Open up any business supplement and you’ll find breathless pieces from senior recruitment consultants spruiking how to make the perfect hire — techniques for ensuring that the “new guy” isn’t going to bludge on the clock or go on a caffeine-fuelled Twitter bender. There are passionate debates over whether Baby Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y candidates make the best workers, usually ending with a pile-up on Gen Y, decrying them as the source of everything foul and pestilent in the modern workplace.
There’s a good reason for this. It’s really, really important to ensure that you choose the right person for the job. Or, at least, it’s vitally important that you don’t pick the wrong person for the job. To give you an illustration as why this is of such vital importance, let’s roll back the clock to the earliest days of European contact with the Australian continent, pre-First Fleet, pre-Cook, way back to 1628.
Let’s have a look at the happy tale of the Batavia and the worst “Gen Y” hire in history.
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The Batavia was a Dutch vessel that belonged to the Dutch East India Company (DEIC), the monolithic, fantastically wealthy corporate entity that traded spice out of modern day Indonesia to Europe — remember, this was a time when spicing one’s food really did mean the difference between digestion and regurgitation. The ship was charged with obtaining spice from the East Indies with an enormous amount of silver and gold held in its hull. The commander of the ship was one Francisco Palsaert, assisted in skippering the ship by Ariaen Jacobsz and a crew of sailors. The passengers composed men, women and children who were travelling to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta), as well as 30-year-old Jeronimus Cornelisz, a DEIC merchant.
Now, if the folks at DEIC headquarters in Amsterdam had done their homework, they would have realised that taking Cornelisz aboard the ship might not have been the hottest of ideas. Cornelisz was a bankrupt and a carrier of syphilis, which he had passed on to his children. Most damningly, he was a heretic — and not in the nice, safe merely-a-secret-catholic kinda way. No, Cornelisz was a good friend of one Johannes van der Beeck, known as “Torrentius“.
Torrentius was a rosicrucian, an occultist, a libertine, a hugely accomplished p-rnographer and all-round suspicious character. Such was his reputation that just being a mate of Torrentius was enough to firmly place Cornelisz in the heretic camp. Amazingly, Cornelisz had managed this trifecta of STD, lechery and bankruptcy by age 30.
One of Cornelisz’s first acts after setting sail on the Batavia was to make friends with Jacobsz, the skipper. Over time, he gained the trust of Jacobsz and began to spin the idea of a mutiny — all the gold aboard would be theirs and why, they could found their own kingdom! Jacobz quickly agreed and they began to plot. Jacobz would assault Lucretia Jans, a young woman aboard the ship. When he was disciplined, Cornelisz would use the opportunity to show the poor leadership of Palsaert and urge the takeover of the ship.
It was a bit of a meandering, roundabout plot and one that was obviously influenced by the mindnumbing weeks and weeks at sea. Jans was attacked by Jacobz, but Palsaert was slow to respond and before the mutiny could commence proper, things took a turn for the worse.
You see, without the aid of modern navigational equipment, the Batavia hit the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia one stormy night in June, 1628 and sunk, with the loss of 40. The overwhelming majority of crew and passengers made it onto land at Beacon Island, where, upon dawn breaking, a search for fresh water and food began. When none was to be found, the surviving longboat of the Batavia was comandeered by Palsaert, Jacobsz and senior crew to go and seek help. Cornelisz was left behind to defend the remaining survivors.
Cornelisz knew that were the rescue party to return, his role in the proposed mutiny would be uncovered. So what did he do? He decided that the only way to prevent his arrest and execution was to establish his own kingdom by force. Using his rank within the DEIC, he dispatched the remaining soldiers to search the other islands in the chain for water, assuming that they would die after a few days without sustenance. Meanwhile, he gathered a circle of conspirators around him. Together, they would forcibly round up the other survivors and establish their rule.
Over the next few days, weeks and months, Cornelisz’ men massacred 125 men, women and children — sometimes to send a message to other survivors, sometimes for food, sometimes for fun, luridly displayed here in a pamphlet published months later. The men held decapitation competitions for sport. When food ran out, the young and the sick were killed and eaten. Many fled the atrocities, using driftwood to float off the island in an effort to find the soldiers that had been dispatched.
Cornelisz was quickly settling his role as king of his domain when smoke was spotted from West Wallabi Island — the arranged signal that signified the discovery of water. The soldiers had not only survived, they had found out about the killings and had built a fortifcation under the leadership of Wiebbe Hayes, a young soldier. A series of battles soon began, with Cornelisz’s goons attacking West Wallabi island again and again using makeshift weapons until, almost as they were about to Haye’s fortification, a vessel was spotted. It was the Sardam, a DEIC vessel, captained by Palsaert and sent to pick up the survivors. A party of soldiers was dispatched to the ship where they informed the horrified captain of the madness and bloodshed.
Palsaert’s justice was brutal and swift. Cornelisz was quickly convicted in a show trial and then hung from a tree, but not before both hands had been chopped off. Other conspirators suffered equally gruesome fates and two were marooned on the mainland. The others were locked up on the Sardam and returned to Batavia, where they languished in the dungeons of the DEIC compound. Wiebe Hayes was promoted on the spot — a fantastic hire he’d turned out to be — and had his pay doubled.
The wreck of the Batavia was one of the earliest contacts by Europeans with Australia. Hayes’ fortification remains to this day the oldest surviving European structure. The bloodshed, madness and torment of the months spent on Beacon Island by Cornelisz and his men are still remembered in books, plays and films. There have been countless other shipwrecks around Australian’s long, long coastline, but nothing comes close to the horrors experienced after the wreck of the Batavia.
It just goes to show, it’s worth doing your research before you employ a candidate. On the other hand, those of you out there working cubicle jobs, feel free to wave this column in the face of your manager the next time you’re accused of spending too much time on Facebook and tell ‘em it could be a lot worse!
Mike Stuchbery works with cultural institutions to make their collections accessible to students, teachers and the general public. He is also the Editor of Macabre Melbourne.
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