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Batavia's Graveyard by Mike Dash

history, Crown Publishers (hardback), 2002, 384 pages

reviewed by Deane Rink,

Deane Rink, writer, producer, and project director, is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes. He sends us short, provocative reviews, introducing us to fascinating books that otherwise might pass unnoticed. He has worked for PBS, National Geographic, the American Museum of Natural History, Hearst Entertainment, and Carl Sagan. From his involvement in numerous projects about science, he has remarkable insight into present-day scientific endeavors and their implications, and in-depth knowledge of specialized fields (like Antarctica from his two "Live from Antarctica" PBS productions. But he also savors provides illuminating commentary on literature, fantasy, biography, and popular fiction. Links to Deane's other reviews. You can reach him at

In 1629, the Dutch East India Company launched a large merchant ship, the Batavia, on her maiden voyage to Java and the Dutch East Indies.  With nearly three hundred souls aboard and a wealth of gold and gems to stimulate the spice trade, the Batavia plied the Indian Ocean, suffered a serious mutiny, and ran aground on a small series of flat islands off the west coast
of Australia.  How the mutiny affected the balance of power of these liferaft islands while the Batavia's skipper sailed north for help in an open lifeboat, how the frightened survivors succumbed to human treachery even as they fought the elements and struggled to scrape enough food out of a bleak circumstance, and how some measure of justice was attained for the spilling of the blood of innocents, are the fundaments of Dash's story, but Dash also explains how the Dutch East India Company was critical to the booming economy of Amsterdam, and how various religious schisms within the chaos of the Protestant Reformation created class differentials that revealed themselves not only in the home port, but also in the composition
of the crew and guard soldiers launching the mercantile revolution towards the other fertile continents.

A fullscale replica of the Batavia has been built and now sits at harbor at Australia's National Maritime Museum in Sydney.  I visited this ship a little over a year ago, and could not get the images of it out of my head as I imagined what it must have been like with almost 300 passengers aboard.  By today's coddled standards, the Batavia would accommodate about fifty
people before terminal claustrophobia set in.

Reviews by Dean Rink

Dialogue on favorite books with Deane Rink before and during his latest trek to Antarctica, with a note from Bill Ransom and a digression about Frank Herbert (a.k.a Bookbabble 101) -- a very long and rapidly growing document:

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