In 1629, the ship Batavia was wrecked on the edge of a coral archipelago, some fifty miles from the western coast of the Australian continent. Most of the people on board - nearly three hundred men, women and children - escaped from drowning only to become victims of a visionary psychopath who organised a methodical massacre of the hapless community. With a mad self-appointed ruler, rape, slaughter, heroism and rescue by the ship's captain, the tragedy of the Batavia struck the European imagination even more than that of the Titanic did in the twentieth century. Much interest in this bizarre and sinister episode was revived forty years ago by the discovery of the wreck. Acclaimed sinologist and author Simon Leys travelled to the site of the disaster and learnt that the natural environment of the islands could have afforded the survivors fairly decent living conditions; the massacre therefore appears aberrant.
Wreck of the Batavia, The: a True Story