Readers on Batavia's Graveyard

‘It is now eighteen years since I first began to dream of telling the story of the wreck of the Batavia. I collected nearly everything that was published on the subject; then I went to stay on the Houtman Abrolhos where the disaster took place. For years, I kept pondering the project and jotting notes, but never actually settled down to write the first page of a book which, amid the increasingly derisive scepticism of my family, began to take on a mythical aspect. From time to time, I learned that some new book had just been published on my topic – invariably sending me into a cold sweat – and each time I would rush to get a copy of it. But no – it was always a false alarm; I saw quickly, with relief, that the author had missed the target, and this only reinforced my false sense of security.

‘Then came Mike Dash. With his Batavia’s Graveyard this author hit the bull’s eye and left me nothing more to say. Dash managed to disentangle the various threads of the complex tragedy and to set personalities and events in their historical context. Above all, he did amazing detective work in the Dutch archives. After carefully reading his detailed study, I put away for good all the documents and notes, sketches and photographs I had gathered over the years. I had no further use for them. In publishing the following pages, my only wish is that they may lead you to Dash’s work.’
Simon Leys, author of The Chairman's new clothes: Mao and the cultural revolution, in the introduction to his essay The Wreck of the Batavia: A True Story.

‘Dash 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.’
Rob Hardy on

‘It says a lot for a story when it begins with a shipwreck and builds in intensity from there. ‘Batavia's Graveyard, painstakingly researched and written by Mike Dash, starts shortly before the proud, richly laden Dutch merchantman Batavia, on her maiden voyage for the Dutch East India Co. in 1629, shattered its hull on a coral reef near Australia and some 1,500 miles shy of its destination in Java. It could have been a simple story of survival if not for the presence of Jeronimus Cornelisz aboard the doomed vessel. At first glance a simple, mid-ranking official for the company, Cornelisz harbored heretical ideas and an overblown sense of his own importance in the scheme of things -- and he had the intelligence and charisma to bend others to his will. Long before the shipwreck occurred, Cornelisz had plotted mutiny and piracy on the Batavia. But once he found himself stranded with more than 250 survivors and limited resources to keep them alive, the Dutchman decided to take matters into his own hands and decide who should live and die.

‘It might be somewhat hard to believe if this were fiction, but Dash has drawn his story from the logs, court records and testimonials of the day. As history, Batavia's Graveyard is a gripping, deeply disturbing tale. Dash should be commended for his ability to present the story with such perfect balance between sensational drama and stark historical facts. There are enough notes and references to sate even the most passionate researcher, and the narrative never falters in its flow.’
Tom Knapp on

‘I met Dash recently while speaking on a panel at the Perth Writers' Festival and have been enjoying his book since. Batavia's Graveyard is a little like Captain Cook's story: a fantastic tale about early European visitors to Australia, yet one that few people know much about. Dash has made a real page-turner out of it.’
Tony Horwitz, author of Into the Blue: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before and Confederates in the Attic.

‘If you are planning on reading this, let me give you a heads up. What's between the covers of this book is NOT for the squeamish...I thought the story of the wreck of the Essex was bad but this takes the cake.

Batavia's Graveyard was the name given to a small island off the western coast of Australia, now known as Beacon Island. I first became aware of this story, which is true, through a wonderful program on the History Channel about recent finds on that island by archaeologists hoping to solve some of the mysteries of what exactly happened there in 1629 and the years during which the islanders, survivors of the shipwreck of the Batavia, were literally being held captive by a group of mutineers under the command/control of one single psychopathic individual. This book most definitely measures up to my rigorous standards for reading history. It is excruciatingly well documented (this author has notes & sources for every little detail).

‘Some parts I found to be a bit dull, but only because I'm not really interested in the history of shipbuilding. However, there's enough to keep you focused and indeed riveted when he gets around to the events on the islands and their aftermath.’
Nancy on

‘Dash not only gives a readable and engrossing account of the survivors' ordeal, but does an excellent job of placing the events within its historical context. I was fascinated by the description of life in the Dutch Republic of the early 1600s, sobered by the risks and difficulties that sea voyages of the time entailed, and absorbed by the history of the V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company). Finally, I was horrified and saddened by the events that took place on the islets once the mutiny was in full swing. The ordeal of Wiebbe Hayes's troops in attempting to repulse Jeronimus's attacks added to the complexity of the story and gave me some hope for some of the survivors. The style of writing was such that I felt like a participant to the action, and Mr. Dash did this without sacrificing historical accuracy. Batavia's Graveyard is one of the best history books I've read in quite a while, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes history, or just a good dramatic tale.’
Anonymous customer review on

'Sailing during the seventeenth century was neither safe nor pleasant, but for the crew and passengers of the Dutch merchant ship the Batavia, their shipwreck off the coast of Australia became a horrific ordeal because of one man. Author Mike Dash traces the life of Jeronimus Corneliszoon from his broken life in the Netherlands to his position on board the doomed ship where he gained influence he would later use when the ship ran aground to have the men he controlled murder over one hundred of the passengers. The harrowing story is meticulously rebuilt from historical notes and told with an eye for the history and culture of the era.'
Demonvaska on

‘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." 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 Jeronimus Cornelisz, digging into ancient town records in Friesland, Amsterdam, and Haarlem…

‘This is an engrossing, albeit disturbing book. I would not recommend it for anyone who's sensitive to graphic and detailed descriptions of ways to exterminate humans. Also, be aware that the "mad heretic" claim under the main title is very misleading. Heresy was a popular word bandied during the days of the Roman Catholic Inquisition, but it has nothing to do with Cornelisz. From the evidence available, his actions don't seem to be informed by any obsessive religious creed. And as far as being "mad," there is no evidence of his being insane under our modern definitions. He was very much in control of himself. Which is the most chilling reality of all.’
Peter Kurtz on

'A fascinating account of naval disaster and the mutiny that followed. I am a fan of history, even dry history, but this is not one of those books. This is a history book for those who perhaps aren't so into history for history's sake. Dash does a great job of drawing the reader into the world of the Dutch East Indian Trade Company and the life of traveling on the huge trade ships. He uses meticulous research to paint a captivating narrative. As a history buff I enjoyed the copious end notes and the fact that Dash is able to hold back his imagination and base his assumptions on hard facts. My favorite part of this book was the epilogue and its focus on Australian native/marooned Dutch relations and the possibilities that lie there. Overall, a great book that makes this period of history fascinating.'
Benjamin on

‘I have just finished reading one of the best pieces of non-fiction that I have read in a long time. Mike Dash’s account is enthralling… If you are even remotely interested in the period of the tall sailing ships, European empire-building, the spice trade and Terra Austalis Incognita (as I was – remotely interested), you will be fascinated by this brilliant page-turner. Dash’s research is impeccable. His writing is clear and brisk. His detailed descriptions, his finely-drawn characters and his insights into the human condition make for what would be a sensational crime thriller if it were fiction, but riveting human drama because it is true.’
Rivendell Reflections blog

'The amount of research this author must have done is amazing, but it never gets in the way of the story (thankfully, there are no footnotes). It's rare that you find this combination of great storytelling and great information: you can have good research and a completely unreadable book, or a good book with lousy data. But this was a match made in heaven--a knock-down story and an author who can do the detective work AND tell it like a pro. Very highly recommended by this reader.'
Anonymous customer review on

‘The story was suspenseful, exciting, and pretty satisfying in its conclusion. In short, it was an utterly entertaining read, and without even meaning to, I learned a lot about the history of the Netherlands, the spice trade, sailing, the Dutch East India Company, and religion in northern Europe.’
Nicole on

'I visited the Batavia replica at Lelytad. Then I read this book. I think it is a very unusual book. The truths told by Mike Dash gave me goosebumps while reading and unpleasant nightmares (I like to read before I go to sleep).... Reading this book an incredible experience. I'm wide awake with horror! So read it! Read mine if need be.'
Wijk from Duurstede on 

‘This history was, quite simply, one of the best I've read in years, right up there with award-winners like In the Heart of the Sea and Seabiscuit.

‘Mike Dash's research into this bloody historical event is impeccable (the notes themselves make interesting reading) and unlike many historians, he is a first-class writer. It was a real privelege to read something that is at once a stellar piece of research and a whopping great read with an almost cinematic quality to the narration. I literally did not put this book down until I had finished it, I was so caught up in the drama of the characters and their stories. The ending was one of the best I've ever read.

‘Very highly recommended by this admittedly picky reader.’
Anonymous customer review on 

 'A wonderfully written tale of a historical event. Not into history? Grab yourself a patch of sand and a rum drink, point your oiled body south, and read a story which combines Lost, Lord of the Flies, and Pirates of the Caribbean.'
Sean on

'Mike Dash’s wonderful book Batavia’s Graveyard (Phoenix, 2002) is a much more recent work written by a trained historian. The book provided details about life on the ship and life in the colonies. I found out what people ate, discovered the soldiers would have had to buy their own equipment and got a real feel for the rigid layering of society. Dash used records from the other Dutch wrecks to deduce what life might have been like for the survivors; what they may have eaten – and who would have eaten what. He also researched the backgrounds of the main players in the drama – Pelsaert, Cornelisz and Lucretia van der Mijlen in particular. For me, this was fantastic. I could start to see what I was dealing with and put the people into historical context.'
Greta van der Rohl, author of Die A Dry Death, on the A Dog Ate My Manuscript blog

'A truly great book. Although it is a history book, it reads like a novel. The author has taken the dry facts from historical sources, then truly transformed them into a narrative that will captivate you. It's really incredible that a man with a handful of mutineers was able to terrorise such a large group of people....  Even if you do not read history, this book will fascinate you!'
Anonymous customer review on

'If I ever wonder what life was like on a seventeenth century ship bound for the Far East, then this is the book to consult. Serious history, but written to be read instead of consulted, Batavia's Graveyard makes a time, a place and a cast of characters come alive off the page. The story, as it unfolds, becomes harrowing and somewhat depressing, as a community of shipwrecked survivors descend into a true life "Lord of the Flies". It's also a gripping narrative, and could as easily slot into a "True Crime" tagging as an "Historical" one. I often feel let down by historical accounts that promise to read like a best-selling thriller, but this book really does, serving both to educate and entertain as you plough through it.'
uryjm on

"I have read Mike Dash's improbable labour, Batavia's Graveyard. Batavia is a jewel. Dash really is a divine literate person."
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