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The disaster of the Batavia in 1629

Massacre on Beacon island (Australia)

The VOC ship the Batavia was wrecked in 1629 on morning reef, the Houtman Abrolhos islands group c.65 km off the coast of Western Australia. Over 200 people survived the initial wreck, making their way to several small coral islands. In the absence of the commodore who left to fetch help, a mutiny broke out among the survivors. In the course of the following three months more than 100 men, women and children were killed. Many were thrown in the sea but c. 80 were buried on the island named Batavia’s Graveyard, now known as Beacon Island.

Batavia Team at work 2017


Excavations in the last decennia and recently in 2015 have uncovered the graves of 14 individuals. This renewed research is carried out with international partners, among others the University of Amsterdam for the physical anthropological and stable isotope studies of the victims.  The physical anthropological research investigates the sex, age, health and cause of death of the recovered remains of the deceased. The chemical analysis of the bones is focused on the reconstruction of the diet and the variation thereof between the people of this group. This might reveal differences in social standing as the people on board the Batavia consisted of civilians from different social backgrounds, sailors and soldiers from different regions. The analysis of the stable isotopes for provenance hopes to discern between the various regions of origin especially of the soldiers and sailors.

The involved disciplines are archaeology, physical anthropology, paleopathology, odontology and  isotope research.

Partner institutions

University of Western Australia in Perth
Maritime Museum Fremantle – Shipwreck galleries

Illustration from Ongeluckige Voyagie by Isaac Commelin

More information

Dr. E. (Liesbeth) Smits

ACASA Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology