Wednesday 12th June 1667.

 

On Wednesday morning, 12 June, in accordance with their decision to abandon Sheerness Fort, the Dutch removed the guns, and these were transferred to the ships of van Ghent’s squadron. Stores, which it was thought worth while to keep were also taken aboard, and the rest were destroyed. Lastly, the fort itself was demolished as completely as was possible within the short time available. The Dutch also expertly destroyed embankments near Sheerness in order to cause inundation and Lord Brouncker wrote to the Navy Board later, on 22 June, saying that, if the banks were not speedily repaired before the next spring tide, much land would be flooded.

Tobiasz and his advance force freed a passage for the rest of van Ghent’s squadron, which left Sheerness about 6 a.m. on Wednesday 12 June, favoured by an east-north-east wind and an incoming tide. When they arrived in Gillingham Reach they found that Tobiasz and his advance force were held up by the chain and by fire from the guardships and batteries.

The entire Dutch force was in formation of line astern, partly for tactical reasons, partly because the increasing narrowness made any other alignment difficult and hazardous. In front were the three frigates of the advance guard, with Tobiasz in the “Bescherming” at the head.

Then came the yachts, followed by two fireships, the “Susanna” and “ Pro Patria”; and they in turn were followed by other fireships and the remaining men-of-war of van Ghent’s squadron. The entire Dutch force, spread out as it was, stretched from a position near the chain to the Mussel Bank, and must have made an impressive sight, especially when the main body approached Gillingham Reach at about 10 a.m.

Because of the narrowness of the fairway, which prevented the Dutch from massing line abreast, there ships were unable to bring a sufficient volume of fire to bear to silence the opposition at the chain , and because of the chain itself they were deterred from sailing on. At this critical juncture, when the enterprise seemed destined to fail, the situation was saved for the Dutch by the bravery of one man. This was Captain Jan van Brakel, of the “Vrede”  

Jan van Brakel  (??? -- 1690)

{Forty guns complement 125 men). He was from Rotterdam and had already given proof of his courage and his enterprise in the Four Day’s Battle in 1666, and, lately, during the assault on Sheerness. After this recent exploit, however, he had been put under close arrest in the “Agatha” by order of Cornelis de Witt for having allowed his men to land on the Isle of Sheppey and forage into the interior in search of plunder.

Hearing of the opposition which had been encountered in Gillingham Reach, van Brakel saw a change of ending his irksome captivity in the “Agatha”.

He offered to sail up to the chain in his own ship, the “Vrede” and while thus drawing the English fire, enabled two fireships to be sent against the chain. Cornelis de Witt, in despair, accepted van Brakel’s offer, since there appeared to be no alternative but a retreat; and so van Brakel was released from arrest and returned to the “Vrede” which was lying in the rear of the Dutch squadron.

He then carried out an exploit which, both for its daring and its momentous consequences. ranks as one of the most remarkable in the annals of naval warfare. He quickly got the “Vrede” under way, and sailed past the leading Dutch ships, followed by two fireships, until approaching the chain he came under heavy fir from the English guardships and batteries. He sailed on, however, and soon there was nothing between him and the chain but the “Unity”, with forty-four guns. and some 150 men on board.

Holding his own fire van Brakel sailed straight for the “Unity” lying near the shore at the Gillingham end of the chain, and when he was near he fired at her, then came quickly alongside, boarded, and captured her. The opposition from the English ship had been negligible, and this was not surprising in view of the nature of her crew. A number of Thames’ watermen who had been brought down from London had been sent aboard the “Unity” to complete her complement, but they proved useless. A watch had to be set to prevent them from deserting, and when the Dutch approached they were the first to abandon ship. Some of the crew who did not manage to escape, were taken prisoner, and among these was John Stanley, the ship’s surgeon, who three month later after his return from Dutch captivity, sent in a claim for ₤ 32, which he said represented the value of equipment which he had lost when the “Unity” was captured.

The only casualties suffered by the “Vrede” were three men wounded of whom two later died; and the lack of fighting spirit aboard the Ünity” which this reveals can also be gauged from the fact that earlier in the day Stephen Woolgate, boatswain of the “Great Victory” had been ordered by Sir Edward Spragge to lie alongside the “Unity” with his long-boat to prevent any of the men aboard her from trying to escape ashore. Woolgate obediently acted as watchdog until he saw de “Vrede” approaching, whereupon he took his boat up an adjacent creek and so avoided capture by the Dutch. For Woolgate the day had been more than usually eventful largely because of the way he was shuttled about as a result of conflicting orders. Early in the day he had been told by Lord Brouckner and Commissioner Pett to go aboard the “Royal Charles”, but was intercepted by Sir Edward Spragge, who told him instead to go and look for seamen ashore, and bring back as many as he could find as quickly as possible. Woolgate returned saying he had been unable to find any men, and Spragge then asked him what his original orders had been. Woolgate replied that he had been detailed by Brouckner and Pett to go aboard the “Royal Charles” and stay there till further notice. Despite this, Spragge ordered Woolgate to take one of the boats of the “Royal Charles”, man it with some of the crew and then report to Albemarle for further instructions. Woolgate did this, and after he had carried out a task allotted to him by the Duke, he reported back to Spragge, and it was then that he was told to station his boat alongside the “Unity” Woolgate was one of several boatswains and shipwrights who received orders from one officer only to have them cancelled by another, and this lack of cohesion on the English side, resulting from too many persons giving orders without reference to one another, undoubtedly hampered the preparation of countermeasures against the Dutch.

Meanwhile, as van Brakel was engaging the “Unity” the first of two fireships which had followed the “Vrede” and which was called the “Susanna”, sailed up to the chain but failed to break it, and soon afterwards caught fire. The second fireship, the “Pro Patria” followed close behind the “Susanna” rode hard at the chain, and broke it. She then positioned herself alongside the “Matthias” lying just above the chain near the Gillingham shore, and set her afire. She burned furiously for a while, and then, with a huge detonation, blew up, Some of her crew, including the surgeon, was badly burned, but rescued from the water by the boatswain in charge of the long-boat of the “Triumph” who was sent by Sir Edward Spragge to pick up survivors.

A third Dutch fireship, the “Delft”, which attempted to attempted to place herself alongside the other guardship by the chain, the “Charles V”, on the Hood side of the river, was sunk by cannon-fire from that ship, but meanwhile another fireship managed to get herself alongside the “Charles V” and set her on fire. Shortly afterwards van Brakel left the “Unity” in a boat manned by a few Dutch sailors, and made for the burning “Charles V, The crew of this vessel were now so demoralized that some of them escaped in boats in seeing the Dutch approach, while other in their panic jumped overboard and began swimming ashore. Those remaining on board surrendered without putting up any opposition when they saw van Brakel climbing up over the bows with his sword drawn, followed by his men, climbing over the bulwarks. After the English had handed over their weapons to the Dutch van Brakel ordered a trumpeter to go aloft and haul down the English flag, and this final humiliations appeared to have been too much for the captain of the “Charles V” who had surrendered with the remnant of his crew. He despairingly tried to escape by diving over board, but was picked up and brought back on board. The exact number of men taken prisoner aboard the “Charles V” is not known, but according to Dutch sources the total of prisoners from the “Charles V” and the “Unity” was fifty-six.

The fire on the “Charles V” took such a hold that the Dutch were unable to put it out, and the ship, after burning for the rest of the day, finally blew up. Before this occurred it seems very probable that she had drifted up the river. In 1876, when new basis were being constructed during extensions to Chatham dockyard, the remains of an old men-of-war were found at the East end of St Mary’s Creek, with her guns embedded in the mud around her. This wreck may have been either the “Sancta Maria” or the Charles V” in a survey of the Medway made on 10 and 11 October 1667 both these ships were reported as lying sunk on the South-east side of Cockham Wood Reach.

After the “Unity” the chain broken, ands the “Matthias” and “Charles V” were set on fire, the “Monmouth” lying above the chain had judged it prudent to withdraw higher up the river, she managed to effect this rather inglorious retreat, though she had to be towed by longboats around the bend of the Medway into Upnor Reach, where she was finally brought to a halt by grounding just above the castle. After some desperate efforts she was got off again, and taken still higher up the river to a position opposite the Old Dockyard.

Though the “Monmouth” had escaped, a much more tempting prize lay still in the river a little above the “Monmouth’s” original position. This was the “Royal Charles”, half rigged, and with only thirty-two of her guns still on board. Sir Edward Spragge, foreseeing that the Dutch would try to take her, had ordered the crews of several pinnaces and long-boats to go aboard her as reinforcement. and he issued his order “on pain of death”, as was afterwards recorded. Some of the boat’s crew were able to escape the unpopular assignment by towing the “Monmouth” into Upnor Reach, the others, who unwillingly boarded the “Royal Charles” left her promptly soon afterwards when they saw the Dutch drawing near. As they had few if any arms, these men could hardly be blamed for their dereliction of duty, and in fact, Spragge’s threat of death for any who refused to go on board and fight does not appear to have been carried out.

The is a story, recounted by Clarendon, that at about this time, when the Dutch broke through the chain, the Duke of Albemarle planned to make a heroic last stand in one of the vessels lying above the chain (perhaps the “Monmouth” or the “Royal Charles” itself) but was dissuaded from doing so.

Clarendon’s account was as follows.:

           The General [Albemarle] was of a constitution and temper so void of fear, that 
            there could appear no signs of distraction in him, yet it was plain enough, that he 
            knew not what orders to give. There were two or three ships of the Royal Navy 
            negligently, if not treacherously, left in the river which might have been very easily 
            drawn into safety, and could be of no imaginable use in the place where they were. 
            Into one of those the General put himself, and invited the young gentlemen who were 
            volunteers, to accompany him, which they readily did in great numbers, only with 
            pikes in their hands. But some of his friends whispered to him how unadvised that 
            resolution was, and how desperate, without the possibility of success, the whole fleet 
            of the enemy approaching as the incoming tide would enable them. And so he was 
            prevailed with to put himself again on shore, which except he had done, both himself 
            and two or three hundred gentlemen of the nobility and prime gentry of the Kingdom 
            had inevitably perished

During the action at the chain, Lord Brouncker, Sir John Mennes, and Peter Pett assembled as many long-boats and pinnaces as could be gathered together, and stationed them so, that they might at least be able to rescue men from the water. As for the three officials themselves, they watched events from a small barge positioned at a safe distance from the conflict. The sight which they must have seen has been described by a historian of the Royal Navy, in words, though picturesque, probably give a fairly accurate picture of what took place.

          The scene at that moment to be witnessed below Chatham, has not often been 
          
paralleled in naval history….. The river was full of moving craft and burning 
          wreckage; the roar of guns was almost continuous; the shrieks of the wounded 
          could be heard even above the noise of battle, the clangor of trumpets, the roll 
           of drums, and the cheers of the Dutch as success after success was won;  
         
and above all hang a pall of smoke, illumined only, as night closed in, by the 
          gleam of flames on all sides and the flashes of guns and muskets.

The culmination of this action at Gillingham Reach, and the crowning success for the Dutch, was the capture of the “Royal Charles” yet this was accomplished without any drama because of the failure of the men aboard to put up any fight. The only dispute, in fact, after the ship had been taken, was between the Dutch themselves, as to who had actually captured the ship. From all the available evidence it appears that Captain Thomas Tobiasz was the first aboard the “Royal Charles”, followed by a few men from his sloop, and, shortly afterwards, by others from a sloop under command of Lieutenant B. Jacob’s, one of the officers of Vice-Admiral de Liefde.

Pepys related in his diary on 22 June 1667 that a Captain Hart and a Captain Hayward had told him that the Dutch took the “Royal Charles”  with a boat of about nine men and found not a man aboard her…… and presently a man went up and struck the flag and  jacke, and a trumpeter sounded upon her “Joan’s placket is torn””

Among the men who had deserted the “Royal Charles” were the boatswain and gunner; they tried afterwards to justify their conduct by affirming that seeing that all was lost, they had tried twice, unsuccessfully, to set the ship on fire before the Dutch reached her. In his report to the House of Commons Albemarle later commented unfavourably on the two men, accusing them of failure to “do their duties in firing her”

Beyond the “Royal Charles”, in Cockham Wood Reach, lay the grounded “Sancta Maria”, and she proved to be the final objective of the Dutch on Wednesday 12 June. The crew of a sloop, commanded by Captain Jacob Philipsz, of the armed yacht “De Brak” sailed up river and boarded her, but afterwards, in circumstances which were never cleared up, she was set on fire and destroyed by the Dutch themselves. It seems that they did this after all efforts to get the vessel afloat again had failed, but that the decision was taken without reference to Cornelis de Witt.

Long before the capture of the “Sancta Maria” the Dutch had dealt with the two improvised batteries which Albemarle had had constructed at each end of the chain. Concentrated fire was brought to bear on these, and the garrisons, overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught, abandoned their posts and fled. Since the chain had already been broken and the guardships silenced, the way was now clear for the rear ships of van Ghent’s squadron to advance further up Gillingham Reach, this they did, led by the “Agatha”, with Cornelis de Witt and van Ghent on board. For a time they transferred to the “Vrede”, to confer with, and to congratulate van Brakel, and then they moved on to the captured “Royal Charles”, to discuss on board her what the next phase in the operations should be.

During the attack in Gillingham Reach on Wednesday 12 June, when it seemed very probable that the Dutch would continue their advance without delay against Chatham Dockyard, and the ships lying higher up the river, Albemarle had ordered that all those ships should be sunk at their moorings forthwith. On consideration, however, it was decided that this measure would be too drastic, and instead an order was given that the ships’ cables should be cut, and then that they should then be maneuvered to the shore into shallow water and there sunk, so that the Dutch would be unable to remove them should they reach so far. Lord Brouckner, Sir John Mennes and Peter Pett, supervised the execution of this order, and as a result some sixteen men-of-war were cut loose. A few of these subsequently drifted in the river, and thus hindered defence measures against the Dutch, but others were sunk as ordered, for example the “Katherine” just below the New Dockyard, and the “St George” opposite the ropeyard, and the “Victory” opposite St Mary’s Church.

The “Royal James” and other men-of-war which had been moved higher up the river near Upnor, were the obvious targets for a fresh attack; but the tide had ebbed, and it was not possible for the Dutch to follow up their great successes of the Wednesday immediately.

They resolved, however, to attack the ships at Upnor, as soon as possible the next morning, Thursday 13 June; Cornelis de Witt sent an urgent message to de Ruyter, who was waiting off the Isle of Sheppey, with the main body of the fleet, asking him to sent more fireships and to come in person up the Medway to confer about the further attack which it was proposed to make.   

The industrious Cornelis, remote from all the celebrations that were taking place in the Dutch ships in Gillingham Reach, sat down in the admiral’s cabin at the “Royal Charles” and wrote to the States-General a detailed account of recent operations. He piously thanked God Almighty, Who, in His providence, had deigned to humble the pride of the English nation by means of the glorious arms of their High Mightinesses the States-General. Cornelis further wished their High Mightinesses much good fortune from the magnificent victory which had been won, and with pardonable pride he dated his letter at the fool of the last sheet, as follows: “In the “Royal Charles”, the 22 June [ i.e. 12 June Old Style] 1667, about two in the afternoon, lying in the river of Chatham”

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday 12 June, when the leading vessels of van Ghent’s squadron were entering Gillingham Reach, the Duke of Albemarle watched from the shore, and he witnessed with a bitterness easily imagined, the subsequent debacle when the Dutch took the “Unity”, broke trough the chain, set the “Matthias” and the “Charles V” on fire, and captured the “Royal Charles” and “Sancta Maria”. After chronicling this melancholy succession of disasters in his report, which he made afterwards to the House of Commons, Albemarle observed abruptly, “This was all that I observed of the enemy’s action on Wednesday”

Indeed, he had had too much to do to spend further time in mere observation of the Dutch after they had been brought to a temporary halt by the ebb of the tide on Wednesday. It would be considered a certainty that, spurred on by their successes, they would, as soon as the tide turned, attempt to do further damage higher up the river, where other ships, including the “Royal Oak” “Loyal London” and “Royal James” lay, above Upnor Castle. There was also Chatham Dockyard with its storehouses and other installations, to tempt the Dutch on.

After the disasters on Gillingham Reach on Wednesday, Albemarle concentrated his energies on providing for the defence of the ships lying further up the Medway and the Dockyard itself. First he inquired of Sir Edward Scott, whom he had put in charge of Upnor Castle, whether it was in a state of preparedness. He received in reply a request for provisions which Scott said he needed urgently, and sent as much as could be carried by the boats and crews still available for transport duties. He also took the precaution of sending an additional company of soldiers to reinforce the garrison, in case the Dutch should try to repeat their exploit at Sheerness by landing and attempting to take the castle by force. As for the three men-of-war, lying just above the castle, Albemarle had decided very early on Wednesday morning, that they should be moved to the Upnor bank of the Medway till they grounded in the shallow water. He then ordered that holes should be cut in their hulls so that it would be impossible for the Dutch, should they reach the ships, to move them.

The work of thus immobilizing the “Royal Oak”, “Royal James” and “Loyal London” had been carried out successfully before the Dutch ceased their operations on Wednesday.

Albemarle’s main care, however, was to try to provide some defences for the dockyard, and the other two, the New Dockyard further down the river towards St Mary’s Island. The ten large guns, comprising the train of artillery which had just arrived from the Tower of London by way of Gravesend were mounted in a field by the North Crane in the New Dockyard, and about fifty other guns were placed in various positions whence they could bring fire to bear on ships attempting to sail up the river. 

Many of these guns, including eight that came from the “Old James”, were hastily removed from ships lying higher up the Medway between Rochester Bridge and the dockyard, the eight from the “Old James” were probably those installed in one or other of the former sconces (“Bay” and “Warham) which lay just below Upnor Castle.

Albemarle spent the whole of Wednesday night making those dispositions, and it was a dispiriting experience, for he wrote later in his report.:

           I stayed all night on the place by the men; and having no money to pay them, all I 
            could do or say was little enough for their encouragement, for I had no assistance 
            from Commissioner Pett nor no gunners or men, to draw on the guns, except the two 
            Masters of Attendance.

Meanwhile the Dutch plans were going forward, in response to the letter written by Cornelis de Witt, Admiral de Ruyter had left the main body of the Dutch fleet lying off the Isle of Sheppey and had sailed up the Medway to Gillingham Reach, accompanied by Admiral van Aylua, who had joined the fleet with the Friesland squadron on 11 June, and by Admiral Aert Jan van Nes. He arrived in the late afternoon of Wednesday 12 June, after the action of the day had ended, and one of the first duties he set himself was to on board the captured “Unity” to congratulate van Brakel on his courage and initiative. Afterwards de Ruyter conferred with Cornelis de Witt and van Ghent about the attack on the ships lying above Upnor Castle which was planned for the next day.

It was decided that four men-of-0war, and three armed yachts should sail up to Upnor Castle, and engage it with their guns, and that under this cover five fireships following them should place themselves alongside the “Royal Oak” “Royal James” and “Loyal London” and set them afire. The commanders of the men-of-war, were expressly ordered not to venture higher up the river than Upnor, lest they should not be able to withdraw again because of the narrowness of the river there.

Early on Wednesday evening, van Aylua and van Nes sailed back down the Medway to Sheerness, with orders to send without delay all remaining fireships; but de Ruyter, who decided to take part in the forthcoming operation, slept during the night on board the “Bescherming”, commanded by Captain Thomas Tobiasz, the conqueror of the “Royal Charles”. Early on Thursday morning five additional fireships which had been sent at the request of Cornelis de Witt arrived in Gillingham Reach, so that the Dutch were now in a position to begin their attack on the ships at Upnor.

 

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