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

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-374
Number of pages24
JournalItinerario: journal on the history of European expansion and global interaction
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2018


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