Friday 7th - Sunday 9th June
On Friday 7 June the fleet sailed into the King’s Channel, one of the main approaches to the Thames. and anchored there. In the evening a Council of War was held on board
“De Zeven Provinciën”, and the objectives of the States-General, detailing the objectives of the operation, which had been revealed to the fleet commanders on 27 May, were now made known to the lesser officers. The conference was resumed on
“De Zeven Provinciën” at 4 a.m. on 8 June, and it was then decided to send a small squadron into the Thames under van Ghent, with vice-Admiral De Liefde as his second-in-command. The decision was taken because a Norwegian merchantman was intercepted on his way out of the Thames, and from the skipper the Dutch learned that about twenty English merchantmen, attended by some frigates, were lying in Hope Reach just below Gravesend. van Ghent was ordered to capture and destroy as many of these as possible; but the decision to undertake the operation was made with reluctance by de Ruyter and the other naval commanders. They were, however, overruled by Cornelis de Witt,
||Joseph Baron van Ghent.
The plenipotentiary of the States-General was spurred on by his imperious brother Johan’s desire for prompt and decisive action, but the naval officers feared, not without reason, that van Ghent’s squadron, and indeed the entire Dutch Fleet might find themselves in trouble if English ships suddenly appeared behind them in the Thames Estuary. Sir Jeremy Smith, with some eighteen frigates, was known to be based on the east coast of Scotland , and other small squadrons were reported at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Dover. In case any of these scattered detachments should make an untimely appearance, it was agreed at the Council of War, that de Ruyter should remain with the main body of the fleet at the entrance to the King’s Channel, while Vice-Admiral Schram with a small force should keep watch on the Straits of Dover.
Reports were sent to Whitehall that the Dutch had been sighted off the North Foreland, and later, in the King’s Channel, but even now, when it should have been clear, that some enterprise was about to be attempted in the neighbourhood of the Thames Estuary, or in the river itself, the Government took no decisive action. Perhaps this was because it still believed that the movements of the Dutch fleet were a feint, and that the peace was as good as concluded. It is significant that on 7 June Sir Henry Coventry, one of the English plenipotentiaries at Breda, came to Dover in a Dutch vessel flying a white flag. He brought with him provisional articles of peace for King Charles approval; but the Royal consideration of these was to be deferred by the gathering momentum of the Dutch’s fleet operations in the Thames and the Medway.
||Cornelis de Witt,
1627 - 1672.
Elder brother of Johan de Witt
The architect of the Dutch "Golden Age"
At dawn on 9 June van Ghent, accompanied by Cornelis de Witt, and helped by a favourable wind and tide, sailed towards the mouth of the Thames, in the
“Agatha”, followed by other ships in his squadron. By evening, however, because the wind had dropped and the tide had turned, he had to anchor at Hole Haven, some eight miles from the Hope. During this enforced halt, the Dutch landed some men on Canvey Island in Essex, where they burned down barns and housed and killed some sheep to take on board for provisions. The local militia however, eventually drove them off.
The pause in the Dutch operation gave the Englishmen time to move the merchantmen higher up the river. above Gravesend, where the Dutch, uncertain of the state of the shore defences, decided it was too risky to press the attack. Frustrated van Ghent’s squadron retired down river and Cornelis de Witt now decided to concentrate on the major objective of the expedition – the raid on the ships and dockyard installations in the Medway.
On 9 June, the day of van Ghent’s abortive sally up the Hope, English counter-measures were still quite inadequate. Sit William Coventry wrote to the Navy Board that day, informing them that the King thought the best way of hindering the Dutch fleet would be to employ fireships, and that inquiries were to be made at once which vessels lying in the Thames could be used for the purpose, Great speed, Coventry added, was essential in securing these ships.
At about 4 p.m. on Sunday 9 June, when he had been off Sheerness in the
“Henrietta” yacht, Sir Edward Spragge, an Irishman with long and successful experience at sea, who had taken part in the Battle of Lowestoft, The Four Days Battle, and the
battle on St James Day, had observed van Ghent’s squadron sailing up the Thames Estuary, and he at once put back to Sheerness. Here he sent orders that the
“Monmouth” , which was lying at anchor in the Medway, about half-way between Sheerness and Gillingham should be got under way at once and be placed above the chain at Gillingham. Spragge also asked the acting Lord Lieutenant of Kent, the Earl of Middleton, to send to Sheerness the men of a Scottish regiment commanded by Lord George Douglas, who were stationed at Margate.
The Scots troops were embarked on Sunday night but were then ordered ashore again, and in the end only one company was sent to Spragge. The latter had meanwhile sent instructions to Peter Pett, at Chatham, He was ordered to ensure that the two guardships moored by the chain were fully manned, also that pinnaces and longboats, fully furnished with crews, arms and all necessary equipment were ready for service on the river.
Edward Gregory, Clerk of the Check at Chatham, who had been with Spragge in the
“Henrietta”, and who was sent to Chatham with Spragge’s orders, was also told to have 100 men from the
“Monmouth” sent down to Sheerness as a reinforcement, after the ship had been brought safely above the chain.
The men were embarked at midnight on Sunday 9 June, and the two small vessels which had carried them set sail at once for Sheerness. During the week hover, both run aground, whether by accident or design was never afterwards ascertained, and most of the men took advantage of the opportunity to make for the shore, despite the orders of Lieutenant Kirke, in command af them.. When the vessels were finally got off again, only forty-four men remained to continue the journey to Sheerness, the rest having simply taken to their heels.
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