The Ghost Ship

Detail of Batavia Shipwreck Gallery, Freemantle WA

I’m going to tell you a ghost story… This image is all that is left of the hull of a famous 17th Century shipwreck in Australian waters called the Batavia, nearly 400 years old, named after an old Dutch settlement in Jakarta, Indonesia.

This is part of the hull of the Batavia- all that was left of magnificent ship after nearly 400 years beneath the waves.

Batavia was the Titanic of her day, when she was launched in 1628 from Holland. She was the prize flagship of a fleet of seven, on her maiden voyage to Jakarta Indonesia.

Batavia was heavily armed with 28 cannon and a company of soldiers to protect her crew of 300 and a valuable cargo of jewels, cloth, wine, cheese and silver for trading.

Also aboard were art treasures including a great cameo, Rubens vase and a lost gateway designed to decorate the citadel of Batavia, Indonesia seen here on display.

She never made her destination and was fatefully shipwrecked off the coast of Western Australia in 1629. But the story doesn’t end there…

Imagine the Batavia sailing against a midnight sky with flags and banners streaming, the stretching canvas of sails, the creaking of rigging and spars and the glow of lantern and pale moonlight across the sea.

 

No-one would have suspected that an attack would be made from within the ship… so strong and well defended. But The ship had blown off course long ago away from the fleet, the captain lay sick in bed and a mutiny was brewing amongst a band of soldiers plotting their next move.

That night, a solitary lookout kept watch high in the rigging, ready to report to the skipper any land in sight. The skipper below didn’t believe what was reported mistaking waves for moonlight on the ink black water before them.

Suddenly, just before the dawn of the 4th June 1629, Batavia crashed upon Morning Reef of Houtman’s Abrolhos, the southern-most coral islands in the Indian Ocean off Western Australia.

But the story doesn’t end there… they didn’t all go down with the ship. Many drowned, but most of the people made it to the islands of Houtman’s Abrolhos. What started there was Australia’s first recorded European settlement lasting 4 months in duration with tragic consequences.

There on the islands the castaways made their camp, peaceably for a month, but trouble was brewing. The islands were not very hospitable for the survivors of a shipwreck. The Dutch castaways found themselves in a desperate situation. The meagre supplies of food and water salvaged from the wreck were rapidly dwindling and it would not rain.

When the Batavia’s Commandeur Pelsaert suddenly departed the islands with all the senior members of the VOC in the ship’s longboat, the sinister Under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz became the island’s high executioner, earning for the island its gruesome name— Batavia’s Graveyard.

Of the 198 castaways, 125 men, women and children were put to death by the sword, bludgeoned, beaten and drowned. Women were brutalised and raped by the mutineers.

Captain Pelsaert and the skipper Jacobsz made a desperate journey from the islands in WA, in a boat no bigger than a Couta-boat all the way to Jakarta Indonesia, arriving on the 7th July 1629— three days after the first murders were committed on the islands. When Pelsaert finally returned to the islands he’d deserted, he discovered that a mutiny and massacre had taken place…

Inspired by the legendary shipwreck story I began to research and draw…. The story captivated me and inspired me to create a map of the events. While creating the drawings, the image of the shipwreck and ghostly castaways appeared strongly in my mind’s eye.

It took at least a year and a half in pure research (2006-2007) and a year to draw the narrative (2009). The embroidery was begun in 2010 and ¾ completed for my Masters shows in 2011.

The Bayeux tapestry was a major inspiration artistically… with its bold cartoon style… as well as the famous 17th Century Batavia Shipwreck illustrations.

This is my blue-print of my Batavia tapestry, created like a map of the Batavia shipwreck, to be stitched and roped on completion like a 17th century top-gallant sail. Essentially what I’ve done is create a monumental embroidered map on linen, which tells the story of the shipwreck and aftermath in panels.

The Bayeux tapestry was a major inspiration artistically… with its bold cartoon style… as well as the famous 17th Century Batavia Shipwreck illustrations.

This is my blue-print of my Batavia tapestry, created like a map of the Batavia shipwreck, to be stitched and roped on completion like a 17th century top-gallant sail. Essentially what I’ve done is create a monumental embroidered map on linen, which tells the story of the shipwreck and aftermath in panels.

The Batavia Tapestry, work in progress, May 2011.

The panels are vertical and full scale measuring approximately 1 metre by 3 metres. There are seven panels in total which together create my vision of the Batavia shipwreck, in the form of a 3 by 5 metre traditional sail.