Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Batavia and the World’s Bloodiest Mutiny

The Batavia, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, was built in 1628 and began its maiden voyage in October of that year.  She was named for the town of Batavia, now Jakarta, on the northwest tip of the island of Java.  The voyage began full of hope and promise of riches.  The spice and silk trade had proved to be very lucrative for the company.  The merchants had a large store of trading capital on board, and the passengers were anxious to return to their homes, or start life in a new land.  In June of 1629 she was shipwrecked and on her way to becoming the center of the bloodiest mutiny in history.

In 1628 the Dutch East India Company (in Dutch the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) had been established for more than 25 years.  It was well on its way to becoming the world’s first transnational corporation, having issued bonds and shares of stock.  It was the first publically traded company.  Also, it was granted the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins and establish colonies.
                                                                                         Commandant Francisco Pelsaert
Image result for francisco pelsaertThe Batavia’s mission fit well into these broad powers.  Commandant Francisco Pelsaert led the fleet of seven boats from his flagship, Batavia.  Additionally, he was the company’s senior merchant for the voyage.  The ship was captained by Adrian Jacobsz.  A junior VOC merchant, Jeronimus Cornelisz, , was in a lesser command position for the voyage and hoped to establish his own colony in the East Indies.  The cargo consisted primarily of a large number of silver coins, two paintings by the artist Rubens being delivered to an East Indian ruler, and pre-fabricated sandstone blocks for a new gatehouse in the city of Batavia.  There were approximately 340 people on board including 100 soldiers and roughly 30 civilian passengers – some wives, children, and servants of VOC employees.

Junior Merchant Jeonimus Cornelisz
Image result for francisco pelsaert facts 
Shortly after the fleet left the Netherlands it encountered a severe storm.  Only three of the ships continued the voyage.  Despite this beginning the three remaining ships reached the Cape of Good Hope a month ahead of schedule.  It was at this point that the disaster began to unfold.  As they sailed east from the Cape the three ships lost sight of each other and the Batavia was left to proceed on her own.  A long term bitterness between the Commandant and the Captain erupted into a full-fledged feud.  As the ship traversed the Indian Ocean the Commandant became seriously ill and stayed mostly in his cabin.  This allowed the Captain, who was now the Commandant’s mortal enemy, and the junior merchant, who needed funds to establish his colony, to develop a mutinous plan to commandeer the ship, kill all the soldiers, and throw the captain overboard.

Before the plan could be executed, however, the Batavia ran aground on a shallow coral reef nearly 40 miles off the southwest coast of Australia.  The shipwreck itself wasn’t as tragic as the events which followed.  Roughly 180 people including 30 some women and children were ferried to Beacon Island nearby.  Another 40 or so including the Commandant and the Captain camped on what became known as Traitor Island.  They took with them most of the ships provisions.  The junior merchant and the rest of the men temporarily remained aboard the Batavia.

                                                                        Drawing of the desertion of the survivors 
Image result for francisco pelsaert
There was no water on either of these two islands.  The Commandant took the longboat, the Captain, and nearly four dozen men in search of water on mainland Austrailia, essentially deserting nearly 270 people.  Water was not immediately found on the mainland.  The Commandant decided the best course was to sail to the city of Batavia to get help.  Miraculously, the entire group made the harrowing trip safely in 33 days.  The Commandant had the boatswain executed and the Captain arrested for loss of the ship.  Seventy days later the Commandant aboard the yacht Sardam had returned to the site of the wreck to rescue the survivors.

Drawing of the murder and rape by the mutineers 
Image result for francisco pelsaertIn the meanwhile, the Batavia broke up drowning all 40 men still aboard.  This gave junior merchantman Cornelisz the opportunity to set his plan in motion.  He established himself as the officer in charge and gathered around him a cadre of men he trusted to help him capture the Batavia’s resources and do away with the rest of the survivors.  He went about systematically drowning and murdering as many as possible.  He sent 45 men, women and children to Seal Island, another close island, with the thought they would quickly perish.  His bad luck, however, was that this group under the leadership of one of the soldiers, Wiebbe Hayes, found water and food.  After being warned of Cornelisz intentions, the Seal island group successfully stood off two attacks by the mutineers.

                                                                          Drawing of the hanging of the mutineers 
Image result for francisco pelsaert
Shortly after the second attack on Seal Island the Commandant returned and took charge of the situation.  Commandant Pelsaert quickly learned of junior merchant Cornelisz horrendous reign of terror and captured everyone who was not aligned with Wiebbe Hayes.  The mutineers confessed to committing murder, rape, looting of VOC and passenger property in addition to conspiring to mutiny.  Under the powers granted by the VOC the Commandant tried all of the mutineers.  The majority were hanged on Seal Island after having one hand cut off (a common punishment for theft).  The Captain had both of his hands cuff off and was then hanged.  Several lessor offenders were transported to Batavia city where they were tried and executed.  Two were left behind as punishment with the expectation they would die on Seal Island.  Of the 316 original people aboard the Batavia only 116 survived.

Replica Batavia under sail 
Image result for francisco pelsaertThe Batavia was 186 feet long, with a beam of 34 feet and a total height of 180 feet. She had 24 cannons, 1425 square yards of sail and could carry up to 341 people including passengers.  Today, a full size replica of the Batavia can be seen in Lelystad, Netherlands.

                                                                          Batavia 37" Quality Tall Ship Model


 ShipModels Online offers a museum quality 37” Tall Ship Model of the Batavia along with other ships of the same period.  For information about possible sale pricing and discounts send an e-mail to SMO Support.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Lynx, Privateer of 1812

                                                       2001 Lynx, "America's Privateer"
You may be aware of the 2001 schooner Lynx which serves as a sailing classroom out of her home port in Newport Beach, California.  She is a replica of the 1812 privateer Lynx which operated along the east coast and Chesapeake Bay.  This is an article about three ships which have sailed under the name Lynx and how they relate to each other.

The schooner Lynx was in Baltimore and commissioned on July 14, 1812.  She was 97 feet long, had a beam of 24 feet, and carried six 12-pound guns.  Under a letter of marque she was an armed merchantman chartered to capture enemy merchantmen as prize during her normal course of duty.  Her crew did not depend prizes but were paid a regular wage.  After one successful voyage to France she was moored in Virginia’s Rappahannock River preparing to return to France. 

Britain had long been engaged in the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815) with France.  Consequently, they blocked other nations from trading with the French.  The United States had been allied with France since the Revolutionary war in 1776 and was dependent on this relationship for much of its income.  The blockade was causing a significant decline in the financial arena.  While the British had agreed to the terms of the end of the American Revolution, they hadn’t fully accepted the idea of an independent United States.  They felt it was their right to conscript US sailors from captured merchant ships. 

                                                                     Battle of New Orleans 
This situation came to a head on June 18, 1812 when the United States declared war on Britain.  The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815.  There was no clear winner in this war.  The Treaty of Ghent, however, established the framework for US-British relations that lasts to this day.  It also documented  the method for US and Canada to sustain the world’s longest unfortified border. 

British blockade of French port 
Early in the War of 1812 a squadron of seven British ships blockaded four schooners including the Lynx in the Rappahannock River.  The squadron sent a group of boats with 105 men up the river and were successful in capturing three of the schooners and terminally damaging the fourth.  The Lynx was taken into British service and renamed HMS Mosquidobit.  The British paid about 2,000 pounds for the Lynx.

After her capture the Mosquidobit joined the blockade Chesapeake Bay.  She was then stationed in Nova Scotica.  She sailed to England in 1816 and then was part of the anti-smuggling duties in Ireland.  In 1819 she was rewarded for taking the second largest number of smugglers off the Irish coast.  In 1820 she was decommissioned and sold into private service.  There is no further record of the ship.

The Lynx was recognized as having a superior design.  The US Navy modified this design slightly and in 1814 built a new schooner also bearing the name Lynx.  She sailed with a squadron to the Mediteranean to help quell a treaty violation.  She was then assigned to Pirate patrol off the coast of Mexico.  She was lost with all hands in 1820 to a hurricane off the coast of Jamaica.

                                                           Lynx being "fired upon" by Lady Washington 
Today’s Lynx, though larger, is very similar to the 1812 Lynx.  She offers programs in history, earth and physical science, seamanship, and leadership.  She sails from California to Hawaii every summer with students acting as crew and learning about life on a sailing vessel.  She also offers occasional three hour long “battle sails” where blanks instead of cannon balls are fired at “enemy” vessels such as the Lady Washington or the Californian.

Ship Models Online offers a beautiful painted model of the Lynx along with an extensive catalog of other Quality Tall Ship Models.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Story of the Wasa - Part 5, Causes, Conservation, and Legacy

                                                     Structure of the Wasa above the waterline

It is clear that the Wasa sank because she was unstable and not seaworthy.  She carried too large a percentage of weight above the waterline.  This is not the result of the weight of the armaments.  Rather it is the hull design itself which didn’t allow room for sufficient ballast.  Failed stability tests were ignored.  But there were many additional factors which contributed to the sinking.

Sweden was engaged in war with Poland.  The King desperately needed a new warship for success.  But he was unable to have direct contact with the designers and contractors of the vessel since he was out of the country.  Nonetheless, no expense was spared in building the Wasa.  Funding was not an issue.  But changing requirements and schedules were.  The Wasa was originally conceived as a small traditional vessel but became a large innovative vessel.

The changing requirements had some unintended consequences.  To expedite the construction, both Swedish and Dutch shipwright teams were used.  These teams used different measuring systems.  The Swedish foot measures 12 inches while the Dutch foot measured only 11 inches.  This caused the ships mass to be unevenly distributed and heavier on the port side.  The addition of a second gun deck caused a conflict between seaworthiness and military firepower.  This resulted in an unavoidably large amount of weight above the waterline.

                                                Upper and Lower Gun Ports of the Wasa 
Even then the Wasa probably would not have sunk if her gun ports had been closed.  The normal procedure was for vessels with multi-tiered gun decks was to sail with the gun ports closed.  It was not unusual for wind pressure to push the lower row of gun ports below the water.  It is believed Wasa’s gun ports were open in order to fire celebratory shots as part of the maiden voyage send off.  It was too late to save the Wasa by closing her gun ports after she began taking on water.

Wasa Lion Figurehead as recovered 
Even though the Wasa was in remarkable condition after spending 330 years submerged in the Baltic Sea, allowing her to dry out by simply bring her to the surface would have caused a greatly accelerated rate of deterioration.  There have been numerous research projects to determine the optimum way to preserve the ship and its contents.  Special buildings were constructed to house the Wasa and facilitate keeping her hydrated.  The primary method of conservation was impregnation of the entire vessel with polyethylene glycol (PEG).  She was continuously sprayed with PEG for a period of 17 years.  This has been followed by a long period of controlled slow drying under stringent temperature and humidity control.

                                                     Wasa Lion Figurehead as restored 
The Wasa currently resides in the Wasa Museum in Stockholm.  The goal of this museum is to present the vessel and a nearly original condition for public display.  Features that needed to be rebuilt used as many original parts as possible.  It is estimated that 95% of the ship today is made up of original materials.  The Wasa quickly became a Swedish national treasure.  The ship and museum are a major tourist attraction.   The story of the Wasa has been the the subject of numerous books articles and papers.  Several children’s books have been written about her.  Custom-built models and model kits are available.

Ship Models Online offers two beautiful scratch built wooden quality tall ship models of the Wasa in different sizes.  

This is the last in a series of five blog posts relating the Story of the Wasa.  I hope you have found this series enjoyable.  I would be very interested in any comments you may have about these articles.

References include:
Vasa (ship) from Wikipedia
The Swedish Ship Vasa’s Revival by Dottie E. Mayol, Univ. of Miami
Why the Vasa Sank: 10 Lessons Learned by R. Fairley

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Harley-Davidson WLA

                                                                           US Army Harley-Davidson WLA
The Harley-Davidson WLA is a 45 cubic inch (740 cubic centimeter) motorcycle built to US Army specifications for World War II.  The “W” family evolved from an earlier “R” family of flathead motorcycles produced between 1932 and 1936.  The “L” was Harley-Davidson’s designation for their high compression engine.  “A” indicated the motorcycle was built for the US Army.  Harley also produced a similar motorcycle for the Canadian Army designated WLC.  Additional variants were built for other US Allied forces including the United Kingdom, and South Africa.

US Army Manual diagram of HD WLA
The Army required several modifications to the W family for military use.  They were to be painted olive drab or black.  They needed to be outfitted with blackout lights.  The sides of the fenders needed to be removed in order to reduce mud build-up.  They were often equipped with a heavy-duty luggage rack for radios, an ammunition box,  a leather scabbard for a Thompson submachine gun, and a skid plate.  A windshield and leg protectors could also be added.  Mechanical modifications included an oil bath air cleaner which required only the addition of motor oil rather than a replaceable filter.  The crankcase breather was modified to reduce the intake of water into the crankcase.

While a few WLAs were produced starting in 1940, by far the majority of these motorcycles was produced after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  As a consequence all of the serial numbers of WLAs produced after that event were given 1942 serial numbers.  Similarly, all of the WLCs were given 1943 serial numbers.  A significant number of WLAs were shipped to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program.  Production was halted at the end of World War II but resumed from 1949-1952 during the Korean War.

                                                          Army servicemen on their HD WLAs
The WLA was not used for combat or troop movement.  Instead the military used motorcycles for courier service, scouting, escorts.  Because the WLA was frequently seen as the first vehicles arriving in a convoy it was nicknamed the “Liberator” for its role in freeing occupied territories.  While the front wheel featured a springer suspension there was no suspension on the rear wheel.  Consequently it has frequently been referred to as a “hard tail”.

Peter Fonda on a "Captain America" chopper replica
There was a large surplus of WLAs after WWII.  The low cost and broad availability gave rise to the post-war biker culture.  Consequently, the chopper and other modifications became very popular.  This popularity gave Harley-Davidson to capture the lead in the US motorcycle marketplace.   (While the Indian motorcycle saw some use during WWII it never recovered from confusing market of the 1930s.)    Modification was so popular that few WLAs in near original condition survived.  Due to  limited access during the Cold War and virtually no biker culture, the Soviet Union is today’s most significant source of original parts and WLAs.

Ship Models Online offers two slightly different quality models of the 1942 Harley-Davidson WLS motorcycle.  Here are links to WLA1 and WLA2.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Story of the Wasa - Part 4, Deterioration and Salvage

It took over two weeks for word of the sinking of the Wasa to reach the King Gustavas Adolphus in Poland.  His response was to demand the guilty parties be punished since the cause must have been “imprudence and negligence.”  The captain along with other surviving officers and crew were brought before an inquest.  The shipbuilders were also interrogated.  In the end no guilty party was found.

                                                                1734 illustration of salvage methods 

Within three days of the wreck a salvage operation was begun to raise the ship.  Two ships were positioned above the wreck.  Strong lines were attached from these surface ships to the Wasa.  The surface vessels were filled with as much water as was prudent.  The lines were tightened.  The water was then pumped out causing significant lifting force on the wreck.  This was initially successful in getting the Wasa setting on its keel, but they were unable to free it from the mud.  The salvage attempt was abandoned.

Three decades later a project was mounted to retrieve valuable items from the Wasa.  In particular more than 50 of the Wasa’s 64 guns were retrieved.  Also sculptures and other wood was salvaged.  During this process part of the deck was torn apart to gain access to the guns. There were no known further attempts at salvage until the twentieth century.

Two of Wasa's knightheads 

During more than 300 years at the bottom of the Stockholm harbor the Wasa experienced a significant amount of deterioration.  Iron bolts had been used to attach the beackhead, the sterncastle, and all of the ships sculptures.  This iron quickly rusted away and the items it held fell into the mud or onto the decks.  Only the largest cast iron objects survived – anchors, cannon balls, etc.  Wood, cloth, leather and other organic items fared better.  Objects which fell into the mud were protected from currents and sediments.  Some of the paint on sculptures in the mud survived.  Soft tissue was consumed by fish, crustaceans, and other sea life.

The most destructive force, however, was human activity.  As mentioned above much of the deck planking was removed to get to the cannons.  The Stockholm harbor is a busy shipping lane and it is clear that several ships dropped anchor on the Wasa demolishing part of the ship’s upper structure.  Construction debris was frequently dumped in the area and some of it landed on the ship.

                                                      Wasa breaking the surface after 330 years 

In August of 1956 after several years of searching an amateur archeaologist rediscovered the Wasa.  An effort was begun to attempt salvage of the ship.  Multiple methods of recovery were explored, but the final method chosen was similar to the failed attempt 330 years prior.  Using high pressure water jets, tunnels were dug under the vessel.  Steel cables were strung through these tunnels and attached to two surface pontoons.  The pontoons were filled with water, the cables tightened and the water pumped back out.  During late summer of 1959 eighteen such lifts were successful in moving the Wasa from its original depth of 105 ft. to a more sheltered area of the harbor 52 feet deep.

Wasa floating on to her concrete pontoon 

The next 18 months were spent preparing the Wasa for the final series of lifts to the surface.  Debris was removed, nail and bolt holes were plugged, the gun ports were temporarily closed off.  During 16 days in April of 1961 a series of lifts brought the Wasa to the surface.  She was towed to a dry dock and floated on her own keel onto a concrete pontoon on which she still rests.

A tall ship model of the Wasa is available for purchase at Ship Models Online

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What is an Armillary

                                    Portrait of Wu Yong a character in the Chinese novel Water Margin

An Amillary (Amillary Sphere) is an ancient device which models the heavens.  I consists of a series of concentric rings, some fixed and some moveable.  The center of these rings was a sphere representing center of the universe.  Until the time of Copernicus in the 16th Century this sphere was an earth globe.  As a result of Conpernicus’ theories an Amillary was developed with the central sphere representing the sun.  Consequently, an Amillary with a central earth sphere is known as Ptolemaic and an Amillary with a central sun sphere is known as Copernican.

Drawing of a mechanically-rotated Armillary from 1092

The origin of the Amillary is unknown but they were widely in use in both Greece and China by the first Century B.C.  By the 8th Century Persian and Arab astronomers had modified and improved the device.  Korean inventors made additional improvements during the 15th Century.  An Amillary activated by a clock mechanism was built in Korea in the 17th Century and still survives today.  Modern technology has made the Armilary obsolete for precise, practical astronomical observations.  Today it is an object of art, a historic model of the celestial universe, a historic mechanical computational device, a training device, and a conversation piece.

                                                                      Botticelli painting of an Armillary from 1480

An Armillary has two exterior bands surrounding the inner cage.  A wide, horizontal band representing the viewer’s horizon is fixed and parallel to the floor.  A vertical rotating ring  represents the meridian or azimuth.  Moving this ring allows the viewer to adjust the latitude.  These rings are engraved with degrees of the compass. 

The basket inside these two rings contains the representation of the earth with its axis running through the poles and attached to the appropriate points on the horizontal exterior band.  The basket’s center ring represents the equator while the two horizontal rings are the Tropic of Cancer (22.5 degrees north of the equator) and the Tropic of Capricorn (22.5 degrees south of the equator).  The wide band surrounding the inner cage represents the path of the sun and other celestial bodies.

Sculpture of Roger Bacon holding an Armillary 
The Armillary represents ancient celestial astronomy.  It was used to make astronomical observations of the heavens.  Modifications were additions to the Armillary for use as a navigational aid.  Viewing tubes were added in order to make more precise measurements.  Prior to the development of the telescope in the 17th Century, the Armillary was the primary instrument used by astronomers to determine their celestial position.  It has been equipped with mechanical clocks to facilitate movement of the rings for continuous celestial predictions.  It can be thought of as an early analog computer.

Ship Models Online offers a variety of Amillaries shown on its Armillaries and Globes category.  The price for two of these items is discounted during our February sale.