THE FIRST DUTCH WAR (1652-54)
The First Dutch War was a consequence of the anti-Dutch Navigation Act of 1651. The Act was legislation, during the period of the English Commonwealth, which envisaged an English trade monopoly. An ordinance of 1650 forbade foreign vessels to trade in English colonies. The Act of 1651 specified that goods had to be carried in English vessels. 75of the crews of those vessels must be of English nationality. In addition, Dutch merchant ships were being attacked by English privateering vessels. A Dutch fleet commanded by Marten Tromp defeated an English fleet off Dungeness in December 1652. But an English victory off Texel in 1653 led to the Treaty of Westminster (1654) in which the Dutch were compelled to pay compensation for the massacre of Amboina, earlier in 1623. There, ten English merchants were tortured and murdered by the Dutch. This was a singular instance in the conflict of commercial interests between the two nations throughout the 17th Century.
Harwich was of obvious value due to its geographical location. Here, the ships of the Commonwealth Navy were victualled and refitted. The mayor of Harwich had to find men to man the ships; the existing pool of sea-going manpower being insufficient. Robert Wilkinson, an impressment officer, encountered problems when he impressed men from Harwich. He had around forty pressed men and "...by God's assistance I will take much paines [sic] to gaine more". However, Henry Gale, master of a victualling vessel gathered "...a hundred pressed men, but we have let them Runn away and Cleered them as fast as we got them". Wilkinson stated "I have gained much ill-will amongst my countrymen in pressing, but I vallue it nothing soe I may gaine your honour's favour".
The Battle of the Gabbards, in June 1653, was fought approximately 25 miles east of Harwich. As a consequence, at the termination of the action, Harwich was inundated with English and Dutch casualties and Dutch prisoners. Major Nehemiah Bourne, a Naval Commissioner, was charged with preparing five men-of-war for sea. A delay, however, was due to the late arrival of a store ship, "Hitherto I have quieted the seamen with promises of payment, and have encouraged them to go on with the buisness [sic] of fitting their shipps, but now they begin to be a little Impatient, Crying out they want Cloathes and they shall be forst away to sea and what will their money do them good, not having time to lay it out". Letter from General Monk to the Naval Commissioners of 20th July 1653, "It is strange that 20 ships should be so long fitting out from Chatham, Woolwich and Deptford, when there have been 22 or more fitted out from Harwich in half the time by Major Bourne". Clearly, despite obvious problems, progress was going comparatively well at Harwich.
THE SECOND DUTCH WAR (1665-67)
The Second Dutch War was caused by the continuing commercial rivalry between the two nations. The casus belli was the Dutch capture of England's Gold Coast forts and the recapture of New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1664. Initially defeated off Lowestoft in June 1665, the Dutch then won a series of victories, aided by the French from 1666. In this war, England was weakened by the Great Plague and the Fire of London. The war reached its climax with the destruction of ships at Chatham when Admiral De Ruyter sailed up the River Medway. The Treaty of Breda in July 1667 concluded the war.
The war was fought primarily in the North Sea. Here Harwich played a fundamental part. Lack of space for stores, however, caused problems for the then Commissioner, Silas Taylor. There was the additional problem for ships, when weighing anchor, to negotiate the easterly winds. The first action, fought off the East Coast in June 1665, resulted in an English victory. Fifteen captured Dutch ships were docked at Harwich. There were so many Dutch prisoners taken that Harwich was not able to adequately house them all. So 349 of them were transferred to Colchester. In addition, the plague had taken a hold on the town. 418 burials are recorded in St. Nicolas's Church. It is supposed that these plague victims are buried in the area, once a graveyard, across from the church the other side of Church Street - now a grassed-over area with railings surronding it. The so-called Four Days Battle in June 1666 was fought off the Dutch coast. The outnumbered English were forced to withdraw. Seventeen battle-damaged ships entered Harwich for repairs. While those ships were undergoing repairs 800 seamen ran. By then Harwich was in a truly parlous state; the plague was worse than the previous year. Amputee seamen, commensurate with the war at sea, had no shelter and had to lie in the open. Other incidents of the Second Dutch War, concerning Harwich, were a blockade by the Dutch fleet of the harbour, anchored in the Gunfleet. Also, the 6th Rate, 35 ton Fan Fan - built at Harwich - impertinantly opened fire on De Ruyter's flagship the Seven Provinces. This incident occured while both the English and the Dutch fleets were becalmed off the coast of Zeeland. She used her sweeps and only desisted when she received two or three shots "between wind and water". The Harwich treadwheel crane was built at this time at the cost of £392.
Of the Dutch anchored in the Gunfleet off Walton, Pepys wrote on 21st June 1667, "This day comes news from Harwich that the Dutch fleet are all in sight, near 100 sail great and small, they think, coming towards them; where, they think, they shall be able to oppose them; but do cry out of the falling back of the seamen, few standing by them, and those with much faintness". Sir Anthony Deane was so frightened at the possible outcome that he sent his movable property to Ipswich. The Earl Oxford arrived with troops and found Harwich in "a distracted condition". Preparations were afoot however. 26 merchantmen, most of them colliers, were converted into fireships. Seven colliers were anchored in a line from Landguard to the Beacon Cliff, pierced so that they could scuttled in the event of the Dutch fleet approaching the harbour. They were, however, dressed with the appropriate pennants and flags to suggest that they were viable sea-going men-of-war. In addition, a Dutch prize, the West Friesland (60 guns), was moored near the cliff. All batteries were manned. Vice-Admiral Joseph Jordan attempted to attack the Dutch fleet with fireships but was unsuccessful. Pepys blamed the commanders saying, "...it seems they were commanded by some idle fellows such as they could all of a sudden gather up at Harwich". Subsequently, four of the ships' captains were court-martialled. One of these, William How of Harwich, was sentenced to death; the other three, along with some lower deck ranks, were "disgraced". An addititional battery was installed on Beacon Hill; 500 men were dispatched to Landguard Fort in order to boost the defence there. The Earl of Oxford wrote on the 30th June that he had in Harwich 1,200 men with more on the way. He was satisfied that Harwich was sufficiently secure.
The Dutch fleet attack came on the 1st July. Admiral Evertz covered the landing and assault on Landguard Fort while Admiral Van Nes attempted to enter the harbour. The whole town seemed to have witnessed the event. Four colliers were sunk, blocking the channel and Van Nes's ship went aground. According to Pepys the Dutch landed 3,000 men in order to attack Landguard Fort, but were repulsed. According to Silas Taylor "...the Dutch 1st July 1667, landed about two thousand men at the foot of Felixstow Cliff, and with about two thousand of them march'd near the Fort, under the shelter of those [sand] banks or small hills, lodging themselves within carbine shot, on two sides of the Fort: who after above an hour's incessant firing their small arms, rather against the firmament than the Fort; were put to fright and flight by two or three small guns out of a little galliot firing amongst the shingle (which covered them from the sight of the Fort) scattering the pebbles amongst them; their great guns from their ships playing all that time upon the Fort".
THE THIRD DUTCH WAR (1672-74)
The Third Dutch War was a consequence of Charles II's commitment to the Treaty of Dover (1670) to support the French invasion of the Dutch Republic. The Anglo-Dutch aspect of this war was inconclusive and concluded with the Treaty of Westminster (1674). The Third Dutch War was not popular in England as Charles II, in an alliance with Louis XIV of France, was perceived as attempting the restoration of the Catholic faith in England with French assistance.
By this time Harwich Yard had become a minor station for the North Sea cruises, but at the outset of the war there appeared to be a shortage of men and stores. At this time Harwich bore witness to numerous street brawls between sailors and soldiers. The major action of the war in Solebay on May 28th 1672 was indecisive. There were heavy losses and Admiral the Earl of Sandwich was among the fatalities. The Governer of Landguard Fort wrote, "The volleys have scarce had any intermission...and at present the windows and house shake terribly, but we judge by the noise they are further off". Twelve days after the action in Solebay the body of the Earl of Sandwich was found floating near Long Sand Head. It was brought to Harwich. In July there were some 180 Dutch prisoners in the town in a perilous condition, due to lack of food,only having had received 2d for food to last four days.
Thus ended the three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th Century and I have attempted to show as far as I am possible at this moment, Harwich's contribution to those wars. A more detailed account of Harwich in the 17th Century can be found in Leonard Weaver's The Harwich Story. These three wars which were, on the whole, indecisive. However, the next century witnessed Britain's maritime, mercantile and colonial supremacy. In the 18th Century the constant enemy was France.
Martin Wakley (copyright)