Review Blog

Oct 13 2010

The blue-eyed Aborigine by Rosemary Hayes

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Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2010. ISBN 978 1847800787.
Highly recommended. Suggested for readers 13 plus.
This historical novel gives an excellent account of the wrecking of the Batavia when she struck a reef on the Abrohols Islands, half way down the coast of Western Australia in 1629. Related principally from the perspective of a cabin boy, Jan de Bye, part one of the story deals with the atrocities which occurred amongst survivors who found themselves under the command of the insane Jeronimus Corneliusz. Commander Pelseart and Captain Jacobs had taken the longboat to search for water but finding themselves a long way North, decided to continue to Java to arrange rescue for the rest of the survivors. Jacobs and Corneliusz had previously conspired to mutiny and seize the vessel and its astonishingly valuable cargo, in order to live a buccaneering life. In their absence, Corneliusz, an apothecary who had secured himself a position as senior merchant for the Dutch East Indies Company on the trading venture to Java, commenced his rule of terror. Murder, torture and rape was conducted on an horrific scale and any who resisted were considered traitors and enemies. In this fashion, the boy Jan, finds himself involved in the sickening exploits, participating in acts previously unimaginable. Incredibly Pelseart returned from Java within two months and the mutineers met their fate. Because the rescue vessel would have been overcrowded with the survivors and prisoners, many of mutineers were tried and executed on the islands. Because of his age and the fact that he had been influenced by Corneliusz, Jan's death sentence was commuted along with that of Wouter Loos, who despite being a murderer had tried to protect Lucretia Van der Meylen, a noblewoman passenger. The fate of this pair was to be set adrift in a small boat with meager supplies when Pelseart took the survivors to Java. The novel to this point is based on sound historical fact but part two is pure fiction as the fate of these individuals is unknown. Hayes presents a wholly plausible narrative of the exploits of Jan and Wouter (who were probably the first Europeans to land on mainland Australia) as they seek to survive in this barren region. Hayes portrays Aboriginal characters in a realistic and sensitive manner and creates an outcome which is quite possible, maybe probable. Having read many accounts of this tragic episode, I was impressed by the author's research and skill in relating history whilst telling a captivating tale. Necessarily for younger adolescents, many explicit details are avoided and the violence and degradation are described as moderately as possible.
Rob Welsh

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