In one of the most chilling massacres in history, in 1629, 125 men, women and children were slaughtered by mutineers after their Dutch ship, the Batavia, was shipwrecked 25 miles off the coast of Western Australia on what has come to be known as “Murder Island.”
Their skeletons lay buried, forgotten for nearly 400 years, but now more and more of them are coming to light as scientists and archaeologists work together to decipher more of what transpired for the ill-fated passengers.
In 1628, the Dutch East India Company sent the Batavia, the flagship of its fleet, to Java, loaded with riches. But the company also sent Jeronimus Corneliszoon to guard its treasure. Working with some of the sailors, he tried to engineer a mutiny, but on June 3, 1629, the Batavia hit a coral reef, forcing it to run aground on what was later nicknamed “Murder Island.”
The captain and commander escaped in a lifeboat and headed for Java, which was 1,500 miles north. Meanwhile 40 people drowned trying to get to shore, but 250 survivors made it to shore, where a nightmare awaited them; between 100 and 124 men, women and children were murdered by the mutineers over the next two months, with some of the women repeatedly raped and tortured.
The mutineers were found when the commander returned months later; they were hung on the gallows. The incident has been likened to “Lord of the Flies.”
Dutch maritime archaeologist Wendy van Duivenvoorde said working on finding the skeletons was to honor them, adding, “Give them a little bit back of being left behind in this place at the end of the Earth.”