VOC merchant ship Batavia

VOC merchant ship Batavia at shipyard, Lelystad

The building of the Batavia

In 1985 a start was made with the reconstruction of the Batavia on a shipyard in the Dutch city of Lelystad. Under the guidance of Master-shipbuilder Willem Vos a group of young people worked on this project. The keynote has been to achieve the most authentic reconstruction by using traditional materials and following the building methods of the day.

In order tot reconstruct the Batavia use was made of a number of historical sources, from archives and museums, like building descriptions from the 17th century, prints, paintings etc. Also archaeological evidence, like the shipwrecks of the Vasa in Stockholm and the Batavia in the West-Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle, Australia, were of great importance.

On 7th of April 1995 Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands, officially named the ship "Batavia", after which the ship was launched. The Batavia is now moored at a jetty in front of the Batavia Yard (Batavia Wharf) and can be visited at all times.

In 1999 or early 2000 the Batavia left the Netherlands for about a year and taken to Sydney, Australia and visited at Darling Harbour through the National Maritime Museum in Sydney. Early 2001 the Batavia got back in her home port near the IJsselmeer.


The present Batavia was named after a historic predecessor which was built in 1628 in Amsterdam by order of the VOC (Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie), the Dutch United East India Company. On her maiden voyage, under the command of Francisco Pelsaert, she was wrecked off the Australian coast. Of the 341 crew, forty drowned trying to reach a small island, the rest succeeded. The island held no water or food, therefore the commander decided to try and make for Batavia (now called Jakarta) on Java and get help. He left with the ship's boat together with some officers. In his absence a mutiny evolved under the command of a company official called Jeronimus Cornelisz. This Jeronimus saw himself as founder of a new kingdom where there would be room only for his followers. Over a hundred people were slaughtered by him and his accomplices. A group of soldiers under the command of Wiebe Hayes managed to resist attack from this self-styled king on a neighboring island. When Pelsaert returned he managed to overcome the mutineers with the help of these soldiers. All were tried and most were hanged, some received whiplashes or were keelhauled. Two young mutineers were cast away on mainland Australia and nothing was ever heard from them.

The shipwreck and subsequent killings became known in the 17th Century as 'The unlucky voyage of the ship Batavia'. This story was published and distributed keeping the memory of the ship alive.

In the 1970's the wreck of the Batavia was salvaged and is now on exhibition at the Batavia Gallery in Fremantle, West-Australia.

The `VOC'

The Dutch United East Indies Company (VOC) was founded in 1602. On the instigation of the then States General, a number of merchants of the provinces of Holland and Zeeland decided to cooperate closely in Eastern Asia where they formerly competed against one another.

The newly formed company was named the "Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie" (VOC). The company was granted exclusive rights by the States General for trade in the East Indies and the right to negotiate treaties and, if need be, wage war.

The new company developed rapidly and prospered. Profits were enormous, and many investors were drawn to participate in the lucrative sea trade.

The VOC was organised into six "chambers" . These chambers were located in Amsterdam, Middelburg (Zeeland), Rotterdam, Delft, Hoorn and Enkhuizen. Representatives of these chambers formed the Board of the VOC that in accordance with the number of members was named the "Gentleman Seventeen".

Every year the VOC sent about thirty ships to trade in the East Indies. Many of these ships were built on VOC owned shipyards. Some ships were purpose built for East Indian waters and were designed to make return trips to the then Dutch Republic, these were called "retourschepen" (returnships). This is why the Batavia is called a "VOC-retourschip". The VOC also built smaller ships like Flutes, Yachts and Galliots.

In the East Indies the VOC had a number of settlements or "Factorijen". Important settlements were Ternate, Ambon, the Banda Islands, Coromandel in India, Ceylon and of course Java. On the island Java in 1619 the town of Batavia was founded (present day Jakarta). Batavia became the headquarters of the VOC in East India. Half way between the Dutch Republic and East India on the Southcoast of Africa lay the Cape of Good Hope. In 1652 the VOC equipped this location to be a permanent refreshing station for their ships.

The VOC was in existence until 1799, then the company - for a long time the largest private company in the world - went bankrupt. During the near 200 hundred years of its existence the VOC operated 1772 ships making a total of 4789 voyages.
Dutch East India Company (VOC) merchantship Batavia

Facts and figures on the Batavia

Length over all 56,60 m
Breadth of beam 10,50 m
Maximum draught 5,10 m
Height of main mast from keel 55 m
Unladen weight 650 tons
Displacement 1200 tons
Total length of rigging 21 kms
Sail area 1180 sq. m
Guns 24 cast-iron cannon
On board in 1628 341 heads

Building the Batavia 1985-1995



Other materials

Poop and saloon

The elite of a VOC-ship, i.e. officers and rich passengers, had their quarters in the main cabin and in the smaller cabins above on the aft of the ship. The number of decks on the higher levels of the aft are called together the 'poop'. In the cabin or saloon dinner and good wines were served at tables, covered with fine tablecloth. In contrast, the common crew had to eat below decks with six people out of one pot.

VOC-ships stood under the command of the senior merchant, a Company's servant of high rank; the skipper had to obey the orders of the merchant. From the skipper down many officers and others of rank had their duties aboard, like the steering officers, the constable, the reverend, the bos'un, the surgeon, the barber and many others. The Batavia carried in 1628 a number of 341 people, among which were 38 passengers (women and children).

Life aboard for the ship's crew

On board VOC-ships a strict division existed between the crew on one hand and the ship's elite on the other. Officers and rich passengers lived in relative luxury in the poop on the art. The living area of the crew was below deck and before the main mast. They should not dare to come to the poop without permission: punishment for this offense was severe.

Generally people stayed and slept where they worked. No dormitories existed. This means that the cook lived near his galley, the carpenter in his workshop and the helmsman in or near the steering stand. To our standards life aboard was harsh. Privacy was practically non-existent, food was of poor quality and monotonous. The workload was heavy. The hazards were high.

Nevertheless, in the 17th century life ashore was also hard and full of poverty. People in the Netherlands and from all over Europe came to the VOC-offices and joined the Company. A voyage with a VOC-ship could mean escape from poverty and the chance at a new existence.
At the end of the journey wages were waiting...

The hold and the goods aboard

In the hold and on the deck right called the orlop-deck, the goods were stored which the VOC had gathered in East-Asia. In the days of the Batavia, the 1620's, the VOC traded mostly in spices, like pepper, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Later also products like tea, china, cotton garments were added. The VOC collected these goods from all over East-Asia and brought them together in the warehouses at Batavia, present Jakarta on the island of Java. There the goods were transferred into the large merchant-ships, like the Batavia, and transported to Europe, in particular Amsterdam.

More details about: The Batavia Shipyard in Lelystad - Dutch shipbuilding in the 17th century

http://www.vocsite.nl/index.html (Dutch only)

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