Reviews of Batavia's Graveyard

‘Truly thrilling... Dash has found a story big enough and exciting enough to hold anyone to the page... His account of Cornelisz's crimes is much like the man himself: horrific and mesmerizing. You can't bear to read it but you can't bear not to. No history I’ve read in years places you so deeply inside a piece of the past.’
National Geographic Adventure

‘A shipwreck on a barren isle, a murderous heresy and a charismatic psychopath: all three intersected disastrously in the shipwreck of the Dutch trader Batavia on a coral islet in 1629... Dash describes a mass descent into savagery with an unabashedly cinematic flair, and his account is backed by meticulous research.’
New York Times

‘Harrowing… Dash identifies the issues which underpinned the tragedy with clarity and insight, providing a superb reconstruction of the survivors’ descent into anarchy.’
TLS

‘A magnificent true-horror story… Holland’s Golden Age is evoked with Vermeer-like clarity. Utterly compelling.’
Sunday Times

‘A thumping great tale of human savagery.’
Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Exhilarating. Not only history, but an enthralling sea yarn and true-crime thriller.’
Associated Press

‘This is a brilliant book. It is massively researched in recondite archives, but the author’s alchemy is such that he has transformed the story into a gory page-turner that would be pronounced over the top if served up by a historical novelist. If this does not feature on many ‘books of the year’ lists in December, I shall be very surprised.’
Frank McLynn in Punch

‘Gripping… Dash’s writing bristles with confidence born of intimacy with his subject.’
Cleveland Plain Dealer

‘I read it in one sitting, absolutely enchanted.’
St Louis Post-Dispatch

‘The master story-teller of life in seventeenth-century Holland... The book reads like a thriller full of page-turning sub-plots.’
Melbourne Herald-Sun

'An astonishing advance... Dash has near-total seventeenth century recall. As well as delving ever more deeply into the Dutch East India Company archives, he has ransacked provincial archives in the Netherlands and Germany, and discovered much new material, which sheds light on the back-stories of the main characters. This is a tremendous read, and now the essential text on the ill-fated voyage of the Batavia.'
Australian  Book Review

‘From a Stevenson or a Golding, this would be a thrilling yarn; this time it’s true, and it freezes the blood.’
Sunday Telegraph

[FIVE STARS] A Harrowing History, April 3, 2002
Reviewer: Rob Hardy (Columbus, Mississippi USA)
‘Absolutely nothing in this book is invented.’ Mike Dash starts off his book Batavia's Graveyard 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. The sailors seemed to have found his talk and his leadership irresistible, and he frequently spoke of the wealth that could be theirs if they were to take over any rescue ship. He began to thin the population by the simple means of murder. He and his loyal henchmen began killing those whom they distrusted, and then those who were unneeded. After that, although there was sufficient drinking water from rainfall and sufficient food from seals and birds, the killing continued because it was entertaining for those in power to continue it.

The scenes of murder and mayhem are unpleasant, but not much more so than those of the legal interrogations under torture and the executions which followed the affair. There are few pure heroes described here, and the book shows that while the Company got richer and richer, those on the sea who made it happen had brutal lives and little recompense. That may strike a chord for our own times, as may the picture of a man of God bringing unimaginable destruction for the sake of his own power. Dash has, however, wisely avoided any parallels to the present, and any didacticism. He has told an amazing tale, with extraordinary detail for events of so many years ago, and has brought it up to date with archeological and forensic research. This is as gripping a page-turner as a factual account has any right to be.
amazon.com customer review