Ascension Island is not a paradise island. On the contrary is a tiny black spot emerged, only a few centuries ago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Dry and with no vegetation. Who would have liked to stop by there, in the middle of nowhere?
No one. The island remained uninhabited up until the 1815, when the British decided that it was necessary to control that no one would have tried to free Napoleon Bonaparte from the Saint Helena island, the closest plot of land from Ascension.
Before the 1815 though someone had tried to live in the island but they eventually gave up for the hostile nature of the area
May 1725: the 17 directors of the Dutch East India Company received an “unsettling report”. Two members of the crew of one of their merchant ships were charged and plead guilty to have committed the “sins of Sodom and Gomorrah”.
Apparently on board of one of their ships, two sailors were having an intimate homosexual relationship with each other. There were witnesses who had seen Leendert Hasenbosch, corporal with duties as a bookkeeper in obvious romantic attitude with a guy of the crew, a simple cabin boy.
Hasenbosch and the young guy denied. The caporal, 39 years old at that time, stated to have had paternal attention for the guy, and to consider him as a son. The captain did not believe any of the statements of the two and, as was customary, started using convincing methods to extort a confession. They started with placing fired wicks between the fingers of their feet. The two men did not give up
but there were plenty of tools, so it was just a matter of time
After the first torture, Leendert endured the one of water. A cloth wrapped around his face, soaked in water and the man had to drink it all for not drowning. He lost consciousness but when he recovered, he confessed all that the commander wanted to hear.
The Ascension island in an illustration from the 1853
Homosexuality was considered at that time as a scourge able to attract the divine wrath; if unpunished, all the crew would have suffered the consequences. The sinners had to die then. Usually the guilty parties of sodomy were tied together and thrown into the sea, even when the intercourse was not consenting.
the victims of violence would endure the same fate of the rapist
As for Hasenbosch the commander did not follow the procedure maybe as he was not a simple sailor; instead the man was a respected member of the crew with 20 years of career at the service of the Dutch East India Company.
The trial took place on the 17th of April 1725, while his ship was stopped in Cape Town. On the 5th of May Leendert Hasenbosch was left by himself in the island of Ascension, that awful desolate island in the middle of the Atlantic. He brought along with it some seeds, a tent, some tools, a book of prayers, some clothes, materials for writing and a stock of water for a month.
Finding water was the main problem for the man: he found springs but just some small ones that soon ran out. Leendert was unlucky as in reality in the island there were two main springs of water, which 20 years before had symbolized the salvation of 60 British castaways.
Illustration of Ascension – 1867
The survival in Ascension is complex: the ex sailor tells through the pages of his diary how his days and months passed by in complete solitude, with no solace, with his body covered in blisters and in the tragic research of water that he could not find. To quench its thirst he started drinking birds and green turtles blood that inhabited the island. He eventually ended up drinking his own urine, which at least did not cause him the terrible diarrhoea attacks that the turtle blood would make him have.
Throughout the months the pages of his diary became increasingly more delirious: the man started seeing his old friends and ask himself about the nature of his crime and the terrible punishment he received. The guilt gripped him and monstrous demons appeared before him.
Leendert died within the first year. When the British sailors of the “James and Mary” ship went ashore on the island in January 1726, they realised that a man had lived there not so long before. A ripped tent, some clothes and a few pages of a diary was all it was left of him. His body was not recovered; maybe with his last strength, Leendert had decided to slip through the water of the Atlantic which could not slake his thirst but could welcome him as a mother.
The diary of Hasenbosch was taken to the UK and promptly published as a warning for the tragic consequences that the sin of Sodomy would lead to.
First edition of the diary of Hasenbosch
The first edition was titled “Sodomy Punish’d” while the following versions turned into “The Just Vengeance of Heaven Exemplify’d”.
The original diary went lost but it is very likely that the demonic apparitions as well as the unsolvable guilt of the islander had been changed by the editors, evidently homophobic.
The destiny of the young sailor condemned with Hasenbosch is unknown. To him, not even the luxury of memory was granted.