed that one can exist in a state of perfection and thereby avoid following any moral law. "All I do, God gave the same into my heart," he explained. He planned a mutiny to take over the ship and become a pirate, but about a month before arriving at the destination Java, it crashed into a coral reef off Australia's western coast. Cornelisz, the highest ranking official left on the islands, took charge with real self assurance, eloquence, and charisma, and hell descended.
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Format: Hardcover
"Batavia's Graveyard" what a name for a book! I could not resist picking this book up as soon as I saw it and I am so happy that I did. It was one of the best historical tales I have read for some time. Being an Australian I knew something of the Batavia but not the full story. In fact I had examined in detail the re-constructed Batavia at the Maritime Museum in Sydney. I walked through the ship, checking out every nook and cranny on the upper and lower decks. However that was way before I read this book. I never knew of the murder and mayhem that took place off the Western Australian coastline.
This book not only gives you the full story of the voyage of the Batavia, its shipwreck, the fate of the survivors and the subsequent fate of the mutineers under Jeronimus Cornelisz. It also offers the reader a complete and compelling picture into the background to this disaster and at the same time it offers interesting stories on all the participants. By the time I was half way through the book I was furious that the mutineers had carried out their terrible deeds. The book had me caught up in the story so much it was like reading about a current disaster in the newspaper. I wanted Cornelisz and his followers to suffer untold pain and misery for their acts.
The story is well told and gripping and the author has done his research well. The author supplies the reader with numerous tidbits of information regarding this period and this never detracts from the story but adds to it. It would have been nice to have some photographs of the Islands concerned to help paint the picture of desolation and even some photos of the recently re-constructed Batavia. Regardless of these very minor criticisms this book is a great historical story and I am sure that anyone who enjoys a good history will love this book.
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