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    "Batavia's Graveyard" by Mike Dash
    From: Peter Fogg
    Date: 2006 Dec 28, 19:10 +1100

    In June 1629 (winter in the southern hemisphere) after seven months of sailing from Amsterdam on her maiden voyage with about 300 people onboard, the Batavia was just another month from her destination in the Dutch East Indies . She was thought to be 600 miles distant from any land.

    Sometime after 3 am a lookout at the stern, the highest point, thought he could see a line of breakers ahead. Then as now, the early morning watch coincided with sailors' least alertness, and it was customary for the master to stand this watch. The skipper disagreed, insisting the white line was a trick of moonlight.

    So it was at full speed and with all sail set that the Batavia ploughed into, over and partially through the reef. Although the sails were soon furled the following sea battered the ship, and set the great mainmast to pounding through the decks like a pile-driver, so that it seemed about to break the ship's back. Because the ship would be crippled without the mainmast the captain himself had to strike the first blows with an axe before others joined in, with too much desperation and too little skill, as it fell along the length of the deck rather than over the side. It was at this moment, relates the author, that it became obvious that there was no chance of saving the ship.

    From this introduction (much worse is to come) we go back to Holland to look at the place and its times, and especially the histories of the people involved in this tale. Many of the principal actors had failure in their past; the trip to the East Indies a fresh beginning. The construction of the ship and the conditions of life onboard for sailors, soldiers, passengers and officers are described. The research seems extraordinarily detailed and the text well written.

    This is as far as I have got so far, about 25% into this book. I have an idea of what is to come; the 'heart of darkness' stuff awaiting the people marooned on an archipelago of tiny islands and reefs off the coast of what is now Western Australia, while the master and few others sail off to the north in the ship's boats for rescue.

    To give you a taste of the rest, the book's subtitle is:
    "The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny".

    So far it seems to be an excellent read.


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