Abolishing the Norm – Episode 1: Slavery’s Tryal

Francois August-Biard, Slaves on the West Coast of Africa, c.1833

Listen to Episode   Duration 1:27:44

Over 300 years, the transatlantic slave trade caused the abuse, suffering and enslavement of an estimated 10-12 million people. This episode takes a look at what some of that experience would have meant for these groups and individuals forcibly removed from their homelands. Specifically, we look at the slave uprising on the Spanish ship Tryal, in 1805, and ask some questions that set us on the path of this series about the abolition of one of the oldest human institutions. What were the social, political and economic conditions that led to the uprising on the Tryal? How did it go down and what were the repercussions? Furthermore, how did American author Herman Melville (of Moby Dick fame) write about the Tryal uprising, some 50 years after it had occurred, and during a period where his country was at that moment tearing itself apart over the very question of slavery? All this and more, in Slavery’s Tryal.

Edouard Antoine Renard Rebellion of a Slave on a Slave Ship, 1833
Edouard Antoine Renard, Rebellion of a Slave on a Slave Ship, 1833

Triangular Trade

Map showing the transatlantic trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Map Source


Slave Experience


So recent, historically speaking, is the time when these events took place, that we have many written sources from people involved.

In 1789, a slave called Olaudah Equiano, who had been taken at around the age of 10, somewhere around Nigeria, and eventually bought his own freedom, wrote: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.

Here is how Equiano described being put onto the ship off the coast of Africa, after having been abducted (alongside his sister from whom he was later, and forever, seperated) and forced there in chains:

“The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror when I was carried on board. I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me.

I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life; so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me…” – Olaudah Equiano

Johann Moritz Rugendas, Negres a fond de calle, Negros in the cellar of a slave ship, c1830.

Ali Eisam, in 1817, wrote about being forced on the ship to be taken across to the Americas – the Middle-Passage, as it was known – in 1818. This was 11 years after the trade had been officially abolished by Britain. Currently engaged in the Napoleonic wars, Britain had made it a policy to capture slave ships. This happened to the ship that Ali was on, and he was taken by the British Navy to Sierra Leone, and there set free.

“The people of the great vessel were wicked: when we had been shipped, they took away all the small pieces of cloth which were on our bodies, and threw them into the water, then they took chains and fettered two together. We in the vessel, young and old, were seven hundred, whom the White men had bought. We were all fettered round our feet, and all the oldest died of thirst, for there was no water. Every morning they had to take many, and throw them into the water.” – Ali Eisam

Spanish American Slavery of Natives and Africans

The largest amount of Africans taken into slavery ended up in Spanish American colonies; an imperial colonial structure that depended on the free labour that the enslaved provided. Here they joined the millions of natives who were already being exploited and put into forced servitude, very often leading directly to their deaths.

In 1780, Tupac Amaru II (after whom Tupac Amaru Shakur was named) led an uprising against Spanish colonisation and exploitation. Regarding his name, he was actually born José Gabriel Condorcanqui, but this is a seriously Spanish sounding name. Tupac Amaru I had been the last indigenous monarch of the Neo-Incan state, and had been executed by the Spanish in 1572. It’s a good name change if you are becoming a leader of indigenous revolt. We are probably going to do an episode on him one day so won’t go into it, but suffice to say Native Americans suffered tremendously under the labour needs of European commercial and imperial globalism.

Besides the devastation of small-pox and other diseases, and of course conquest and colonisation in general, many natives suffered from working in the silver mines – forced into it through Spain’s exploitation of the Incan system of indentured labour, mita, and which now upheld the costs of Spain’s imperial output.

In an their article (of which here is an abstract) titled Mercury Production and Use in Colonial Andean Silver Production: Emissions and Health Implication (2011), Nicholas A. Robins and Nicole A. Hagan write:

“The mita system played a central role in the destruction of indigenous communities – not only through death and morbidity as a result of working in the mines and mills but also through the migration of people away from their home towns to evade the levy, which many considered a death sentence”

Although the exact nature of mercury’s ill effects remains unknown in the 1600s, there was no question that they existed. A priest in Potosi, which Robins and Hagan suggest to have been the largest city in the world in the 1650s (population 160,000), wrote in 1629 that the Spanish:

“well know and have seen…how terrible are the effects of mercury, as only in smelthing…and treading…many are poisoned y mercury and we see those effect among those to whom we give last rights.” – Pedro de Oñate

Melville’s Benito Cereño

Herman Melville, being confused about which direction the camera is

Benito Cereño was first published in 1855 in Putnam’s Monthly. A year later, a revised edition appeared in his collection of short stories, Piazza Tales. Contemporary reviews were not of great acclaim, but neither disparaging or dismissive.

In 1856 the United States, chronologically speaking, was on the brink of Civil War; a violent collision that resulted directly from a schism that wrought peoples’ consciences and drew on their fears around economic stability and physical security. It was a troubling time, and Melville’s telling of the Tryal uprising, if analysed deeply, shows an understanding of the elements at the root of the rift.

In that year one outlet, The Knickerbocker, said of Benito Cereño that it was:

“…most painfully interesting, and in reading it we become nervously anxious for the solution of the mystery it involves.”

There are some differences between the fictional account of Melville and the non-fictional account of Delano’s memoirs, that are worth pointing out. In Benito Cereño, the ship on which the mutiny is taking place is not called the Tryal, but the San Dominck – an explicit reference to Haiti and the revolution that had so drastically changed the world. Delano’s ship is not the Perseverance, but Bachelor’s Delight. It is also set, not in 1805, as in reality, but in 1799. It has been suggested that this places it more within the timeframe of the Haitian Revolution, showing that Melville believed this story to truly represent the great conflict of the age, in which Haiti played such a massive role.

Reading List

Greg Grandin, Empire of Necessity, London, Oneworld Publications, 2014

Amasa Delano, A Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres: Comprising Three Voyages round the World; Together with a Voyage of Survey and Discovery in the Pacific Ocean and Oriental Islands, Boston, E.G House, 1817

Herman Melville, Benito Cereño, Melville House Publishing, Brooklyn, 2006

Jeanine Marie DeLombard and Christopher Freeburg, Melville and the Idea of Blackness: Race and Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century America, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012

Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause, Yale, Yale University Press, 2017




Rembrandt and the Revolting Batavians

Opnamedatum: 2014-02-05
“That’s not a sword..THIS is a sword.”
– Claudius Civilis, probably.

Listen to Episode  Duration 1:28:05

In the years 69-70 CE, the Batavian people, who inhabited the lower reaches of the Rhine and Waal rivers, that form a part of today’s Netherlands, went into open revolt against the Roman Empire. They were led by Claudius (Julius) Civilis, and would ultimately fail. But what he and this rebellion spurred, seventeen hundred years later, would be way beyond anything they could have imagined. This barbarian uprising would come to affect and inspire ideas of rebellion within the lives of the wealthiest people on the planet in the 1500 and 1600s. In 1661 CE, Rembrandt would paint ‘The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis’, but in a totally rebellious way. It was rebellion inspiring rebellion within the celebration of rebellion. Rebellion inception.


Nero, Snoke, Otho and Jabba the Hut

These four were all emperor within the span of a year. Also within the span of a year, they were all dead and another dude was emperor altogether.

This bloke, Vespasian.

Check out that smug look on his face. That’s a Tywin Lannister post-Red Wedding look, that is.

Rome, during this civil war, looked like this:

The Roman Empire - AD 69

The Batavians were on the very fringes of the Roman empire, in lower Germany along the Rhine. Their neighbours the Frisii, Cananefates and Tungri all joined them.

Rhine frontier map by Hans Erren



In 1661 when Rembrandt Hermansz. van Rijn was commissioned to produce a painting of the Conpiracy of Claudius Civilis, the title-image, above, was the end result. But it wasn’t the initial result…

Rembrandt’s original painting was the biggest he had ever produced. However the Burghermeester’s who ran Amsterdam, who controlled the city hall where the painting was to hang, and who had commissioned Rembrandt in the first place, hated it.

He had to take it back, and was forced by necessity to cut it up so as to try and sell a more sizeable piece. We have an idea of how the original would have looked (somewhat at least) as we have Rebrandt’s initial sketch of the piece. Apologies for the small image, but Rembrandt didn’t upload it to the internet in a decent enough size.

Rembrandt’s sketch-study of the conspiracy shows how the table-scene was only but a third, or so, of the original.


This is now what we have. Despite that the photo was taken when it travelled to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, it is usually being self-perpetually held hostage at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.


Unfortunately, this viewer is having a more jarring experience than she’ll ever admit. The painting was composed to hang high up, on the town hall’s high, marble lined walls. To get anywhere close to that proper perspective, she should be lying down in front of it.

The Burghermeester’s had originally wanted Govert Flinck, hot-shot establishment artist of his day, to produce the entire commission, of which this scene was but a part. Some of Flinck’s original sketches show how different it would have been:

Govert Flinck’s sketch for the Conspiracy. Check out those plumes!

Juergen Ovens, German painter, later finished Flinck’s work:

Juergen Ovens: Boring as bat-shit


Amsterdam Town Hall was designed and built by Jacob van Campen, from 1648-55.

It was bloody magnificent. No non-religious or non-royal building so grand had ever been seen before. It’s many front entrances of equal size, and specifically the lack of a main singular entrance, was so to welcome any and all citizens to the building that belonged solely to them all.


Here are some paintings of Dam Square, done by, respectively, Johannes Lingelbach and Jacob van der Ulft, with the Town Hall under construction:

Johannes Lingelbach_De Dam te Amsterdam met het nieuwe Stadhuis in aanbouw, gezien naar het noorden (1656)De_Dam_te_Amsterdam_met_het_nieuwe_stadhuis_in_aanbouw_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-1916.jpeg

The Town Hall was built on 13,659 wooden pilings, driven deeply into the sandy ground that is Amsterdam’s condition. It cost 8,5 million guilders ( a shitload).

We asked our housemate what the best fact he knew about it is. His response:

“In the Amsterdam Museum there is an exact model replica that was built before the building, and which was used for its construction.”

Here’s a painting by Gerrit Berckheyde, from 1686, showing the Town Hall from the back-side. The canal today is a street and main artery for trams.

nieuwezijds Voorburgwal Gerrit Berckheyde

And the inside looks something like this:

1662 depiction of the Burgerzaal of the town hall by its architect, Jacob van Campen.
Burgerzaal today (Royal Palace)



We Have Joined The Recorded History Podcast Network


Fellow rebels,

We have joined forces with some other podcasts and become part of the Recorded History Podcast Network. This shouldn’t affect your listening experience, other than there will be pre and post episode promos for other shows on the network. Check them out, we are in good company! Also, we have CHANGED our rss feed, so PLEASE UPDATE it if you listen to us through an RSS-reader. If you listen through iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play, it should have updated without you even noticing.

2018 is going to be a BIG year!

Coup de Pod: When Rebellion Blooms

Every great movement needs a symbol, and so the carnation became that of the Portuguese rebellion

Listen to EpisodeDuration 32:02

Stuff What You Tell Me has been taken over this episode for a Coup de Pod. Violently imposed upon and hosted by Geert Sillevis, here we explore the story of the rise and fall of the Portuguese dictatorship in the 20th century. It was an authoritarian rule that embedded itself deeply within the fabric of modern Portugal, and it would take nothing short of daring and decisive rebellion to change it. That rebellion was the Carnation Revolution of 1974.

Arms open, rebel officer Lieutenant Alfredo Assunção approaches the guns and tanks of the loyalists
António de Oliveira Salazar – avid reader of books and wearer of hair oil


All Aboard Knowledge


Listen to EpisodeDuration: 54:54

This Episode looks at the journey of western thought from the perspective of Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Using a (very) extended metaphor, in which all of humanity is on a raft, setting out to sea from the Bay of Ignorance, in search of the Island of Truth, we look at Kuhn’s “paradigm shift” explanation for how we have arrived at what we know today.



You Are Occupied


Listen to Episode Duration 1:02:51

In May 1940 German troops occupied Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands and one of the most diverse and liberal cities in Europe. Not only was Amsterdam’s large and prosperous Jewish community about to endure five years of brutal deportation and execution, but every person in the city would have to face varying hardships. The experience of each person during the occupation would have been determined by the decisions they made; decisions on whether to resist, or abide; to fight against the occupiers, or to collaborate with them; decisions on whether to help their fellow Amsterdammers, or to leave them out in the cold, dark realm of hopelessness and fear.

This episode is our interpretation of these events; a look at what some of those decisions might have been, and how  different, resultant experiences would have been felt.



The Nazi invasion of the Netherlands, although not totally surprising, was also not totally expected. The “Grebbelinie” – a South-Eat to North-West running line of defense based on inundation, was not fortified as much as it could have been. An offer by the French to move a French Army into the Netherlands for support was rejected by the Dutch government. To have allow this would have been to forsake any hope for remaining neutral and unaffected.

4 days afterwards, Nazi troops were rolling into Amsterdam. Many people lined the streets, some in excitement, but not all necessarily to welcome the invader. Curiosity would have played a major part. This was the first invasion of the country since French revolutionary troops had marched in 150 years prior.


MARCH OF WA – Dutch National Socialist Militia

The Dutch National Socialist Party – NSB – was soon made the only legal party. Their paramilitary arm, the Weerbaarheidsafdeling (WA), was soon running amok on Amsterdam’s streets, violently expressing the anti-semitic and hate-driven policies of their ideology. The march in the video is presenting the WA to the NSB leader, Anton Mussert, who is the balding, fat guy with the kind of face you’d love to punch. Mussert was executed after the war. Good. F*ck him.



After the war, the CIA determined that there were four major grouping of Dutch Resistance cells, themselves sub-divided and with varying degrees of communication and cooperation between them. In such a flat country, with little terrain suitable for hiding and waging a guerrilla war, the Dutch resistance was more characterised by efforts to help those called onderduikers – “under-divers” – people who needed to submerge and be hidden from view, such as Otto Frank and his family. There are thought to have been between 300,000-400,000 onderduikers across the Netherlands during the occupation. This was only made possible by the Dutch resistance.

Other resistance activities included creating and distributing anti-Nazi propaganda, manufacturing fake identity papers for those needing to hide their ethnicity or minority status, hindering German war logistics, and violent acts towards enemy figures. The later two became more pronounced within the realms of Dutch Resistance activity, towards the end of the war.


MIEP GIES INTERVIEW – Remembering Anne Frank

It is to the benefit of us all that people like Miep Gies, who not only played an active role in events during the occupation, also lived to the age of 101, and could tell us herself about how she saw things.





The end of the war had become a pitiful existence for the average Amsterdammer. No fuel was coming into the city for the population. There was no food. Much of Europe was being liberated by Allied forces, including the south of the country. Here, however, German troops with increasingly less and less to fight for remained in charge. They were motivated only by the fervour of their ideology, which had brought the country to such glory, but was now bringing it to such a quick demise. The Dutch resistance, sniffing blood, became more active; more violent towards their oppressors. The callousness of the hunger winter, during which over 4000 Amsterdammers froze and starved to death, was a part of the decaying Nazi state’s retribution for this increased resistance activity.

List of audio samples used, downloaded from http://www.freesound.org

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Marching 3.wav by WebbFilmsUK 

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Party Crowd 2.wav by Kolezan 

Steam Train.wav by Benboncan

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Two Spitfires Flyby by Fight2FlyPhoto

Compelling and Selling Rebellion


Listen to EpisodeDuration 31:25

In the late 1970s, a band called the Sex Pistols helped kick off one of the great anti-establishment movements of the modern age; punk rock. It was a decade of social unrest and political uncertainty in the United Kingdom, with striking miners, IRA attacks, severe inflation and an IMF bail-out. When there seemed to be no future for the youth of Britain, the Sex Pistols were at the forefront of the new music and fashion movement which defiantly stuck a middle finger up to everything and everyone. But how real is an anti-materialistic rebellion when some people make themselves very rich off of it?

The infamous interview on the Today Show with Bill Grundy.

The Sex Pistols perform on the Thames during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Workers at the Virgin pressing plant went on strike over this image of Queen Elizabeth II.
Malcolm McLaren standing in front of his famous shop SEX.
The Sex Pistols in Paradiso, Amsterdam, January 1977. Koen Suyk / Anefo, Nationaal Archief.

Johnny Rotten, butter salesman.


Gather ‘Round, People: part II (FIXED)

Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders should know that the names and images of deceased people appear on this page and on the podcast.

Cathy Freeman walks a lap of honour, carrying the Australian and Aboriginal Flags, after winning Gold in the Women’s 400m Finals. (AAP PHOTO/Dean Lewins).

Listen to EpisodeDuration 1:42:35

How we tell ourselves about our histories goes a long way to how we form our senses of identity. As societies and as individuals, we work through events and issues, and how we look at them later helps us define who we say we are. But what happens when we cannot agree on our past? Why do we feel the need to fight over statues, and how can we deal with it?

This episode is about dealing with this problem – dissonant heritage – and about the on-going pursuit by both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to re-define Australian history. How have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians struggled to recover a rightful role in modern Australia and Australian history; a role that recognises their journey, their resistance and their achievements, as well as what they’ve gained and what has been lost throughout?

The History Wars


This is an articulate article which constitutes a critique of the approach of leftist-historians, written by Associate Professor of History and Politics, Gregory Melleuish. It was published in the Quadrant magazine in April, 2017. It’s worth reading, if slightly tedious. We’re pretty sure he would not think much of our podcast.

The problem, I suspect, is that Australian history has become just another excuse for preaching politically correct ideology at students.”

Beautiful Moments

Change demands many and various demands for change

We wanted to put up a video of Cathy Freeman’s 400m winning sprint at Sydney 2000, but it’s owned by the International Olympic Committee, and they won’t let us. Possibly they don’t like us because we’re not a giant sack of money.



Nicky Winmar in defiance
(Photo by Wayne Ludbey)
Adam Goodes pointing out a girl who had called him an “ape”.

And here is an interview with Stan Grant in 2016, on his recent work looking at modern Aboriginal communities and identities.

It’s the constitution, it’s Mabo…

Eddie Koiki Mabo 1936-1992


The Blokes Up Top

Since Whitlam had poured sand through the hand of Vincent Lingiari, regressive steps had been taken by successive government that ensured the indigenous struggle would have to continue.

When Paul Keating made his Redfern address, it seemed that the wind had now changed direction, and was blowing towards proper reconciliation.

Keating’s Rebellion


Alas, it was not to be. In 1996, Australia entered 11 years of governance under the conservative Howard regime. Nothing in their indigenous policies would reflect the sentiment inherent within Keating’s speech.

Howard’s Blemishes

We wish that we could have found more complete footage of this speech. It’s very biased against the former PM, so full disclaimer there. Oh well, it’s the juicy bits anyway.


When Howard was outed in 2007, his opponent had campaigned strongly on making a federal apology to the Stolen Generation. This he got to do in February, 2008.

Rudd’s Apology:

First of all, it’s just hard to see why people don’t like politicians, isn’t it?

The apology was symbolically significant, but conditions today remain as appalling as ever for indigenous communities around the country. This remains unresolved.


Gather ‘Round, People: Part I

Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders should know that the names and images of deceased people appear on this page.


Listen to EpisodeDuration: 1:04:24

History has come to be more than just the account of the past. It helps us define who we are, and what we represent. In the 1960s a group of Australian aborigines went on a strike, demanding not just living conditions, but their recognition as the original custodians of the land. Their strike would force a ‘reversal of history’, and so send Australia on a path to amend how it saw and defined itself. The path continues to be uneasily trodden to this day.

This podcast tells the little known story of how small actions can cause big change, and how actions for a common cause must take varying forms in order to demand change of the social narrative; the change of a society’s identity.

This is not just an Australian discussion, but one pertinent to societies all around the world, however it is in Australia that the Gurindji people of the Northern Territory showed that it is from little things that big things grow.

Pre-historic Geography

During the Pleistocene period, Australia and New Guinea would have been connected at various points. Map Source

A Diverse Southern Land


It is impossible to accurately identify exactly what constituted aboriginal Australia prior to colonisation. This language map is based on all available date from various sources and was created as an interactive public resource. Check it out here.

Aboriginal Cave Paintings



rainbow serpent

This is an attempt and discussion by researcher Christine Nicholls to understand and convey the Dreamtime from a non-indigenous perspective:

This is from the Australian government; so an establishment communication of the Dreamtime. It provides some useful links, but relies upon sources that still provide predominantly the non-indigenous perspective:

Indigenous Australia is a website that has been running since the 90s, and is a fairly reasonable resource for attaining an indigenous perspective:

European Arrival

The First Fleet entering Port Jackson on 26 January 1788 by Edmund Le Bihan

Gurindji Country

gurindji map
From: A Handful of Sand: The Gurindji Struggle, After the Walk-off
By Charlie Ward

From Little Things, Big Things Grow



You’ve Got Buckley’s

William Buckley
The Wild White Man – F Grosse

Listen to EpisodeDuration 1:13:11

William Buckley, who would at various times also be known as “The Wild White Man” and “The Anglo-Australian giant”, was a man who bore little respect for convention, authority, nor the confines of society. Over the course of his life his experiences would range from fighting in the Napoleonic wars, sailing across the globe, and spending a significant part of his life living in the Australian bush, prior to the European settlement of the continent’s south-east. After him, the expression “you’ve got Buckley’s chance” has come to describe having no chance for success, or endurance. So was this incredible life a success or a failure?

The Region – Kulin Nation

Map of Victoria, with indigenous designations

The original inhabitants of Australia represented countless different nations, made up of smaller tribes, grouping and family units, that would interact and exchange through trade and relationships in a way that was fluid, just as the movements of these nomadic people flowed around the landscape.

The Kulin nation was a collection of 5 tribes that lives around the Port Phillip Bay area. They shared a language base, but with some differences in dialect and also vocabulary. It is among the western branch of these people, specifically the Wathaurong, that Buckley spent his time.

Aboriginal tribes around Port PhillipSource



Central to indigenous belief and mythology structures, the Corroboree is a ceremonial affair. Participants paint themselves in elaborate patterns, and the groups dance, drum and sing, connecting and interacting with the dreaming – the fundamental understanding of the universe, and creation.

The word itself is an anglicisation of cariberie, the word for such ceremonies in the area of Australia around the first British settlement of New South Wales. The ceremony was common throughout the country, but each nation and language grouping had their own specific terms for them.

Buckley taking part in a corroboree
– By Tommy McRae


Buckley’s Tattoo


Native warfare

Buckley’s account of life amidst the Wathaurong people is the first of a European spending extensive time in that region. He describes the nomadic life as one where fighting and violence was as central as trade and relationships. More often than not, these fights would occur over a perceived slight, and usually with a woman or women being at the centre of it all.

Aboriginal warrior from central Australia –
Herbert Basedow

Using spears and boomerangs as their main weapons, scores of people would set upon each other, and Buckley even recorded occasions where fire and smoke were used to suffocate an enemy tribe.

Yet, this fighting seems to have fit in within the whole interactive land, nature, trade system, and their propensity to arrange meetings and corroborees of different groupings, after which they would travel a time together, often breaking into fights.


A modern Corroboree

The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 9: Dividends

Listen to EpisodeDuration 46:13

saardam image
A sweet depiction of the long-boat mission to Batavia. The Batavia Tapestry by Melinda Piesse.

What was that crazy story that we just told? How much of it really happened? What does it all mean for our understanding of rebellion and resistance, and for how we perceive the role of defiance in events that have come before us? We explore all of this in the final episode of our series: The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia.


Do you want to read Pelsaert’s journal for yourself? Check it out here!

The two best books we found about the Batavia story were Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons and Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash.

The Unlikely Voyage of the Gemma Constantiniana

The most precious piece of cargo on the Batavia was an amazing Roman artifact called the “Gemma Constantiniana”.  This is a carved agate cameo, made in 315 CE in honour of Constantine’s victory over Maxinius 3 years earlier.  

That’s not a gate.
This is agate.  The Gemma Constantiniana, on display at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.

It shows the emperor, Constantine, his wife Fausta and his mum, even ancient Romans loved their mums, on a triumphal chariot, being pulled by centaurs, who are trampling over enemies whilst Victoria flies towards the emperor with a victory wreath.  It sounds awesome, and must have been ridiculously difficult to make from such precious material, but as you can see, it’s pretty damn ugly.  When the Roman capital was moved to Constantinople in 330CE, it went there, where it remained for about 900 years before it was stolen and taken to France during the 4th crusade, where it was stashed in a monastery.

Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (c1611-1612), The Art Gallery of Ontario.

In France, in 1622, the great painter Peter-Paul Rubens, of Massacre of the Innocents fame, acquired it.  Apparently he was a collector of ancient cameos.  And we thought our footy stickers collection was cool.  Anyway, Rubens got a hugely ornate frame with gems added to the cameo, then gave it to a guy called Gaspar Boudaen in Amsterdam, who was to sell it to the Great Mogul of India.  And so it was, that the cameo came into the possession of Francisco Pelsaert on the Batavia and became the ship’s most valuable individual item.  After the wreck of the ship, Jeronimus had all of Pelsaert’s jewels stashed in his great tent, so he would have slept next to the cameo every night, no doubt using it to try and woo his way into Lucretia’s skirts.  Nothing screams sexy to a woman like a carving of a Roman emperor and his mum crushing their enemies.

The most prized possession for Victorian children – footy stickers!  Check out how shiny it is.

After Pelsaert returned, he took the cameo to Fort Batavia.  From here, it was taken to Atjeh, Persia and India, but none of the rulers there had any interest in buying it, so 20 years later it returned to the Netherlands, where it was sold at an auction in Amsterdam. In 1808 it went to Paris and was almost sold to Napoleon, but events in 1813 got in the way, so instead it was bought by Dutch King Willem I in 1828, and has been displayed in various Dutch museums ever since.  Until 2016, that is, when it was loaned to the Museum of Western Australia for their exhibition “Travellers and Traders in the Indian Ocean World” until April 2017.  This thing has been seen by Roman emperors, French monks, world famous artists, greedy merchants, bloodthirsty mutineers, sultans, kings, generals and Australian bogans.  Strewth.

The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 8: Living off the Law of the Land


Listen to EpisodeDuration 57:43

The VOC is back! Three and a half months after Commander Pelsaert abandoned everybody to a life of brutality and thirst, finally those who have managed to survived may just be rescued. But who of the mutineers and the defenders will be able to tell their story first? How will the VOC react to the utter madness that has taken place on these islands? This episode tackles all this and more.

The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 7: Terra Hayesia


Listen to EpisodeDuration 40:20

In the history of European military aggression in Australia, this is where it all began. For the people that remain alive following the doomed voyage of the Batavia, not to mention the shipwreck and then the genocide that followed, they now have to face a civil war.

The loyalist soldiers, who have managed to find water, must now defend themselves against the murderous mutineers who hold dominion over the rest of the population.

You may think this whole story could not descend further down the wombat-hole of cruel absurdity. But we know you’ve also been paying very close attention. You know where this is going…


Statue of Wiebbe Hayes by Anthony Horn

The mutineers control the island Batavia’s Graveyard. The defenders, meanwhile, have built forts and are prepared to defend their stronghold, on the island labelled Wiebbe’s Island (Today it is called West-Wallabi Island). From here, they could wade to the High Island, where they’d found a fresh water spring.

Their little yawl, the best vessel amongst all the survivors, is kept secretly on the north-side of Wiebbe’s Island. It is obvious that any rescue ship will approach from the north, so the defenders know that they must row their yawl around the high island, and hopefully be the first to gain the attention of the rescuers.

Satellite image of the “Wallabi Group” of islands in the Houtman’s Abrolhos.

Fort Resistance:

The defenders on the high islands built two small forts out of loose, flat rocks that they had collected. Their remnants can still be seen today (the island now being known as West Wallabi Island)

Photo by Rupert Gerritsen

These forts are not only a testament to the cohesive and organised spirit of the resistance under Wiebbe Hayes, but also stand as evidence of how early European engagement took place in Australia. They are the first recorded European constructions built in Australia. This was 141 years before James Cook made contact with the East Coast, which until relatively recently was widely taught in schools as the first European discovery of Australia. The incident of the Batavia survivors,on the Houtman’s Abrolhos islands contributed greatly towards changing that historical perspective.

The defenders’ fort, in the very centre of the image, from a bird’s-eye view. Source

A Flagon of the Good Stuff:

At the end of this episode, we describe a flag, and want to clarify lest there be questions from our millions of adoring followers.

The Dutch flag as recognised today, (often confused with the Russian flag which we will get to), is a horizontal tri-colour flag of red, white and blue. See:


In 1628, this is basically the flag of the rebellious republic that is the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands. Basically. Actually, the flag that had become recognised as the flag of the nation, was orange, white and blue. This had originated due to it being the colours of livery of the Prince of Orange, who had led (was leading) the rebellion against the Spanish. His was the Prince’s Flag. It looks like this:


Dutch ships up until this point would most likely have been sailing under this flag. Those of the VOC would have had that brand mark printed on.


By 1630, however, not long after the tragedy of the Batavia, official flags were made using red, instead of orange. The most common explanation for this is that red was a much easier and more durable dye than orange, which would tend to fade to red fairly quickly anyway. Thus, the modern Dutch flag was born.

Under this flag, dutch ships sailed the world. The Dutch, originally under the auspices of the West-Indies Company (WIC), were responsible for mass-slavery, controlling the West African slave trade for hundreds of years. Under this flag, but with WIC printed in the middle, hundreds of thousands of women, men and children were forcibly taken to central and south America, to be enslaved by the growing needs of colonial plantation owners. It thus took on vastly different significance for different people and reasons.

The Prince’s Flag also provided the template for this flag, the South African national flag between 1928-1994:


Those are also years of grave and institutionalised racism, in the racial segregation system of apartheid. Those atrocities were also committed under the original colours of the colonial Dutch flag.

But! It does not end there.

The Russian Flag is a re-ordering of the Dutch flag. See:


This became the flag for the Tsardom of Russia in 1696. There are a couple of stories about exactly how this happened, but it is generally because Tsar Peter the Great spent a significant amount of time in the Netherlands, living and working in both Zaandam and Amsterdam as a shipwright. He wanted to modernise his empire, and the Dutch were the best ship-builders in the world. He would employ Dutch ship-wrights for the construction of his navy, and through all this took (oh so creative) inspiration from the flag of the Dutch Republic to give his own country its own.

Ah! So you think it ends there?

Guess again.

Here is the Indonesian flag:

indonesian flag

Now, there are multiple reasons given as to what the red-white combination means for the Indonesians and their country and its traditions. They are traditional colours, traceable back to varying ancient kingdoms. But this flag is also the Dutch flag without the blue. In the lead up to World War Two, the Dutch flag flew over Indonesia, given that it had been absorbed as a colony by the Dutch State when the VOC had finally collapsed in 1799. This flag was illegal, but in an act of resistance and rebellion that warms the cockles of one’s heart, in 1945 towards the end of the Japanese occupation and close to Indonesian Independence, students dramatically ripped the blue strip from the Dutch flag, symbolising the banishment of Dutch blue-blood aristocracy from their country.

So there. You’ve now been flagged by the authorities.

The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 6: Bloody Oath

Listen to EpisodeDuration 45:04

Upper Merchant Francisco Pelsaert, Captain Arjen Jacobsz and about 40 other people are sailing in a longboat north along the immense coast of Het Zuidland.  They’re on a rescue mission to the fort at Batavia, 3000kms north of where the ship Batavia has sunk at Houtman’s Abrolhos.  Unfortunately, they won’t be able to rescue as many people as they would like, because Jeronimus Cornelisz is about to go on a rampage of murder, sex slavery, and pretty much every other horrible thing you can think of.  Batavia’s Graveyard, July 1629, is one of those places in history that you would never, ever want to find yourself.

Addendum: We are aware that the title of this episode is the same as one in the Peter Fitzsimons book, Batavia.  We named it this and then realised it was the same after we had recorded it.  I guess we are equally as witty as him!  If you haven’t read Peter Fitzsimons’ book, you really should.  It’s fantastic.

The marooned people on Batavia’s Graveyard play a game of hide and seek to pass the time – from the Jan Jansz 1647 edition of Ongeluckige Voyagie. Source.
Aerial view of Batavia’s Graveyard today.Source.
A skeleton found on Batavia’ Graveyard.  WA Museum, Jeremy Green. Source.

The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 5: Jewels and Money First

Listen to EpisodeDuration 37.24


As all hell breaks loose aboard the sinking ship Batavia, saving the lives of crew and passengers aboard may not be the most important priority. In this episode, we look at how authority handles the most unique and unprecedented circumstances, stuck on a craggy island with little hope for rescue and even less hope for a cup of water.

Houtman’s Abrolhos – Batavia was heading north when the whole plan fell apart. By Greta van de Rol



The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 4: “Keep Your Eyes Open”

Listen to EpisodeDuration 47:47

This is a drawing of exactly what it looks like

Departing from Cape Town, Dutch ships were ordered to make their way south and then eastward, across the Indian Ocean once they’d reached the “Roaring Forties”: a latitude with particularly strong trade winds, discovered by Dutch explorer Hendrik Brouwer in 1610.

It should be fairly smooth sailing from here on for the Batavia, following this course. Were it not for the small matters of a brewing mutiny amidst the crew, divisions and distractions amongst the leaders of the ship and the impending doom that lays ahead, unbeknownst to them all, they may stand a chance…

(they don’t stand a chance.)

indian ocean routes
Trade routes across the Indian Ocean and Asia, used by the Dutch since the early 1600s.


Since ancient times, humans have used stars to determine direction, position, seasonal change, as well as justifying the occurrences of events and incidents.

Early seafaring depended a lot on staying in sight of land and the sailors having intimate knowledge of winds and conditions. Archeological records show that the Minoans in the Mediterranean gained an early understanding of celestial movement, often depending on the stars that make up the constellation of Ursa Major to move North/South on the sea. Ursa Major is still one of the most visible today, often recognised by the famous big dipper within. A famous reference to it is in Homer’s Odyssey, in which Calypso tells Odysseus to keep the bear on his left hand side. The bear is Ursa Major. It really does look like a bear! Look:

Ursa Major
Ursa Major

A bear!

Actually, we kind of think it looks more like the unholy offspring between a pokemon and a bilby, a small Australian marsupial.

pokemon index bilby

index=Ursa Major

Right? If only our northern predecessors had known of either of these things.

Anyway, great strides were made in maritime navigation during the heights of the Islamic Golden Age (8th-13th Centuries). There, they developed something called a kamal. Using a small piece of wood and knotted string that would be held between one’s teeth, they could calculate longitudinal position using known stars.

Demonstration of a kamal By Markus Nielbock
Using the horizon, identifying star, and knots along the string, position can be determined. By Markus Nielbock.

By the 14th century, European navigators had also started using something called a Jacob’s Staff or Cross-staff. It became recognised around Europe, but like all great inventions was most likely first developed by the Chinese some centuries before.

An illustration of how to use a Jacob’s Staff.
From Practical Navigation, by John Seller (1603-97)

The mariner’s astrolabe, probably first created in the 13th C, was perfected by the Portuguese explorers of the 16th C. Like all these tools of navigation, it was wrought with problems, such as that its proper use required it to remain on a vertical plane. Pretty difficult on a rocking ship.

astrolabe bigger
Using a mariner’s Astrolabe By Pearson Scott Foresman

When the Dutch started taking the Roaring Forties across the Indian Ocean, they became the first Europeans to come into contact with the West Coast of Australia. The 400th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s arrival on Dirk Hartog Island (what he had named Eendrachtsland) was celebrated in Australia in 2016.

Now, Dutch cartographers, such as John Blaeu, could rely on explorers’ charts of discovery to form a wider idea of the world.

Blaeu World Map,

The pewter plate that Hartog had left on the island was unveiled during a ceremony in WA, during which the King and Queen of the Netherlands were present.

Two things happened here:

– Australians were left speechless (a rare occurrence in itself) by seeing a Queen who hasn’t always looked centuries old. Everybody now agrees that if we must still have Queens, they should probably all be Argentinian.

-The Dutch royal couple were left ruing the fact that their (his) Golden-Age, republican predecessors had seen no commercial benefit in establishing a colony in a sun-kissed island paradise.


To show you what they returned to, here’s a photo of a spring holiday in Holland:


The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 3: Rites of Passage

Listen to EpisodeDuration 50:30

The reconstructed Batavia under sail Source

Life on board a ship in the 1600s was no joyous experience. In this episode, we look at what the crew, soldiers and passengers aboard the Batavia went through, as they made their way from the United Provinces to their first scheduled stop at the Cape of Good Hope: the southern tip of Africa.


A map of the established Portuguese route to India. VOC ship such as Batavia would follow the same route as far as the Cape of Good Hope.
By Walrasiad
ship terms
To be a pirate, one must first learn to talk like a pirate
Dutch ships in Table Bay. Tafelbaai – Aernout Smith, 1683.  Part of the William Fehr Collection, Cape Town.
Image result for batavia ship blueprint
Blueprint of VOC ship, such as Batavia, from mid-1600s. For specific section labels, check out this Source

The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 2: The Price of Spice

Listen to EpisodeDuration 31:53


In an age when traditional European feudalism was breaking down, the United Provinces of the Netherlands chartered the world’s first corporation.

The VOC would become a major authority for thousands of people, all around the world. In this episode we explore why and how the company came into existence, and what that meant for those who were (un)lucky enough to have anything to do with it.

Here’s where things get spicy…


Image result for asian spice trade

The East-Asian trade network. This had been long-established before the Portuguese, Dutch and other European merchants inserted themselves into it in the 16th and 17th centuries. Source

It was the Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias, who stumbled upon the route around the southern tip of Africa.

Bartolomeu Dias, South Africa House (cut).JPG

Statue of Bartolomeu Dias Source

The world’s great sea currents are now well-known.

The world’s gyres. Dias’ great discovery was of the Southern Atlantic Gyre; the one in the bottom-right of the map. Source

The European trade routes that came out of the Age of Discovery. The blue route is that to the Indies. Source

By the time Batavia set sail, the VOC had securely established its route to the Indies.

Image result for dutch trade routes 17th century

VOC trade network. Take note of what goods came from which places.

The VOC ultimately answered to the States General; the parliament of the Dutch Republic. The company, however, operated on the other side of the world in an age where no great oversight was possible, and at a time when the same families and class of society functioned within both bodies.

Image result for states general of the netherlands

Interior of the big hall of the Binnenhof in the Hague during the great assembly of the States General, 1651,
attributed to Bartholomeus van Bassen, (c. 1590-1652)

In 1619, under the command of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies for the VOC, the city of Jayakarta was destroyed by Dutch forces.

Image result for jan pietersz coen

Jan Pietersz. Coen, by unknown artist

In 1620, Coen established the fortress of Batavia, which would grow into a prominent trade city.

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Copperplate map of the fortress at Batavia, c. 1669

In 1621, Coen orchestrated the massacre of up to 14000 local people on the Banda Islands.  Masterless Japanese samurai, known as ronin, fought in the battle as mercenaries for the VOC.  Their presence shows how international the character and influence of the VOC was. It also shows what violent, brutal bastards they could be.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 14.48.41

The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 1: A “Scents” of the Past

Listen to EpisodeDuration 28.00

Dutch ship killing spanish galleys
Dutch Ships Ramming Spanish Galleys off the Flemish Coast in October 1602, Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom, (1617)

In October, 1628, a merchant ship called Batavia set sail from the Dutch republic bound for an island on the other side of the world called Java.  She was the flagship of a fleet of vessels being sent by the richest corporation to ever exist and, along with extremely precious cargo, carried 341 men and women, including captain, sailors, soldiers, passengers, merchants, a minister and his family.  Her voyage would end, however, on a jagged reef near a tiny set of islands off the Western Australian coast, and in the weeks that followed 110 men, women and children would be brutally murdered by a gang of bloodthirsty mutineers led by a psychopath who believed he could do no wrong since God himself inspired all his actions.

How did this extraordinary series of events come to pass? What can those events tell us about the wielding of – and subjugation to – power and authority?

We tackle this and more in what was, truly, the unfortunate voyage.

In this first episode we take a look at the situation in the Netherlands and Amsterdam in the 1500s and early 1600s. With a focus on the sensory elements that are so often forgotten in the telling of history, we explore the world in which the rebellion on the Batavia took place; and discover what conditions existed that would foster such an unfathomable story as this one.

Here’s a bunch of background stuff to sink your teeth into:

The Happening Times of the mid 1500s

Charles V was born in Gent and he had a massive chin. It was absolutely huge. It betrayed his ancestry as a Habsburg, many of whom are known to have had similarly strong chins. Here’s a painting of Charles V. We’re sure you’ll agree, he was a very dashing young man.

Image result for habsburg chins
Portrait from 1514-16 by an unknown Flemish artist

Charles was the heir to three of the most powerful dynasties in Europe (Habsburg, Trastámara and Valois-Burgundy). His inheritance therefore included:

  • Rule over Austria and large parts of central Europe, and being elected as Holy Roman Emperor (Habsburg)
  • The thrones of Castile & Aragon, giving him all of Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean region (Trastámara)
  • The Burgundian Netherlands and Franche-Comté (Valois-Burgundy)

The map below shows that, by being the sole ruler of separate states and entities, his domain was to Europe what his chin was to his face. Unmissable.

Image result for charles v empire
Map of Europe c. 1530s Source

And, just to get our bearings, here is a map showing the breadth of Burgundian power in the region that matters most to our story – The Lowlands

Figure 1. The Burgundian Low Countries (map from Marco Zanoli). 
Map of the territories ruled by the Duchy of Burgundy c 1490s by Marc Zanoli


When Charles V abdicated in 1555 he split his empire up in a, sort of, East-West division. His brother Ferdinand took over the Habsburg duties (Austria and central Europe), whilst his son Philip II inherited the houses of Trastámara and Valois-Burgundy (Spain and all worldwide possessions and the Spanish Netherlands). Here’s Philip II:

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Philip II of Spain, Antonis Mor, (c. 1555-8)

Not a great painting. So here he is with a nice hat:

Image result for philip II
Portrait of Philip II of Spain, Sofonisba Anguissola

Philip once said:

“I would rather lose all my lands and a hundred lives than be king over heretics.”

What a wanker. It’s our belief that with that attitude, he was basically just asking for what was coming to him.

The figurehead for the Dutch revolt was a Skywalkeresque prince named William of Orange. He would come to be known as William the Silent.

Image result for william the silent
Willy winning the hat competition Source

William was born and raised a Lutheran, but at a young age he received a large inheritance of predominantly Catholic territory. The condition of this inheritance was that he receive a Catholic education, to which his father grudgingly assented. Among a bunch of new titles was a big one: Prince of Orange.

The Principality of Orange was actually in the south of France, in the region of Provence.  From its creation in 1163, it had been tossed around various of the many inbreds that constituted European medieval aristocracy until it ended in the pocket of the Princes of Orange-Nassau.  It would be ceded to France in 1713 via the Treaty of Utrecht.

The young Prince of Orange’s teenage years were spent at the court of Margaret of Parma, in Brussels. She was the sister of Charles V and the effective governor, on Charles’ behalf, of the Netherlands.

File:Mary (1505–1558), Queen of Hungary.jpg
Mary (1505-1558), Queen of Hungary, Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen.
(Forgot to bring a hat)

Charles himself, in fact, took great affection to the young William. When the old Emperor abdicated, it was William’s shoulder upon which he leaned, as his son was coronated.  William and Philip knew each other well, having spent very important years in each others’ company. Their lives would remain entwined.

As Philip began to enact a more autocratic and fervently Catholic rule over his Burgundian territories, the centralisation of power began to pull at the purse and liberty strings of the Dutch middle and upper classes. At the same time, Calvinism was spreading, carrying with it the sense of individual-rights that was so effective within all Protestant beliefs.

Philip and William were still close, and in 1559 Philip appointed William to the role of Stadhouder – the King of Spain’s representative in the Netherlands; the highest noble in the land.

But momentum kept growing and growing for an up-rising against Spanish domination within the Dutch political realm. William, who had received both a Lutheran and Catholic up-bringing, began to simmer in opposition to the escalation of Spanish persecution of Protestants in the Netherlands.

Throughout the late 1560s, there was a fair bit of back and forth political wrangling between the ruling court in Brussels and various factions of Dutch noblemen who were seeking greater political freedoms.

In 1566, an iconoclastic fury erupted in Antwerp, and began to sweep north, through the low countries. This iconoclasm involved various but many Protestants expressing their feelings of political and social oppression by smashing the statues and pictures of saints in any and all churches. This made political tensions even tighter, but it also focused Philip’s mind towards the purpose of eradicating heresy.

Image result for iconoclastic fury 1566
The Calvinist Iconoclastic Riot of August 20Frans Hogenberg, 1566 (etching based in Antwerp)

The full might of the Spanish inquisition arrived, perhaps not so unexpectedly, in 1567, in the form of a man called Fernando Álvarez de Toledo.

He liked to burn Protestants, so he became the creepy and violent dude in the story.

One of the people he wanted to burn was William, our prince hero.

William, however, had other plans, and ran off to take his rightful position as leader of the Dutch revolt, raising armies and going super-saiyan against old Fernando and the Spanish.

Scientists believe this is how the Dutch got their famous blonde hair.

in 1580 he wrote in a public letter that he had decided to lead the rebellion when, on a hunting trip with King Henry II of France, he was told of Philip and Henry’s plan to exterminate all the Protestants in “the entire Christian World”. Henry mistakenly thought that William was in on the deal, and William remained silent whilst he listened and did not betray that it was all new to him. Therefore… William the Silent.

Amsterdam – Growth of a City


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Bird’s-eye view of Amsterdam, Cornelis Anthonisz.


Amstelodami Celeberrimi Hollandiae Emporii Delineatio Nova, J. Blau

From this view, you can note the extension of the city to the right side of the image; the construction of two new neighbourhoods and 4 canals.


Map of Amsterdam, published by Nicolaus Visscher, by Daniel Stalpaert.

The canals have been extended to swing around the entire city.


Map of Amsterdam, Daniel Stalpaert.


The forest of pylons upon which Amsterdam was built is still holding the city up. Photo by David Cenzer.

An amazing animation of the growth of Amsterdam, Stadsarchief Amsterdam.

Son of Iniquity – Episode 9: The Effects

Listen to EpisodeDuration 11.31

Perhaps he didn’t intend it. Perhaps, Martin Luther simply wanted to start a discussion. Whatever his intentions, his actions shattered the structure of European society.

Luther saw the immediate impacts of his resistance on the world around him, but he would die before some of the most cataclysmic effects occurred. Arguably, we are still living through them as their reverberations echo through time.

In this episode we summarise some of the consequences of Luther’s resistance, whilst ignoring much about his life that will have to wait for another, much different podcast.

Thank you for riding this wave with us and see you for the next story of rebellion and resistance.

Actually we won’t see you. Audio medium. Talk to you soon ladies and gents.

Oh and STUFF what you tell me!

“Why would anyone tolerate such things from someone like you, a rotten paunch, crude ass and fart-ass?” – from ‘Against the Roman Papacy, an Institution of the Devil’.

German Peasants Revolt 1524-25

The feudal structure in Germany was crumbling and discontent spread across the temporal realm as much as the spiritual. It is hard to ignore the coincidence of Luther’s call for individual spirituality, with a greater demand for individual rights. This map shows how the revolt happened in much the same hot-spot from which both the printing press and Luther’s reformation had come forth.

The locality of the conflict.

Map courtesy of Susan M. Pojer


Good Stuff on Luther and other Shizzle:

Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1483-1521, Martin Brecht (Fortress Press, 1985)

Here I Stand – A life of Martin Luther, Roland Bainton, (Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950)

Martin Luther: The Man and his Vision, Scott H. Hendrix, (Yale University, 2015)

Luther: Translator of Paul, Heinz Bluhm, (P. Lang, 1984)

The Holy Roman Empire 1495-1806Peter H. Wilson, (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011)

The Popes, John Julius Norwich, (Random House, 2011)

Lutheran Insulter –  a website which picks randomly selected insults from Luther’s body of work.  They have a lot of material to choose from


Son of Iniquity – Episode 8: Hold!

Listen to EpisodeDuration: 26.20

Like a burning-hot microphone, Luther had dropped his theology onto the stage of European society. The Church was tardy in its response, standing at the back of the crowd, generally just disturbed by the noise.

The general population began to grab a hold of these reforming ideas and Luther began to clarify and solidify his position. Stubbornly, that position would not change.

In this episode we cover the next several years of Luther’s rebellion against the most powerful authority the world had ever known.

An artist’s representation of Luther dropping the mic.

Although he would become a leader of the Reformation, quite quickly it had left his control and was being waged in various ways across Europe. Often, these were ways that Luther was totally opposed to.

Diet of Worms

It’s fun to take some of Martin Luther’s much later quotes, and apply them to this scene of Luther before the Emperor at the Diet of Worms in 1521.

For example:

“But I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away” – Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877

Some of Luther’s Other Work

Besides his 95 theses, Luther completed a monumental body of work throughout his life.

In 1520, he wrote three core pieces which also underpinned his resistance. He felt the need to clarify his theological views to a laity that was now reading them:

To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation


Emphasised the “priesthood of all believers”, setting a tone for individualism and attacked the spiritual/temporal power structures, authority on scripture and interpretation, and the Church’s primacy to call an ecclesiastical council.

On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church


Laid out Luther’s views on the sacraments of the Church, which Luther now looked at through the lens of his developed ‘Sola Fides’ theology.

On the Freedom of a Christian


Developed his “justification by faith” concept and argued that a Christian is fully free but through that freedom fully submissive to God’s grace.

Asinus ad Lyram – Ass Playing Harp

Ass playing harp, from the Hunterian Psalter, England, circa. 117

The image is not originally Luther’s and can be seen in religious imagery across Europe and into the Middle-East, going back thousands of years.

The usual connection is with a fable, wherein an ass finds a lyre in a field and tries to play it, being unable to however because of his large hooves. Frustratingly, he has big and capable ears for listening to music and rues that someone better suited had not found the lyre so that he (the ass) could appreciate good music.²

This generally came to symbolise ignorance of Christ and by the 6th and 7th centuries came to represent paganism and heathens ignorant of the Church’s grace. In many Romanesque churches from the 10th century this would often be portrayed within an image of an ass playing to a goat, as well as in various prints and biblical manuscripts from the 12th century.

Luther used the image to relate how useless he thought the Church inquisitor, Cajetan, actually was, when they met after the Diet of Augsburg in 1518. In a letter he said that Cajetan was as suited to discussing Luther’s theology as an ‘ass was suited to playing a harp’. The image could retain its sense of “Ignorance” and, even as Luther railed more against the polytheism of the Roman Church, it could maintain its representation of Paganism.

Luther and fellow Protestants soon took to referring the Pope as “Ass-Pope” (Old German slang: Bapstesel), and the image stuck…

Many satirists and cartoonists would skirt trouble by using the image as a reference to the Catholic Church/Pope at this time.

Satirical cartoon from 1500s. Title: ‘The Ass-Pope of Rome’/’Der Bapstesel zu Rom’

²Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies, Jan M. Ziolkowski, (UMP, 2007), p. 216

Son of Iniquity – Episode 7: The Accident of Great Resistance

Listen to EpisodeDuration: 15.34

It’s tempting to imagine that Luther dropped a bombshell when he released his theses. However, it was more like he stuck a paper-bag full of theologically contentious dog-poo outside the Church’s front door and set it on fire. The Church did not answer the doorbell, and while Luther went about telling people why he’d done it, the flaming-poo-bag set the whole house ablaze.

His theology was now in the open and thanks to the quick hands of his supporters and the availability of the printing press, Luther’s ideas started becoming popular. This, however, would bring its own problems…

In this episode, we look at Luther’s 95 theses, what he did with them, and what they did to everyone else.

Luther the Rebel

The first official thing Martin Luther had to do after sending his theses was to attend a convening of the Augustinian order in Heidelberg. He would receive an unexpected welcome.

Over the next many years, Luther would travel a lot within the area that was picking up on his resistance. The map below is handy if you’re into thinking of Luther, stubborn but scared for his life, venturing out from Wittenberg and into the Germany that he was about to change forever.


Map courtesy of JWCE Tours

An Impressive Press

Luther produced work with immense profligacy. He also operated within (and was the leader of) a group of academics and theologians who produced work building the terms of the Reformation. This work spread quickly throughout the continent thanks to the printing press.

By the time of Luther’s resistance, the printing press had been increasing in operation across Europe over the previous 50 years. The epicenter of its creation by Johannes Gutenberg¹ was in Mainz, Germany where, years later, indulgences would be sold and so light Luther’s fuse and instigate the 95 theses.

Geez this was a happening time.

The printing press, much like the Lutheran Reformation, spread out from central Germany

Map courtesy of Susan M. Pojer www.slidego.com/go/11690

Look also at http://www.atlas.lib.uiowa.edu

¹Type: The Secret History of Letters, Simon Loxley, (I.B Tauris, 2006). Laurens Janszoon Coster, from Haarlem in Holland, is believed by some to have been the first creator of a printing press. In the 1500s he was credited by the author Hadrianus Junius with creating a sort of movable type after pressing bark into sand in the Haarlemmer woods. These woods were burned in 1426 due to war, meaning he must have done it 20 years before Gutenberg, who is famously credited with the invention.   

Son of Iniquity – Episode 6: Indulge Me These Theses

Listen to EpisodeDuration: 8.15

Corruption had been given a thousand years to entwine itself within the administrative and dogmatic structure of the Church. Indulgences were an example of money being paid in exchange for spiritual benefit.

The Pope held control over everybody’s soul so, well, you may as well do what you can to make the Pope happy. Who could have a problem with this kind of practice?

Martin Luther. That’s who.

In this episode we look at indulgences: where they came from, and what they could get you.

95 Theses. Translation – ‘Suck it, Pope. Pay for your own church.’

Son of Iniquity – Episode 5: The Second Resistance

Listen to EpisodeDuration: 5.46

Between the years 1510-1520 Luther lectured in Wittenberg on the Psalms, the books of Hebrews, Romans and Galatians. This would take him on a mad spiritual trip that would come to reconcile him with God. Better than ayahuasca, faith alone is all that Martin needed.

In this episode we dabble in a bit of monkish mind magic, peering into this fan-dangled theology of Martin Luther.

Martin Luther discovering Justification by Faith, by Edward Matthew Ward, 19th c.

Son of Iniquity – Episode 4: Temporal Vs Spiritual

Listen to EpisodeDuration: 10.16

Luther lived in the state of the Saxony, within the Holy Roman Empire. The dominance of the Church pervaded through all aspects of the society, but within the framework of the spiritual domain.

The temporal domain structure wielded rule in the physical world. These two power structures were interconnected and interdependent.

In this episode we go a little into this complicated and somewhat ridiculous power complex. Ooooh yea.

“In no way Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire…”

– Voltaire

The Borders

Map of the Holy Roman Empire in mid 1500s

Map courtesy of Susan M. Pojer

Although throughout its existence the borders were never absolutely established, the map above shows that the Empire stretched across most of Central Europe. Note the strategic importance of access to all four seas in all four corners of the Empire.

Spiritual Domain 

The map below displays the domain of Church authority within (and reaching out of) the Holy Roman Empire. Church administration penetrated all states of Europe. The borders of Church rule disregarded different state borders.

See, for example, the Archdiocese of Reims. A part of it is in the Holy Roman Empire, while the greater part is within the French Empire. The Bishop’s ecclesiastical domains were trans-national.

Map of the ecclesiastical organisation within the HRE, circa 1500

Courtesy of http://www.edmaps.com

Temporal Domain

From 1500 the Holy Roman Empire began to be organised into “Imperial Circles”, as shown by the map below. This was a way of organising the temporal administration, collective defense, and tax collection throughout the Empire.

Some parts, such as the lands of the Bohemian Crown, the Italian territories and the Swiss Confederacy remained “unencircled”, meaning they maintained their own administrative structures and autonomy. In the Empire there were also territories – villages and cities – that attained “imperial immediacy”, meaning that they did not fall under the direct rule of anybody but the Emperor.

Map of the Holy Roman Imperial Circles, circa 1512

Courtesy of http://www.en.numista.com

Son of Iniquity – Episode 3: Luther the Monk

Listen to EpisodeDuration: 9.11

Luther’s solution to his over-bearing thoughtfulness about the world was to become a monk. What a radical!

His time in the monastery would help shape many things that he would stand for and many things that he would stand against.

In this episode, we go through Luther’s transition and travel with him to Rome, where he will learn how monking is really done and climb some very special stairs. Say your pater nosters folks, it’s about to get real.

Engraving of Luther as a monk, Cranach, 1520. Text implies that, while Luther’s ideas may be eternal, the paper, the subject and the artist will all pass away.

Son of Iniquity – Episode 2: The First Resistance

Listen to EpisodeDuration: 9.38

Before he became an earth-shattering theologian, Martin Luther was on the path to becoming a lawyer. But after being struck by perhaps the most influential lightning bolt in history, his life was forever changed and the world would get one less lawyer.

In this episode we look at Luther’s early life, and look at his first rebellion; that against his parents.

Luther’s Birth-Town

Eisleben, around 1650

Wikimedia commons: Foto H.-P.Haack

Luther’s Parents

Portrait of Hans Luther, Luther’s father / Portrait of Margaretha Luther, Luther’s Mother – Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1527

“You parents can provide no better gift for your children than an education in the liberal arts. House and home burn down, but an education is easy to carry along”

– Martin Luther

Son of Iniquity – Episode 1: The Authority

Listen to Episode

Duration: 11.21

500 years ago Martin Luther stood up to the might and authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Pitted against the most established institution in European history, Luther would bear and wield an idea that should have gotten him killed.

Instead, he rode a wave of luck and circumstance to stand up for what he believed in, against everything that was thrown at him. Those beliefs turned out to be of such magnitude that they would usher in a whole new world, forever reeling from and expanding upon the resistance of Martin Luther.

In this first episode, we are introduced to the world that would forever be changed by an Augustinian monk.

This is you! It was painted by Raphael, no less.