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stepping stones of maritime history


In 1781, Holland became involved in the American War of Independence by joining France and Spain in declaring war on England. This led to the capture of the Honkoop on 21-7-1781 by an English fleet in the Bay of Saldanha. 

Battle of Saldanha bay

Given the difficulty of defending Table Bay in the event of an attack, five merchantmen, the Hoogkarspel, Middelburg, Honkoop, Paarl en Dankbaarheid, and The Held Woltemade  went to Saldanha Bay, where they were ordered to shelter.

Orders were given that the ships were to be destroyed if they could not escape capture. Each captain was instructed to load his vessel with combustibles, and if capture seemed likely, to set fire to his ship.

On 21 July 1781, the English Commodore Johnstone, sailed into Saldanha Bay.  His vessels were disguised by flying French flags. The Dutch were initially jubilant, mistaking the English vessels for the long-awaited reinforcements. And then saw the French flags being hauled down and English colours run up.

The English fleet opened fire on the anchored Dutch ships. The Dutch hastily tried to set their ships alight and cut their cables to run the vessels ashore. The English, however, were prepared for fire fighting and quickly extinguished the fires as they boarded the abandoned vessels.

The only exception was the Middelburg. The vessel was soon fiercely ablaze, and the flames spread through the hull to the powder magazine, whereupon she exploded and sank.

The Middelburg was the only Dutch vessel in Saldanha Bay that day not to fall into English hands. The loss of six Indiamen and their cargoes was a serious financial blow to the already struggling Dutch East India Company. [John Gribble


Type: Dutch East Indiaman
Built: Oostenbrug VOC yard Amsterdam, 1770
Owner: VOC chamber Amsterdam
Length: 150
Tonnage: 575 last
Complement: 118
Master: Nikolaas Sevie


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