Batavia 1628 - Treasure

On 27 October 1628, the newly built Batavia, commissioned by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), sailed from Texel in the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies, to obtain spices. It sailed under commander and senior merchant Francisco Pelsaert, with Ariaen Jacobsz serving as skipper. Pelsaert and Jacobsz had previously encountered each other in Dutch Suratte, when Pelsaert publicly dressed-down Jacobsz after he became drunk and insulted Pelsaert in front of other merchants. Animosity existed between the two men after this incident. Also on board was the junior merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz (30), a bankrupt apothecary from Haarlem who was fleeing the Netherlands, in fear of arrest because of his heretical beliefs associated with the painter Johannes van der Beeck, also known as Torrentius.

Batavia carried a considerable amount of treasure. Each ship in the Batavia class carried an estimated 250,000 guilders in twelve wooden chests, each containing about 8,000 silver coins. This money was intended for the purchase of spices and other commodities in Java. The bulk of these coins were silver rijksdaalder produced by the individual Dutch states, with the remainder being mostly made up of similar coins produced by German cities such as Hamburg.

Pelsaert was instructed to recover as much of the money as possible on his return to the Abrolhos Islands, using divers "to try if it is possible to salvage all the money [and] the casket of jewels that before your departure was already saved on the small island". Recovery of the money was far from easy. Pelsaert reported difficulties in pulling up heavy chests, e.g. 27 October 1629, when a chest had to be marked with a buoy for later recovery. On 9 November, he recorded sending four money chests to Sardam, and three the next day, but then abandoned further recovery work. By 13 November, Pelsaert recorded that ten money chests had been recovered—about 80,000 coins—leaving two lost since there had been twelve loaded originally. One was jammed under a cannon, and one had been broken open by the mutineers.

Batavia's treasure also included special items being carried by Pelsaert for sale to the Mogul Court in India where he had intended to travel on to. There were four jewel bags, stated to be worth about 60,000 guilders, and an early-fourth-century Roman cameo, as well as numerous other items either now displayed in Fremantle and Geraldton, Western Australia, or recovered by Pelsaert.

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