The Batavia: EXCLUSIVE Update on Latest Fieldwork

It’s exclusive because the skeletons are being analysed in the lab just down the hall from me, and I have Never Before Seen Photos (but since all the hype in the media, they’re pretty much the same photos everyone else has, but on slightly different angles, and far less professional)

In February this year archaeologists, anthropologists and geophysicists spent some time excavating Beacon Island, Long Island and West Wallabi Island, the locations of the wrecking of the Dutch ship Batavia and the site of the subsequent bloody mutiny. Recently a talk was held at the Western Australian Maritime Museum to update the public on the results of the fieldwork, and here is my summary.

Long Island has long been suspected to be the site of the trial and execution of the mutineers, when after a month of searching Francesco Pelsaert, the Captain of the Batavia, finally re-found the survivors of the wreck and mutiny, after sailing to Jakarta to report the wreckage. He was just in time, as it seemed an all-out battle between his loyal soldiers and the mutineers was imminent. Excavations at Long Island have revealed a chunk of squashed, perforated lead, believed to have held nails as a home-made ‘morning star’


The lead ball, with an example of an intact morning star

Also found, a coral structure, interpreted as a prison for the mutineers, and concentrations of iron in 4m by 4m areas, interpreted as what remains of the execution sites. At the time, when Dutch criminals were hanged, their bodies were left hanging in place as a deterrent to others and a show of power. It is very likely that the mutineers who were hanged on Long Island were left there, hanging.

downloadThe mutineers being hanged

On West Wallabi Island, further excavations of two limestone forts were carried out. The forts were first discovered by John Forrest, an explorer and the first Premier of the state of Western Australia. In the 1960s the two forts were excavated by students of Aquinas (1)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJohn Forrest, Explorer-Statesman, and one of the forts built by the loyal soldiers to protect them from the mutineers.

Of note, some metal objects thought to be book clasps were found near a fort. This is of interest because somebody went to the trouble of saving the book from the sinking ship, and transporting it from Beacon Island to West Wallabi Island. Must have been a real page turner, most likely a Bible, the Dutch were very religious at the time.

The latest excavations on Beacon Island have revealed more skeletons. In the excavations of the 1990s and 2000s, six individuals were recovered in a hand dug circular grave.


Batavia mutiny victims in a mass grave on Beacon Island

There were three adult males, one young adult male and two juveniles. One of the juveniles was only eight or nine months old, with tiny teeth all that survived.

download (2) download (3)

CFS forensic anthropologists excavating in 2015 and Henrietta Drake-Brockman inspecting the first ever discovery of a mutiny victim in the 1960s.

Now, three more individuals have been discovered, as well as the postcranial skeleton of a skull found back in 1999.

wpid-20150227_131506.jpg wpid-20150227_131501.jpg wpid-20150227_131455.jpg wpid-20150227_131449.jpg

First, a young adult female with serious abscesses, infection and attrition in her teeth. One of her ribs was green, probably from a metal clasp on her clothing.

Second, a 12 to 14 year old who was buried deep enough to suffer some significant water damage to the bones.

Third, the rest of the skeleton of a skull that was on display in the Geraldton Museum. The postcranial skeleton identified the individual as a very muscular, stocky man. The most exciting part is, the skull had a big chunk hacked out of it around the time of death, and during the most recent fieldwork, they found the chunk.

Finally, a young adult male, around 20 years old, with (my personal favourite) a persistent metopic suture. That’s the line running down his forehead. Six percent of people retain this suture which would usually close up shortly after birth and it just so happens I am also in the six percent.

Also, three enormous teeth were found which don’t belong to any of these individuals. More fieldwork is being planned. I hope they let me come this time. I was next in line should somebody have to drop out, but no such luck. Beacon Island is a small place and can only fit so many people scrambling around looking for skeletons.


2 thoughts on “The Batavia: EXCLUSIVE Update on Latest Fieldwork

  1. Thanks for posting this site. Congratulations on your fine work. Could I use one of the photos in an E book that I am writing. [Wiebbe Hayes’s fort]. No problem if you can’t but yours is a better photo than what I already have. The teeth? Most would have suffered from scurvy to varying degrees which would explain the abscesses and teeth attrition. The young babies? Some women stowed away on the Batavia, inlcuding pregnant women. Presumably their partners were sailors aboard the ship.

    • Hi Henry, the photo isn’t mine, you might have to get in touch with the WA museum.
      You’re right about the diverse passengers on the Batavia, aside from the soldiers and sailors, there were quite a few passengers which was a little unusual.

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