Batavia's Graveyard - Questions for discussion

Discussion questions

  1. ‘The wreck of the Batavia makes the mutiny on the Bounty look like a children’s picnic.’ Is it fair to describe the Batavia incident as uniquely terrible? If so, what made it so?
  2. Is Jeronimus Cornelisz a proactive or a reactive character? Is it more credible to see him as a psychopathic monster or as a man whose fate was determined by his personal circumstances? Which do you find the more terrifying?
  3. Francisco Pelsaert, Ariaen Jacobsz and Gijsbert Bastiensz are all portrayed as men brought low by fatal weaknesses. How do they differ in this respect? Which among them do you find the most and the least sympathetic? To what extent is the story of the Batavia driven by their failings?
  4. Is the Creesje Jansz that Dash portrays a credible female character?
  5. Which do you find more horrific, the everyday brutality of life on board a Dutch East Indiaman, or the perverted society that Cornelisz establishes in the Abrolhos? Why?
  6. Might it have been possible for the Batavia’s passengers and crew to have prevented Cornelisz from murdering so many people once the ship had been wrecked? If so, how?
  7. Describing attempts to turn Batavia’s Graveyard into a film, Mike Dash has commented: ‘Speaking to the scriptwriter, I found his chief difficulty was that the heroes of the story were not sufficiently heroic. It would not be enough, in a Hollywood movie, for Hayes and his men to sit tight on their own island while women were being raped and children murdered elsewhere in the archipelago. They would have to mount a rescue operation.’ How heroic do you find Wiebbe Hayes?
  8. ‘The real villains of the piece are not Cornelisz and his mutineers, but the Gentlemen XVII.’ Do you agree?
  9. Discussing the book, Mike Dash has said: ‘It’s so rare to find a true story that is structured like a novel, with such well-defined heroes and villains and so clear a beginning, middle and end. History is generally more lumpy than that.’ As a reader, which do you believe to be preferable: history that is accurate, but incomplete and disjointed, or non-fiction twisted into the shape of fiction?
  10. Did the punishments meted out to Cornelisz and his men fit their crimes?