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The first book on Australia, in Saeghman 1663 edition, by François Pelsaert

Stock number: 19013

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Francisco Pelsaert (biography)


Ongeluckige Voyagie, Van't Schip Batavia, Nae de Oost-Indien.

First Published

Amsterdam, 1647

This Edition

1663 Saeghman edition




François Pelsaert's account of the wrecking and mutiny of the Dutch East Indiaman Batavia on the reefs of Western Australia in 1629 and it's gruesome aftermath.

The first views of Australia, the first book on Australia, the first Europeans arriving in Australia, the first European settlers in Australia. The best known and most frequently retold story of the discovery of Australia.

Saeghman's 1663 edition of this seminal account

The final edition with the six images used as text illustrations, each within an ornamental side border.

Published by Gillis Joosten Saeghman in Amsterdam.

The Dutch text was first translated and published in English in the 1897 Christmas edition of Western Australia's the Western Mail newspaper in an article titled "The Abrolhos Tragedy".

Pelsaert, François. Ongeluckige Voyagie, van't Schip Batavia, Uytgevaren onder 't beleydt van den E. Francoys Pelsert, nae de Oost-Indien. En gebleven is op de Abrollos van Fredrick Houtman... Verhalende 't verongelucken des Schips, en de grouwelijcke Moorderyen onder 't Scheepsvolck, op ‘t Eylant Bataviers Kerck-hof; nevens de Justitie gedaen aen de Moetwillige in de jaren 1628 en 1629. t' Amsterdam, Gillis Joosten Saeghman.

Wrecked on the Abrolhos of Frederick Houtman, at Latitude of 28 1/3 degrees South of the Equinoctial Line. Sailed under the Honourable Francoys Pelsert. Containing an account of the shipwreck, as well as the Horrible Murders among the Crew and Passengers on the Island “Bataviaes Kerck Hof” (Batavia’s Church-yard), also, the Justice served to the Criminals. Occurred in the Years 1628 and 1629. AMSTERDAM Gillis Joosten Saeghan.


Pristine condition. Contemporary marble paper wrappers. Very fine copy of a book that is lacking in all collections.

The Voyage of the Batavia by François Pelsaert

Eighteen years after the wreck of the Batavia and the subsequent mutiny of part of the crew, the dramatic events became the subject of a sensational book based on François Pelsaert's journals.

First published in Amsterdam by Jan Jansz in 1647, the Ongeluckige Voyagie, Van't Schip Batavia was an immediate success with Jansz publishing a second edition in 1648. Between 1648 and 1670 there were four other pirated editions published in Amsterdam and Utrecht and over the next century abbreviated accounts of the mutiny were also published in many compendiums of voyages, most notably in Melchisidec Thévenot's Relations de divers voyages (Paris, 1663-1696) where the account is accompanied by a famous map of Australia based on Tasman's voyages.

Apart from its inherent interest, Jansz's account of Pelsaert's voyage is of special importance as the first printed book to describe the exploration of the Australian coast from the discoverer's own journal. Jansz's volume was produced in the characteristic style used for Dutch popular editions of narratives of voyagers and travellers and, in fact, included on the last 60 pages accounts of travels in Siam and Persia. The Batavia portion of the volume that is a small quarto volume of 122 pages in total, with 15 illustrations engraved on six copperplates. These 15 engravings are also the earliest published representations of the Australian landscape. Only in the original Jansz editions are the illustrations found.

It is perhaps the sensational and popular nature of the book - which meant it was read heavily and carelessly during its early life – that has led to the first edition becoming a great rarity today. Landwehr in his 1991 bibliography of the Dutch East India Company records three public holdings in the Netherlands, there are two copies in American libraries and six copies held publicly in Australia; another two are held in Australian private collections. Very few early Australian books are of such rarity and importance that they are valued in six figures: the first edition of Pelsaert's voyage has the distinction of being one of them.

(Hordern House, Publisher's Note to the 2009 facsimile of the 1647 edition)

The Davidson Collection

In March 2005, Australia Book Auctions of Melbourne sold the book collection of Rodney Davidson, an important book collector. One of the highlights of the auction was lot nr 15, a 1647 first edition of the Pelsaert, bound in modern half morocco and with the title page supplied from another copy. It sold for AUD 466,000 (USD 369,000 at the time) to a book collector in the Netherlands. We repeat the auction description here.


The extremely rare first edition of Pelsaert's account of the wreck of the Batavia on the West Australian coast in 1629 and its bloody aftermath, one of the best known and most frequently retold stories relating to the discovery of Australia.

The VOC ship Batavia, carrying over 300 settlers, merchants and their servants, ran aground without warning on Houtman's Abrolhos in June 1629. With only two small islands at hand, Pelsaert landed 180 survivors on the larger island and 40 on the smaller; 70 of the crew were left on the wreck. Pelsaert himself took the ship’s boat with a small crew, made the coast of Western Australia and sailed north to Batavia to get help.

In thus sailing east Pelsaert took a great risk since the existence of a mainland was merely conjectural. His guess proved correct and in the course of his epic boat journey Pelsaert discovered a large section of the Western Australian coast, from the point east of Houtman's Abrolhos up as far as North-West Cape.

When he returned on the Sardam, Pelsaert found that some of the crew left on the wreck had made for the islands, intending to seize the ship when it arrived and turn pirate. On the small island they had slaughtered all the men and raped the women, taking them into concubinage. They also slaughtered many of those on the larger island who would not join them. The leader of the bloody mutiny was a former apothecary, Jeronimus Cornelisz.

Pelsaert captured the mutineers, tortured and tried them, and hanged five of the seven leaders, including Cornelisz, in gallows set up on shore. The rest were taken for trial and execution in Batavia apart from two whom he marooned on the coast of the “Southland”, thereby bringing European justice to Australian shores and commencing a tradition of dumping criminals in Australia that was to be enthusiastically embraced by the English over 150 years later.

The first printed accounts of the wreck, the mutiny, and Pelsaert's important coastal discoveries did not appear until 1647 when this well-illustrated edition of Pelsaert's journal was published in Amsterdam by Jan Jansz.

The descriptive title may be translated: “The disastrous voyage of the ship Batavia, sailing for the East Indies. Wrecked on Frederick van Houtman's Abrolhos... Commanded by E. François Pelsaert. Account of the shipwreck as well as the horrible massacre committed by the ships crew, their rescue on Batavia’s Kerckhof Island and the punishment of the murderers in 1628 and 1629...”

Pelsaert’s vivid account contains important descriptions of the Australian coast and even includes the first published description of the kangaroo (“a species of cat, which are very strange creatures – the forepaws are very short - and its hind legs are upwards of half an ell, and it walks on these alone”. The woodcut illustrations include graphic representations of the massacre and subsequent torture and execution of the mutineers. These represent the earliest printed views of any part of Australia. Only in this first edition are the illustrations printed in full size on folding plates, subsequent editions have reduced versions of the illustrations, with several images on one folding plate.

All the early editions of Pelsaert's journal are very rare. This first edition is of exceptional rarity, with no copy at auction in over thirty years.

References: Davidson, pp. 27-8; Landwehr, 406; Robert, 700; Tiele 1, pp. 262-4; Tiele 2, 850.

(Australian Book Auctions, The Davidson Collection, Monday 7 March 2005, lot 15).

Francisco Pelsaert (1591-1630)

Francisco Pelsaert (1591?-1630), officer of the Dutch East India Co., was born at Antwerp, Belgium, probably the son of Eberhard Pelzer. He was brother-in-law of Admiral Hendrick Brouwer. In 1618 he sailed for the east in the company's commercial service and two years later was posted to India as junior merchant. After travelling overland from Masulipatam to Surat, he was sent to Agra where he stayed for seven years, meanwhile becoming senior merchant. In 1626 he wrote an account of the Mogul Empire, which was translated from the Dutch by W. H. Moreland and P. Geyl, and published as Jahangir's India. The Remonstrantie of Francisco Pelsaert (Cambridge, 1925).

After a stay in Holland from June to October 1628, he left for Java in charge of three ships, but his own ship Batavia lost contact with the other two in the Atlantic. It was a difficult voyage with quarrelsome members among the crew, and there appeared some danger of mutiny before disaster struck: on 4 June 1629 the Batavia was wrecked at 28°40' S. on a coral reef of the Houtman Abrolhos, about 45 miles (72 km) off the present town of Geraldton. Leaving most of the crew and the passengers on two islets, Pelsaert set off on 8 June in the ship's boat with thirty men to look for fresh water in the neighbourhood. When this search proved unsuccessful he undertook the journey to Batavia. For eight days he followed the coast northwards as far as 22°17' S, whence he made for the north-west, reaching the south coast of Java on 27 June and Batavia on 5 July. Ten days later Pelsaert left again in the small Saerdam, sailed to 30°16' S. and reached the Australian west coast to the south of the Houtman Abrolhos on 3 September. It took another fortnight for the Saerdam to arrive at the Abrolhos. Meanwhile some of the survivors had mutinied and massacred 125 men and women. Pelsaert restored law and order and had the ringleaders of the mutiny tried. Seven were hanged on 2 October and two men were marooned on the mainland. After salvaging part of the Batavia's cargo Pelsaert returned to Batavia where he arrived on 5 December. Here the Court of Justice sentenced six more mutineers to death.

Pelsaert's health had suffered from the hardships, but nevertheless he took part in an expedition to Sumatra. Soon after his return to Batavia he died in September 1630. He does not seem to have taken his seat in the High Government at Batavia for which he had been selected as extraordinary member in 1629.

Select Bibliography

J. E. Heeres, The Part Borne by the Dutch in the Discovery of Australia 1606-1765 (Lond, 1899)
Biographie Nationale … de Belgique, vol 16 (Brussels, 1901)
F. W. Stapel, De Oostindische Compagnie en Australië (Amsterdam, 1937)
A. Sharp, The Discovery of Australia (Oxford, 1963)
H. Drake-Brockman, Voyage to Disaster: The Life of Francisco Pelsaert (Syd, 1963).

(Australian Dictionary of Biography)