Abel Remembers

Murderers Bay


They had the best of it

Although we did

Surprise them with our cannons, several times

Still, three men dead

One captured

And the Council of the Indies said

‘Use great care in all places with small craft’


Easy enough to say; they weren’t here

Easy enough in Fort Batavia

With native doxies at their beck and call

To blame all this misconsequence on me


‘Make contact properly and amicably’

So wrote Van Dieman and his councillors

Simple to say; and later they would say

‘Though we specifically instructed him

He went against us, fired off the guns

Aroused the native people’s enmity

Demote him! Punish him! He isn’t competent!

Abel, as seaman, but when all is said

He is a nobody; unworthy of command


Why did they give it then?

I know: it is because

Their ships are costly, and I bring them home

I’m careful, of the ships and of the men


That’s why I fired off the cannons on the upper deck

Abraham mewed: ‘Trumpets are sounded by ambassadors

Theirs might sound strange to us,

As ours to them, yet still mean peace’ I thought

‘No! Devil take it! These do not mean peace!


Darkness, and enemies around my ships

No rest for us all night; a host on shore

Yde and Isaac didn’t stay to talk to them

But hastened back, bending their backs, the Southlanders

In hot pursuit; in a pig’s eye they wanted peace!


Now: three men dead, one carried off alive

The milk’s been spilt; and nothing to be gained by argument

We’ve all agreed, at last

To hold this land’s inhabitants as enemies

I knew it when I first

Saw them. I’m not a sole commander, like an English admiral

Yet VOC will still hold me accountable


I’ve tailored my report. Both skippers have agreed

To mend their logs; if I’m to blame, we all are.

Let it be

Remembered as I have reported it:



The guns were fired on the night of the 18th

After the Southlanders went back to shore

‘Blown off’, in order to reload

With fresh dry powder, that we might prevent mischance.


Not scrupulously true, but true enough

For I believe it did prevent mischance:

Stopped their performance; sent them back to land


Of Gerrit’s leaving council, and his subsequent

unwise command, which I think were the nub of it

I’ve written that the Zeehaen’s skipper sent his quartermaster back

With rowers. Not a word about

Our gunner, bustled off to Zeehaen over Yde’s head


Those rogues! How well they watched for such an opportunity

We did not understand

Their shouting; looking back on it, they had it planned.


Halfway between us, all of their canoes

Converging on the boat, barring its way

Oh, cleverly they managed it, from start to finish, out of musket range

Before we even trained our cannon, by the time I reached the rail

It was over; screams

Of those left in the boat

Snuffed out, and one still struggling, carried off to land


So, tell the Council of the Indies that I left

A live man, prisoner in the hands

Of unknown Southlanders?


Why? What would be achieved? I’m sure I made

The right decision

By the time we got our anchors up

And took the ships inshore

To punish them, their victim would most probably be dead

In any case, rescue impossible

And the attempt would put us all at risk


We sailed east. It was the right

Decision. A flotilla of their boats, swarming with people, put out after us

Faster than us, and they outnumbered us


But once again, our cannons proved too hot

We killed the leader with a lucky shot


In my report on it I simply said

the man they captured was already dead