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Visions of Disaster in the Unlucky Voyage of the Ship Batavia, 1647

  • Jane Lydon

This article examines the illustrated pamphlet Ongeluckige voyagie, van’t schip Batavia (Unlucky voyage of the ship Batavia) and its representation of a 1629 shipwreck off the coast of western Australia, followed by mutiny and the massacre of many survivors. The pamphlet was published in Amsterdam in 1647, and included fifteen (six full-page) fine copper engravings. It was very popular, helping to shape a new genre of shipwreck narrative and expressing the preoccupations of contemporary visual culture. The pamphlet’s illustrations translated new conceptualisations of space emerging from the period’s unique collaboration between cartography and art into popular form within a booming Dutch print culture. Through innovative techniques of montage and vignette these engraved images conveyed the narrative’s drama and affirmed principles of morality, honour, and order. While the era’s spectacular violence now seems very far away, these historical images effectively communicate the contemporary relish of the disaster to modern audiences. This “earliest of Australian books” is sometimes offered as an alternative Australian foundation myth, and the Batavia disaster continues to grow in cultural significance. Now as then, these illustrations provide a vivid counterpoint to its audience’s comfortable lives.

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Professor Jane Lydon is the Wesfarmers Chair of Australian History at The University of Western Australia. Her research centres upon Australia’s colonial past and its legacies in the present. Most recently she has co-edited (with Lyndall Ryan) Remembering the Myall Creek Massacre (NewSouth, 2018), and edited Visualising Human Rights (UWA Publishing, 2018) which examines the cultural impact of the framework of human rights through visual culture.

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Unpublished Primary Sources
The Dutch National Archives, The Hague (NL-HaNA)
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