It’s Been Half A Century Since Australia’s Bloodiest Shipwreck Was Identified

This is a very active weekend in the coastal city of Geraldton (West Australia) - there are a number of anniversaries being celebrated, all relating to the 1629 sinking of the Dutch ship, the Batavia.

Not only is June 4th the 384th anniversary of the Batavia sinking, in a rather eery coincidence, the Batavia wreck was also identified on June 4th, 1963. If that isn’t enough to set the hair on the back of your neck up straight, this weekend in 2013 also has the following anniversaries related to the Batavia being celebrated:

The 40th anniversary of the establishment of Geraldton’s Maritime Museum;

The 20th birthday of the Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association;

The 10th anniversary of the launch of the replica Batavia longboat.

Batavia Replica Longboat

That’s quite an active calendar, one that reflects the importance of the respective events to the local economy and culture in the broader Geraldton area. From a local community point of view, the weekend is intended to be an occasion for both the fishing and wider Mid West community to provide input into how tourism could be developed on the Wallabi group of Abrolhos Islands – key sites in the Batavia story.

Leigh O’Brien, Geraldton regional manager of the WA Museum, said “We are inviting everyone in the community to come down and have their say on what the islands mean to them, how they envision tourism being carried out in the area, and if there are areas they’d like to see better protected.”

There is a special 24-page insert in today’s Geraldton Guardian covering the history of the Batavia’s wreck site, this could well be just the start of a further rise in interest in the Batavia wreck and its relics - specifically the coins recovered from it.

Experienced collectors know that significant historical milestones have markedly influenced demand for other important numismatic items in recent years (I’m thinking of the Adelaide Pounds as just one example), this is particularly the case when that rise in broader interest leads to more research and a better understanding of the details behind the items being collected.

Another factor that could lead to much higher interest in the coins recovered from the Batavia is the possible documentary miniseries scheduled for release late in 2013 based on Peter Fitzsimons’ book “Batavia”, described by him as being “an Adults Only version of Lord of the Flies, meets Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Back in August 2011, rights to an eight-episode, six-hour miniseries were acquired by Screentime, the company that produced the hugely-popular Underbelly series. The project is apparently currently “… in advanced development…” and is “…finalising funding.”

Late in March this year, a TEN spokesperson told the industry website TV Tonight, “The writers are hard at work on the adaptation of Peter FitzSimons book as we speak. Screentime are currently finalising their financing. There is already a lot of international interest and Batavia will go to air later this year.”

Batavia Cover Image

I’d suggest that once that series goes to air, all bets are off as far as interest in the coinage of the Batavia is concerned! Regardless of whether this tv series comes to pass or not, the fact remains that there are few numismatic items relating to such significant events in Australian history. Peter Fitzsimons states that “Batavia is far and away the greatest story in Australia’s history, if not the world’s." A grand statement indeed from someone that has written bestsellers on the Kokoda Track and The Rats of Tobruk. You can listen to an in-depth interview between Fitzsimons and ABC Radio's Richard Fiedler via this link.