The making of a story ﷯ Beyond the damning interlude of shipwreck and mutiny, Francisco Pelsaert spent his life in circumstances and locations far removed from the squalor of what eventually transpired in Australian waters. From the little we know of him (outside the 'Batavia' episode, of course, and his documented observations regarding the commerce and customs of India), Pelsaert's Nightmare ventures into foggier regions and relationships to hazard a highly speculative portrait of the man. This is historical fiction, after all, not historical fact, and the novel embellishes the outlines of recorded truth. In addition to the 'Batavia' drama, narrative elements include Pelsaert's fragmented upbringing in Flanders, his apprenticeship to the Company and early service in the island trade, his transfer to the Indian mission, his imagined meeting with the Jesuit adventurer Antonio Andrade (the first European to enter Tibet), and his hallucinatory relationship with the Mogul emperor, Jahangir. Another crucial ingredient of the novel focuses on the merchant's relationships with women, in particular his endangering affair with a nobleman's wife. ﷯ The aim has been to 'recover' or 'intuit' more of the sparsely known Pelsaert so as to deepen a perception of his character. This decidedly adventuresome portrait speaks of something more complex (and arguably more modern) than the role traditionally ascribed to him in the wake of the 'Batavia' tragedy. Related in states of conscious presence, invasive recollection and dreamlike encounter, Pelsaert's Nightmare is an associative jigsaw which builds to portray a man discomforted by events and his own personal shortcomings, a man whose approaching end compels a reappraisal of what he imagined himself to be. ﷯Of then and now… While the 'Batavia' saga remains one of the great narrative possessions of Australia, the scope of this story is both international and timeless. Its place-based dimensions stretch from the Netherlands and its colonial outposts in the Far East to the topographies of Mogul India, the Abrolhos Islands and coastline of the Great South Land (Australia). Indeed, Pelsaert's tale chronicles the onset of our globalised world, while his all-too-human response to opportunity or disaster speaks of the hopes and frailties we all share. Foremost a work of literary intent, the novel’s 17th century setting contributes to the very popular genre of historical fiction. Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light now completes her acclaimed Thomas Cromwell trilogy, and internationally lauded ‘cross-over’ novels by Australian writers include Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.

For additional information about the Batavia, click on these links below:


Batavia - National Museum Australia:


Batavia’s history – Western Australia Museum:


Pelsaert’s Batavia shipwreck and mutiny journal: