In 1629, the Batavia was wrecked on a coral archipelago fifty miles from the Australian continent. Most of the people on board survived, only to become victims of a visionary psychopath who, with the help of a dozen followers, organised a methodical massacre of the hapless community.
Following the wreck’s discovery some forty years ago, Simon Leys travelled to the site. This is his riveting account of the shipwreck and its brutal aftermath. As well as a narrative of the disaster, it is also a subtle consideration of the nature of totalitarianism and our susceptibility to its visionary ideologues.
This book also includes Leys’ elegiac essay, Prosper, recalling a summer when he joined the crew of a tuna-fishing boat from Brittany, one of the last boats still working under sail. This remarkable piece vividly evokes the traditions, hardships and dangers of the oldest and finest form of seamanship.