Jeronimus Cornelisz

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Jeronimus Cornelisz
Born 1598
Leeuwarden, Dutch Republic
Died (1629-10-02)2 October 1629
Houtman Abrolhos
Occupation Apothecary
Known for Leading the 1629 mutiny among the crew of the Batavia

Jeronimus Cornelisz (1598 – October 2, 1629) (properly Corneliszoon, "son of Cornelis"; first name informally being "Jeroen"[1]) was a Frisian apothecary and Dutch East India Company (VOC) merchant. In June 1629 he led one of the bloodiest mutinies in history after the merchant ship Batavia was wrecked in the Houtman Abrolhos, a chain of coral islands off the west coast of Australia. Almost all that is known of the shipwreck and aftermath stems from a book by the expedition commander Pelsaert who quickly absented himself and reached safety, but allegedly returned to defeat the Cornelisz faction in the nick of time.

Early life[edit]

Born in the Frisian capital, Leeuwarden, Cornelisz grew up in a non-conformist household. His mother and probably his father were Mennonites, members of an Anabaptist church. It has been speculated that they may have had links with some of the more militant Anabaptist movements, such as the Batenburgers, that flourished in the Netherlands during the sixteenth century.

The young Jeronimus was well educated, probably at the Latin School at Dokkum, and followed his father into the family trade by training to become an apothecary. He qualified around the year 1623 and practiced in his home town until 1627, leaving in that year apparently as a result of disagreements with the town council.

Cornelisz moved to the much larger Dutch city of Haarlem, where he opened up an apothecary shop near the centre of the town. In November 1627 he and his wife had a son, but the child died less than three months after being placed in the care of a wet nurse. The cause of death was established as syphilis, considered a scandal, and Cornelisz became embroiled in a legal action against the nurse, seeking to prove that his child had contracted the disease from her and not from his wife. With his reputation and future business prospects destroyed, Cornelisz was forced to realize what he could by selling off his shop and assets.


Whether Cornelisz actually was acquainted with Johannes van der Beeck , he left Haarlem within a few weeks after the painter's trial and the ruin of his own prospects. Cornelisz went to Amsterdam and took service with the Dutch East India Company, or VOC. He was posted to the new ship Batavia, which sailed for Java, in the East Indies, in October 1628. Sea voyages in this era were often marked by deaths from shipboard mini epidemics of infectious and nutritional deficiency disease, with scurvy being perticularly common. Cornelisz, whose main motive in signing on such a venture seems to have been to escape his degraded social and economic position, allegedly became friendly with the Batavia's skipper, Ariaen Jacobsz, in the course of the ship's long voyage. He and Jacobsz supposedly became discontented with the leadership of the commander of the ship, the VoC commodore Francisco Pelsaert, and according to the book later written by Pelsaert, almost immediately plotted a mutiny (although this would have been an extremely difficult undertaking given it was a major VoC ship with a paid crew and armed soldiers guarding valuables). For some reason Pelsaert stayed in his cabin for much of the voyage although he was responsible for the ship; he later claimed the confession tortured out of Cornelisz showed the ship was taken of course deliberately by Jacobsz. What is certain is the Batavia ran aground in the Abrolhos archipelago and was lost. More than 200 survivors made their way ashore, where they discovered there was no drinking water. As deaths from dehydration. began, Pelsaert, Jacobsz and all the officers left in the only boat, and although telling the others they were taking a trip looking for water, they embarked on a month long voyage to safety, apparently having taken what little barreled water there was with them.

Cornelisz was left on the island with people of lower status and was able to establish himself as a leader. This could not be considered a mutiny as no proper authority had been appointed by the officers before their hasty departure. Cornelisz's rule in the Abrolhos became criminal when he aimed at removing those who the very limited food and water would have to be shared with. Some were tricked and secretly killed. Others such as a group of soldiers including Wiebbe Hayes, were sent to a nearby island to search for water. The only other candidate for chief was the minister, who had his family (apart from his daughter), killed and was intimidated thereafter. Rain eventually ameliorated the drinking water problem, however food was insufficient.

A 1647 engraving showing the Beacon Island massacre of survivors of the Batavia shipwreck

Cornelisz established a brutal personal rule in the islands, backed by men who had supposedly plotted with him on board ship. When later questioned they said the had been obeying orders from the recognized leader that Cornelisz seemed to be. At first covertly, then more and more openly the survivors not in Cornelisz's faction were killed or sent away to the near islands, or escaped there. In all, Cornelisz and his henchmen were responsible for the deaths of between 110 and 124 men, women and children over a two-month period. Their victims were drowned, strangled, hacked to pieces or bludgeoned to death singly or in large groups. Seven surviving women were forced into sexual slavery. The most attractive, Lucretia Jans was reserved for Cornelisz. Cornelisz's faction then began killing those dispersed on the other various other islands, who presented a threat through now being more collectively numerous than his own men. However, the group of soldiers including Wiebbe Hayes, that had been disposed of by being sent to a nearby island to search for water, unexpectedly found it, and sent a smoke signal, which drew survivors to warn of the killings (See Batavia (ship)#Murders.) They set up a hilltop stonework defense against the Cornelisz faction, which now faced a forewarned and re-enforced group in good health. After a pair of unsuccessful attacks, Cornelisz tried personally to negotiate with Hayes's men, then moved in for a final attack. According to Pelsaert's account, he arrived at exactly the right moment to stop Cornelisz's lieutenants annihilating the resistance, and thwarting an intention to seizing the rescue ship, massacre its crew, and turn pirate in the Indian Ocean. Again, how Cornelisz and his band armed with few muskets could possiblly have hoped to overcome a VoCship's crew and marines is not explained by the account given in Pelsaert's book. Pelsaert eventually returned in a small ship called the Sardam, Cornelisz and his men were captured, tortured into confessing and hanged. In the Pelsaert account that is the only source, a strictly Calvinist worldview of the time portrays Cornelisz's as an inherently evil disbeliever in hell, although his group swore religious oaths. Cornelisz himself maintained he was simply trying to make sure he survived. The Voc were not impressed with Pelsaert's stewardship of their valuable ship and assets and he was not allowed to take up the post he had been sailing to.


The hangings on Long Island as illustrated in the Lucas de Vries 1649 edition of Ongeluckige Voyagie

Cornelisz was tried in the islands, found guilty of mutiny, and hanged along with half a dozen of his men. Both of his hands were amputated prior to the hanging (it appears with a hammer and chisel). The remaining mutineers were taken back to Java and tried; many were subsequently executed. Ariaen Jacobsz apparently died in the dungeons of Castle Batavia.


In the historical work Batavia's Graveyard, which analyzes the incident in more detail than ever before based on research in Dutch archives (amongst other sources), author Mike Dash theorizes that Cornelisz was almost certainly a psychopath. He suggests this is shown by his often erratic behavior on the islands, his unattainable dreams of setting up a personal kingdom in the islands, and his complete assurance that he could do no wrong and that God himself inspired all of his deeds. Dash argues that this is connected to heretical ideas he had picked up during his supposed acquaintance with the controversial painter Johannes van der Beeck (also known as Torrentius).[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • A character in Warren Ellis' comic book Desolation Jones is named Jeronimus Corneliszoon.[3]
  • A fictionalised version of Jeronimus is the main character of The Company by Arabella Edge, which is based on the shipwreck of the Batavia.
  • The fate of the Batavia was told in the book Queen of the Dark Things written by C. Robert Cargill


  1. ^ De Tiran van Abrolhos Leeuwarder Courant (2012)
  2. ^ Mike Dash (27 May 2003) [2001]. Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0609807161.
  3. ^ Warren Ellis » DESOLATION JONES #1: Author’s Commentary

Further reading[edit]

  • Dash, Mike (2003) [2001]. Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-7538-1684-9.
  • Drake-Brockman, Henrietta (1995). Voyage to Disaster (2nd ed.). Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press.
  • FitzSimons, Peter (2011). Batavia. Random House.
  • Leys, Simon (2005) [2003]. Les Naufragés du Batavia, suivi de Prosper. Arléa: Points-Seuil.
  • Roeper, V.D., ed. (1994) [1629]. De Schipbreuk van de Batavia. Zutphen: Walburg Pers.