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Futility Closet

Jun 12, 2017

In 1629, a Dutch trading vessel struck a reef off the coast of Australia, marooning 180 people on a tiny island. As they struggled to stay alive, their leader descended into barbarity, gathering a band of cutthroats and killing scores of terrified castaways. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll document the brutal history of Batavia's graveyard, the site of Australia's most infamous shipwreck.

We'll also lose money in India and puzzle over some invisible Frenchmen.


In 1946, an Allied dentist inscribed "Remember Pearl Harbor" on Hideki Tojo's dentures.

Sigourney Weaver named herself after a character in The Great Gatsby.

Sources for our feature on the Batavia mutiny:

Mike Dash, Batavia's Graveyard, 2002.

Mike Sturma, "Mutiny and Narrative: Francisco Pelsaert's Journals and the Wreck of the Batavia," The Great Circle 24:1 (2002), 14-24.

"We Are Still on the Batavia," Queen's Quarterly 12:4 (Winter 2005), 489.

Bruce Bennett, "Politics and Spying: Representations of Pre- and Early Australia," Antipodes 22:1 (June 2008), 17-22.

"Batavia," Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia, 1997, 52-53.

D. Franklin, "Human Skeletal Remains From a Multiple Burial Associated With the Mutiny of the VOC Retourschip Batavia, 1629," International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 22:6 (Jan. 19, 2011), 740-748.

Michael Titlestad, "'Changed as to a Tiger': Considering the Wreck of the Batavia," Antipodes 27:2 (December 2013), 149-156.

Mark Staniforth, "Murder and Mayhem," dig 8:4 (April 2006), 20-21.

Christopher Bray, "The Wreck of the Batavia [review]," Financial Times, Aug 17, 2007.

"Batavia's History," Western Australian Museum (accessed May 28, 2017).

Sarah Taillier, "Unearthed Grave Sheds Light on Batavia Shipwreck Mass Murder," Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Feb. 3, 2015.

"Australia Dig Unearths Batavia Mutiny Skeleton," BBC News, Feb. 4, 2015.

Libby-Jane Charleston, "The Batavia Mutiny and Massacre of 1629 Is Still Revealing Secrets," Huffington Post, July 2, 2016.

Karl Quinn, "Mutiny, Shipwreck, Murder: The Incredible True Story Russell Crowe Wants to Film," Sydney Morning Herald, March 30, 2016.

Interest in the Batavia was reawakened in the 1960s, when archaeologists began to examine the site of the mutiny. This victim, excavated in 1963, had received a cutting wound to the head; the right shoulder blade was broken, and the right foot was missing.

Listener mail:

Andrew Levy, "Doctors Solve Mystery of a Man Who 'Died From Laughter' While Watching The Goodies After His Granddaughter Nearly Dies From Same Rare Heart Condition," Daily Mail, June 20, 2012.

Wikipedia, "2016 Indian Banknote Demonetisation" (accessed June 9, 2017).

"The Dire Consequences of India's Demonetisation Initiative," Economist, Dec. 3, 2016.

Micheline Maynard, "The 'Zion Curtain' Is About to Fall in Utah, and Restaurants Can't Wait," Forbes, March 29, 2017.

Donald Hoffman, "Do We See Reality As It Is?" TED, March 2015.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Aden Lonergan. Here's a corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!