Francisco Pelsaert (first name also spelled as "François", surname also spelled as "Pelsart") (c. 1595 – September 1630) was a Dutch merchant who worked for the Dutch East Indies Company, who became most famous as the commander of the ship Batavia, which ran aground in the Houtman Abrolhos off the coast of Western Australia in June 1629.
Born in Antwerp he sailed to India in 1618, where he was posted as a junior merchant, spending seven years in Agra during which time he became a senior merchant. After a brief return to the Netherlands in 1628, he departed for Java soon after in command of the Batavia.
During the voyage from the Netherlands to Java, a company official, Jeronimus Cornelisz, and the ship's skipper Ariaen Jacobsz, had plotted but never attempted a mutiny against Pelsaert. Before this was possible, the ship had been wrecked.
The wreck of the Batavia took place on Morning Reef, about a mile to the south of what is now known as Beacon Island. Of the 341 passengers and crew, about 40 drowned early on while trying to reach a small island, while the rest succeeded in getting ashore. After a brief search of the island and several nearby islands, the commander realized that the islands held no natural water source, and eventually decided to head for Batavia (Jakarta) on the island of Java to get help. He left with the ship's longboat and a party of 48 officers and passengers, including one babe in arms (all 48 eventually arrived in Jakarta many weeks later).
After the departure of Pelsaert, Cornelisz finally succeeded with his mutiny by gathering a group of mutineers and assuming control of the social situation. Cornelisz and his men then began a reign of terror, murdering over 100 men, women, and children before they finally found resistance from a group of soldiers under the command of Wiebbe Hayes, who had been exiled to a neighbouring island.
In October 1629, after a 4-month absence, Pelsaert returned to the islands on the Dutch East India Company’s ship Sardam. Cornelisz had been captured weeks earlier by Hayes' men, and he and his mutineers were tried and mostly executed. After several weeks spent trying to salvage the Batavia's goods, Pelsaert and the survivors returned to Java.
Pelsaert's health had suffered from the hardships, but nevertheless he took part in an expedition to Sumatra. He died in September 1630, soon after his return to Batavia. 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. Little of his life earnings were eventually passed to his elderly mother. He had no offspring, and no heirs for his fortune. In the end, the VOC retained most of his earnings.
Pelsaert had secretly acquired a large sum of unauthorized goods and money before his death. These were discovered by the VOC, and confiscated.
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- Pelsaert, Francisco, (1998). The Batavia journal of Francisco Pelsaert : Algemeen Rijksarchief [ARA], The Hague, Netherlands : Document 1630: 1098 QQII, fol.232-316 / Edited and translated by Marit van Huystee. Fremantle, W.A. Dept. of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum. Report (Western Australian Maritime Museum. Dept. of Maritime Archaeology); no. 136.