Maritime navigation has always been an integral part of Australia’s history. Until 1950, trade and development was dependent upon seafaring and safe shipping routes; however, despite all the ships that made it to the mainland, there are many that didn’t. The Tryall and the Batavia were only two of around 8000 ships that are now buried off the coast of Australia, only a quarter of which have been found.
Lost in 1622, Tryall is Australia’s oldest known shipwreck. It belonged to the British East India Company, and departed England in 1961 on its maiden voyage, carrying 143 people. After striking a reef near Barrow Island, off the Pilbara coast, the ship capsized, taking more than 90 people to their graves.
Those who survived were able to escape the wreck in a skiff and a longboat, but following the disaster accusations of negligence, incompetence and thievery were made against the ship’s captain, John Brooke. After historical records were consulted, it was discovered that Brooke had indeed lied about the location of the ship’s wrecking in order to cover up the fact that he hadn’t been following orders and had been travelling in dangerous territory. Even today, the site remains unsafe for divers, with huge ocean swells making exploration extremely dangerous.
Batavia is infamous for the horrific mutiny that took place after it was wrecked. The ship was wrecked in June 1629 after a journey filled with tension and rivalry between Francisco Pelsaert, the merchant in command of the Batavia; Adrian Jacobson, the ship’s often drunk captain; and Jeronimus Cornelisz, the ship’s under-merchant. More than 180 people were rescued and carried to the nearby Beacon Island, but around 70 men remained on the ship.
When it became clear that the group would not survive long on Beacon Island, Pelsaert and a group of 47 others went in search of help and water, but when they finally reached Batavia – modern-day Jakarta – one senior commander was arrested, and one executed after testimony from Pelsaert. Pelsaert himself was released and sent on a rescue mission, but by the time he reached the wreck site, 63 days had passed and many survivors had already drowned on the disintegrating ship.