Mutiny on the Batavia is one of the world’s greatest stories. If it were fiction, people would complain that it was just too unbelievable. It’s not just the story of the shipwreck itself, but the lead up to the shipwreck that is fascinating. To really understand the characters, it was necessary to look at their world and how it influenced their subsequent actions after the shipwreck. In particular, how an extreme religious sect influenced Jeronimus Cornelisz, a man who did not believe in Satan but if he did exist, then it was surely Cornelisz.
Initially I wrote the book as a history but that has already been done extremely well by Mike Dash in his book, Batavia’s Graveyard. I also realised that there were a lot of gaps in the narrative. However, these gaps could only be filled if I wrote the book as a historical fiction.
Reading everything I possibly could on each part of the narrative, I wrote everything down in chronological order so that I could make better sense of what really happened. Slowly I added some meat to the characters either through dialogue or a more detailed description of their involvement in events. Previously the minor characters were just names attached to events. I have endeavoured to bring some of these characters to life.
I differed from some historians in the treatment of Commander Pelsaert,whose journal about the Batavia shipwreck was written in third person in 1647. I suspected that Pelsaert was not always truthful in his account. He was keen to avoid any blame and therefore attempted to blacken Captain Ariaen Jacobsz’s name.
Few historians have written about what was happening in the city of Batavia (Jakarta) at the time of the departure and shipwreck of the Batavia. The soldiers aboard the ship and other ships in the fleet, were being urgently sent as reinforcements to the Batavia Castle, the city fortress under siege by 20,000 men. At the same time, a very tragic love story was unfolding. The events and the tragic love story eventually unite with the survivors of the shipwreck after their arrival in Batavia. Both plots intersect with the final action delivering a fascinating conclusion with a remarkable and unexpected twist.
Although it has been written as a historical fiction, every attempt has been made to create a story as historically accurate as possible.
1629 Mutiny on the Batavia was written with the aim of bringing the story to the cinemas. If it is expertly produced and directed, it will become one of the greatest movies ever made.
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
― Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works
Although the story by itself is enough to capture the reader’s imagination, it is also a story of absolute evil corrupting the good. If Satan did exist, he would have personified himself as Jeronimus Cornelisz.
It is a story of a struggle to retain our human dignity, our decency when the temptations of greed, lust, power and ultimately, a choice between a life as a murderer or death, are put to the test. Readers will ask themselves whether it is better to die an honourable death or live a dishonourable life as a murderer.
For the author it was a horrific journey: “I had to ‘live’ the evil that festered in the minds of maniacal men as well as ‘feel’ the terror of the helpless victims. I had to enter into a dark place, a place that I had never been before to engage in the most unspeakable evil and commit, in my mind, the most despicable and depraved acts of barbarism.” This is not a book for the very young or the faint hearted.
The book asks some uncomfortable questions, such as: How much evil would you be prepared to commit in order to stay alive? How many people would you kill before you stop?
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
Henry Van Zanden
Learn more about Henry and and buy his previous book, “The Lost White Tribes of Australia: Part One 1656 The First Settlement of Australia,” at australiadiscovered.com.au
Buy a copy of 1629 Mutiny on the Batavia via amazon.com.au