Archaeologists working on a secluded island in the Indian Ocean have uncovered remains that they say tell a chilling tale of a psychopathic killer, a merciless massacre and a final act of heroism.
The team of Dutch and Australian experts have excavated the bodies of 125 people who were marooned with cold-blooded killer Jeronimus Cornelisz on what is now known as Beacon Island.
They were a portion of the crew of the ill-fated cargo ship the Batavia, which set sail from the Netherlands in October 1628 for Jakarta, Indonesia, Australia’s 60 Minutes reported.
Their ordeal, which is a matter of historic record, began when the Batavia drifted off course into a coral reef, sinking 50 miles off the Australian coast. At the time of the sinking the ship’s captain Ariaen Jacobsz was preparing to oust the Dutch East India Company’s commander on the vessel, Francisco Pelsaert, and take control of its cargo of silver and paintings. The conspiracy of the unfulfilled mutiny set the tone for the acts of violence and lawlessness that would follow.
On a second vessel Jacobsz soon departed the island with Pelsaert, who remained unaware of the plot against him, to find help. The capitain left his deputy and co-conspiritor Cornelisz in control of the 200 crew-members that had survived the sinking of the Batavia.
Cornelisz quickly embarked on a reign of terror, purging those who might oppose the mutiny, killing stronger men who he suspected might question his orders and finally ordering the slaying of women and children that would be a drain on rations—those women spared were kept as sex slaves by the mutineers.
"We're dealing with a psychopath and some pretty horrible events," Alistair Paterson, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia told the program. "There's nothing like it in Dutch history or Australian history."
Archaeologists are now excavating the bones of the victims with the input of forensic scientists, hoping to cast further light on the grisly goings on on the island centuries ago: "Horrible things happened to these individuals. They clearly were victims," Paterson explained. "But the archaeology allows us to get their story told."
Eventually salvation did come to the 80 to 90 survivors left on the island after one soldier, Wiebbe Hayes, exiled to by Corenelisz to another island, was able to create a protective fort using stone slabs and later attempt a rebellion against the brutal mutineer. Ultimately Hayes' attacks on the leaders of the mutiny proved unsuccessful. However, when Jacobsz and Pelsaert returned to Beacon island to rescue the settlers, the soldier was able to explain what had happened in their absence and condemn Cornelisz.
Eventually the survivors were taken to Jakarta, where Cornelisz was hanged. He never showed any remorse for his crimes.
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