PELSAERT, François (c. 1595 - 1630)
Ongeluckige voyagie van het schip Batavia uytgevaren onder’t beleydt van den E. Francois Pelsaert, na Oost-Indien, en gebleven is op de Abrollos van Frederick Houtman, …
Verhalende ‘t verongelucken des schips / en de grouwelijcke moordery onder ‘t scheeps-volck / op ‘t eylandt Bataviers Kerckhof, nevens de justitie gedaen sen de moetwillige in de jaren 1628 en 1629.
Amsterdam: Gillis Joosten Saeghman, n.d. [circa 1663].
Small quarto, later half-vellum over marbled boards (rubbed), manuscript title to spine, ex libris bookplates to endpapers, pp. 44, title page with woodcut vignette and paper repair to the gutter, allegorical woodcut verso, six copperplate vignette illustrations in the text; which is printed in two columns with occasional sidenotes, occasional pale foxing, else a very good example of this rare work.
The story of the shipwreck of the Batavia remains one of the most gripping in all maritime history. In 1629, the VOC ship Batavia under the command of François Pelsaert was wrecked on on Morning Reef on the Houtman Abrolhos off the West Australian coast, during her maiden voyage from the Netherlands to Batavia, Java. There were over 300 passengers aboard, mainly settlers, merchants and their families, of which 40 drowned while attempting to reach shore. The survivors were grouped on two small desolate islands, while Pelsaert and his crew searched the shore on the mainland for a fresh water supply, to no avail. Faced with disaster, Pelsaert with a few companions sailed by longboat along the West Australian coastline to the city of Batavia, a remarkable feat of navigation which lasted 33 days without supplies.
The Batavian Governor General gave Pelsaert command of a rescue vessel the Saardam and he sailed back to the site of the wreck, arriving two months after his departure. Upon return, Pelsaert discovered with horror that a a brutal and sustained massacre had taken place under the authority of Jeronimus Cornelisz, the apothecary Pelsaert had left in charge during his rescue mission. During the voyage Cornelisz had entertained plans of mutiny, which manifested during Pelsaert’s absence. With a loyal band of mutineers a reign of terror was inflicted upon the survivors. Over 110 men, women and children were murdered, the women subjugated to sexual slavery at the whim of Cornelisz and his followers, while Cornelisz eliminated any perceived threats to his personal authority.
As part of his strategy to seize control, Cornelisz had sent a party of soldiers to a nearby island in the search of water, only to leave them abandoned to die. In an ironic twist, the island did hold good supplies of fresh waters, and at the time of Pelsaert’s return, the abandoned soldiers were engaged in combat with the mutineers, who had raided in the search for fresh water, and had seized Cornelisz as their hostage. As Pelsaert’s ship returned, mutineers and soldiers raced towards it, the soldier Wiebbe Hayes arrived first and was able to recount the grisly tale of Cornelisz’s brutality. The island despot and his main supporters were tried, tortured and summarily executed, while the other mutineers taken to Batavia for punishment. Before his hanging, Cornelisz’s arms were amputated by hammer and chisel, a scene depicted in one of the copperplates. Two offenders, Wouter Loos and a cabin boy, Jan Pelgrom de By were left abandoned on the Australian mainland and never heard of again.
The horrific story of the wreck of the Batavia was first published in Amsterdam in 1647 and is of the utmost rarity. Five editions followed in the seventeenth century, including two pirated versions. This edition has been catalogued at times as being 1648 but is, in fact, from circa 1663 (Landwehr). The six copperplates dramatically illustrate the narrative while the woodcut on the title page shows an imagined scene of the Batavia in sail alongside the Saardam.
All early editions of Pelsaert are rare, the Saeghman edition held in two Australian collections (none in Western Australia) and a handful of libraries internationally.
Landwehr, VOC, 411.
Jan Francois Leopold de Balbian Vester (1861 – 1939), journalist and historian of the Dutch East Indies, his bookplate to front pastedown
Govert L. de Leeuw (twentieth century), his bookplate to front free endpaper
Private collection, Australia